Perhaps one of the most memorable facets of Egypt’s pro-democracy uprisings earlier this year was the strong presence of women in the (largely peaceful) demonstrations that took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other Egyptian public arenas. The revolutionary images broadcast around the world showed Egyptian women from all walks of life joining their male counterparts in the often dangerous rallies leading up the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
This period of gender equality, however, was short lived, as many Egyptian women discovered a few weeks ago, when activists issued a call for a “Million Woman March” in Tahrir Square to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8. The public space that had become synonymous with peaceful revolution was no longer hospitable to the same women that had populated it during the historic protests. Rather, many groups of men dogged female participants and admonished them to “return home and take care of their families.”
Dalia Ziada, a prominent Egyptian cyber-activist and blogger, spoke to us about the growing marginalization of women in Egypt’s political sphere following Mubarak’s departure at the Newsbeast Women in the World conference in New York City. On the eve of Egypt’s constitutional referendum — the first free election in 18 years — Ziada, 29, talks about the importance of including women’s voices in the committee that is responsible for revising the country’s constitution, and speaks to the importance of women’s rights in any true democratic state.
This video is a collaboration between Women, War & Peace and PBS’s Need to Know. Protest footage courtesy of Al Jazeera.
Having traveled to parts of the world where war has done its usual nasty work on people’s lives, I have come to develop a particular hatred for the shape, the look, the sound of the AK-47. It was perfected by a Russian named Mikhail Kalashnikov — thus its other alias — in the same year that the Russians completed their first successful test of an atom bomb, and while the latter got more media coverage, the former’s appearance on the scene has been far more damaging to countries and to lives.
Thanks to the dynamics of the Cold War, this gun was the signature weapon of rebel movements around the world — it even graces the national flag of Mozambique. Once the Cold War ended, any former Soviet Army officer worth his salt made a killing in the open market selling these and other stockpiles of small arms into black markets around the world.
Even its most ardent supporters will admit that the Kalashnikov is not the most accurate, elegant or even effective weapon on the market. It has endured because the design is simple, its parts easily replaced or restored, and its low weight and ease of operation make it an ideal weapon for rebel movements and guerrilla groups that don’t have time to train recruits and have to rely on child soldiers, women combatants or on poor, starving conscripts. It is knocked off in China, North Korea, Venezuela and in most of the countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Of the 800 million small arms in circulation around the world, around 15 percent are Kalashnikovs.
When the activist Peter Thum approached me about an idea he had to buy AK’s in Congo and melt them down for jewelry, I jumped at the chance. The idea of making swords into plowshares has always been a favorite of mine, and this seemed like a 21st century opportunity to act out that biblical idea. So last month, I invited a few friends over, and a few people who might be interested in the work of Thum’s NGO, Fonderie 47, and we did an enormously satisfying thing. We cut a gun in half. And it was wonderful.