Social Media, Gender, and Revolution
By Morra Aarons Mele on August 01, 2011
BlogHer Original Post
It's been amazing to see how the aftermath of what is called the Arab Spring has allowed gender norms of Egyptian women to start shifting. At least, that is how it’s portrayed in the Western media. A new meme has developed, that the educated young people of Egypt are “solving Egypt’s problems through technology.” Women are at the forefront of this movement.
Image: Valerian Mazataud via ZUMA Press.
Take Harassmap.com, a site that tackles street harassment in a powerful way. It’s a Hollaback for Cairo. The site asks women to report any sexual assault by calling, texting, emailing or tweeting (#harassmap) the site. The reports are then placed on a searchable map and colored by type of abuse. The site is amazing- and a quick glance at reported incidents range from “Guy grabbed my ass,” “A man intrudes my way to harass me” and even
“I am an Egyptian man with long hair that is usually tied in ponytail. On the street leading to El Malek El Saleh there is a public school for boys. In many cases when I passed by this school, the teenager school boys called me a transexual.”
The map visually shows “abuse hot spots.” Once identified, activists can work with local communitairans, shopkeepers and residents to make the street safer. The site is one of many that have emerged from the Arab Spring – one that could promise a sexual revolution and wave of empowerment for women in Egypt.
Why has a power shift in Egypt emboldened women entrepreneurs? Was it the promise of social media in facilitating the uprisings in Tahrir Square (uprisings that are now coping with the aftermath of what seemed so promising)? When I was at Personal Democracy Forum, I heard several times from women and men who lauded digital tools as empowering the change in Egypt; Rasha Abdulla thinks social media was a “democratizing agent, which helped to facilitate the flourishing of opinions while simultaneously becoming a “primary tool for political activism.”
But change giveth, and change taketh away. Mona Eltahawy, challenges the stereotypes of Muslim women, but Marsha Yerman reports Mona shared "how on May 25th, women activists and reporters in Egypt were physically attacked and had their clothes and headscarves ripped off — in order to “shame them.” She also referred to “virginity tests” that were being perpetrated upon young women activists."
Still, The New York Times quotes a young Egyptian entrepreneur, Yasmine el-Mehairy. "Instead of leaving Egypt as she had planned, she is staying to nurture a start-up called SuperMama...The revolution really made my generation believe in ourselves,” Ms. Mehairy, 30, says. If Egyptians can topple Mubarak, she wonders, what else might they accomplish?"
The US State Department is investing training entrepreneurs in Egypt, and they’re specifically investing in women entrepreneurs, too. They want to level the playing field as a way to help Egypt enter a new and hopefully more democratic era. Is entrepreneurialism a way to foment quiet revolution?
That’s our hope in the West, even as we seem to be having a tough time innovating our own way out of a crisis. Maybe we need more investment here. Look at this insight from entrepreneur Cindy Gallop:
"Just five percent of all equity capital investments in the US go to businesses headed by women vs 95 percent to businesses headed by men. Women own about 30 percent of US businesses - and just three percent get investments from venture capital. This despite the fact that between 1997 and 2006, majority women-owned firms in the US grew at nearly twice the rate of all US privately held firms. If women entrepreneurs in the US started with the same capital as men, they would add a whopping six million jobs to the economy in five years - two million of those in the first year alone. I'm angry."(Source for stats: Babson College/Ernst & Young)
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes for a bit of revolution in the US, right now.