Posted by on March 08, 2011 in Blog

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and this year the Arab American community has much to consider. Revolutions across the Middle East have featured Arab women at the front and center, a number of whom have been pivotal to the success of their respective uprisings. Consider Asmaa Mahfouz (pictured left), whose impassioned critiques inspired countless other Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square, or Tawakkul Abdel-Salam Karman, the imprisoned activist that helped spark the protests in Yemen. These women, and hundreds of thousands of others, have helped to dispel the pervasive myth of the Arab woman as silent and subjugated. In the streets of Cairo, Manama, Tunis, and Amman, women young and old, secular and religious, stand united in a common effort to assert their political and economic rights not just as women but as citizens and human beings.

As Naomi Wolf points out in a recent article in Al Jazeera, “women in Egypt did not just ‘join’ the protests – they were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable.” Indeed, Arab women have played a significant role in trade unions and grassroots organizations for decades, though their work often goes unnoticed and underreported.

Arab Americans have much to consider on the home front as well. According to the figures from the Census Bureau, Arab American women are almost 30% more likely to hold a higher education degree and earn about $3,000/year more than the average American woman. And yet, Arab American women are far more likely to fall below the poverty line, particularly in single-parent households. Arab Americans continue to experience greater wealth disparity, and greater gender inequity, than most other American groups.

Despite a century of women’s progress, society has not come as far as many had hoped. A women’s march in Tahrir Square today was disrupted by demonstrators protesting female candidacies for the Egyptian presidency. It was a chilling reminder that misogyny remains, not only in the Arab world but in America as well, where a sexual assault occurs on average once every two minutes. Looking back over the past 100 years, we’ve clearly come a long way, but we also still have a long way to go.