Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The draft of my speech at Woman History Month Celebration

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the US Embassy in Cairo! Here is the draft of my speech at the US Embassy Celebration of Woman History Month. Unfortunately, I could not track the amazing comments and the inspiring questions of audience and the other panelists whom I shared the stage with. Yet, I am looking forward for your invaluable feedback on my own presentation:

First of all, I would like to thank Her Excellency Ambassador Scobey and the wonderful team of the American Embassy for organizing this event and giving me this opportunity to speak about the cyber movement of young women activists in the Middle East, which I am, proudly, part of. The topic of my speech shall focus on Young Arab women and the Internet World.

I was once asked: if you were given the choice, would you choose to be born now in the new millennium? I said definitely, yes! Not only because I was given the unique chance to witness the end of one millennium and the beginning of the other, but also because I was given free access to the whole universe from my small room via a lap top and an internet connection!

The information technology revolution has done much more than merely making the world a small village. For us, young women activists living in Egypt and the Middle East, the information technology revolution gave us the space we need to practice our lives the way we want; apart from the restrictions imposed on us by our patriarchal societies.

The life for us now is divided into two worlds, a real one (inside the real patriarchal society) and a virtual one (online)!

In the real world, we are still looked upon as a "beautiful body" while in the virtual world we are treated as an "intellectual mind."

In house, the young woman is the property which her parents are keeping "safe and sound" until the anonymous knight comes on his white horse and takes her to the golden cell of marriage! To keep her safe and sound, they might commit unlimited number of crimes against her body, mind, and spirit. These crimes might be as painful as circumcision in childhood, as artificial as covering her body with as much clothes as possible in teenage, as frustrating as preventing her from travel for study or work, preventing her from choosing her own career, blaming her for being ambitious, etc.

One of the most painful experiences in my life based on the fact that I am a female, took place while I was undergraduate student. In the year 2001, after winning three levels in the annual Students Chess Competition, I was prevented from competing on the title of University Master of Chess because I am a "girl" and the final level was made only for "boys/" male students.

I protested and proved to the organizers of the competition that the mind of the "girl" is hundred percent equal to the mind of the "boy" and the difference between the minds of each of them has nothing to do with their gender. But, the answer from organizers was a threat to remove my previous titles! Of course, I had to shut up!

Even in the street and work place, young women are always looked upon as the sexual objects that men always desire to verbally or physically harass! What doubles the misery is that the society holds women – the victim – accountable for what the man did and blames her for being a "woman" who dared to walk in the site of men, and have to bear the dire consequences of being professionally ambitious!!

But online, in the virtual world, on the World Wide Web, the story is completely different. Thanks to the internet young women in the Middle East proved to their patriarchal societies that they are equal active minds and not only beautiful bodies or passive properties of men.

Online, I am the woman I always wanted to be: I can "virtually" dress the way I want. I can "virtually" walk in the web-sites men walk at without fear from harassment. I can "virtually" challenge a "male" mind in an online chess game and win. I can "virtually" discuss critical, political, and social topics and my opinion is respected regardless of my gender. Online, I am enjoying the freedom I always wanted to have.

When someone opens my blog, they read my ideas and deal with my mind regardless of my gender. Online, I am not the beautiful body any more, I am the "active mind" that people respect and follow. Online, I am the FaceBook member who does not shy to write in her profile "I am in relationship with … whoever."

I am the blogger who expresses herself without fear, who shares her own personal problems with the universe and networks with young women in different places in the Middle East on launching campaigns and changing the painful negativities of the real world.

Recently, on the day of the Mawlid Elnaby celebration in Egypt – Prophet Muhammad Birthday Celebration – I wrote an article about the suppression I suffer as a young Muslim woman for not being able to do pilgrimage to Mecca, only because the Saudi law prevents young women access to the holy land of Mecca without a "mahram;" a relative male chaperon!

By the way, one of the funny Fatwas by a famous Saudi scholar that was released in the year 2006 said that young women may not use the internet alone! The young woman must have a "mahram" a male relative chaperon with her while navigating the internet!!

Well! I posted the article on my blog and footed it with blaming the Saudi government for practicing such discrimination against all Muslim young women in the world. On the same day, several international and local media outlets including Almasry Alyoum and Alyoum El-Sabe' dailies, BBC Radio and website, PBS TV, Global Voices Website, Topix News Website, and some other international blogs picked up the article and made news stories around its topic.

Then, I received tens of emails from young Muslim women from different places all over the world offering their unconditioned help and asking me to activate this campaign on a wider global scale.

Thanks to the internet, my very personal problem turned into a global one and I am gaining supporters from all over the globe.

Now, the campaign is already launched and I believe that sooner or later we will gain this simple right to practice our religion without restrictions from this government or that regime.

These were only few examples of the many benefits we – young Middle Eastern women – gained through the internet. I wish I had more time to tell you more.

But before I end my speech, I would like to call upon all of you to help us young women in the Middle East to transform the freedom we are enjoying in the virtual world to the real world. All it takes is only few steps. It is not about changing regimes or laws. It is about changing mentalities of both women and men.

The first but most important step is for both men and women to believe that they are two wings for the same bird, which is our common society. If one wing is forced to be inactive, our society will fail to fly as high as we aspire. It will fall down faster than we would expect.

I said it before: Empower woman; then you empower the whole society!