During Day 2 of the 2011 National Sexual Assault Conference, keynote speaker is Mona Eltahawy, proud liberal Muslim who is working in the global movement for justice and equality for Muslim women, said that, as activists, it is necessary to recognize people’s humanity in order to serve them.
She shared stories with participants about women in the Middle East and North Africa and the way in which they have resisted oppressive regimes in order to help fuel revolutions. She discussed cultural issues surrounding rape such as virginity tests, shame and police states.
“What changed across the Middle East & North Africa? Revolutions are decades in the making thanks to activists on the ground,” Eltahawy said. “Who are these activists?
Human rights activists that have documented abuse for decades. Recently, young activists joined others by using social media to challenge authority of the regime by saying, ‘I count.’ The idea that we can’t change anything is antithetical to what we are seeing in the Middle East & Africa.”
She travels across the country and speaks about issues related to sexual assault, and she said that part of her challenge when she speaks is to fight against demonization of Arab and Muslim men. She acknowledged the strength of Lara Logan, a journalist who was attacked and raped in Egypt. And she emphasized that the men did not commit rape as Arab or Muslim men. They did it as men of power who were accountable to no one.
“Sexual assault is wrong no matter who commits it,” she said. “Let’s not bring religion and culture into it.”
Eltahawy shared social media clips and campaigns, such as the Adventures of Salwa and HarassMap, that have been created to stop sexual assault and street harassment in Middle East & North Africa communities. She said that one of the challenges is that women and men don’t feel safe approaching and reporting to police in various countries in the region.
The stories that she shared were beautiful and inspiring of women risking their lives for equality, freedom and dignity in the Middle East & North Africa regions.