The notion of covering Muslim women outrages some in the West, who see only repression and abuse.
Witness the outcry for years about blue burqas in Afghanistan.
The Middle East looks at women and girls uncovered in the West, and shudders for their safety. They look at Western women, and see only oppression and abuse.
(BTW: Some silly Western women donned burqas to write about them; I still can’t fathom why anyone in Canada or the U.S. believed that was a story.)
The black niqab, that head-to-toe covering in Egypt that reveals only eyes, is especially offensive to many outsiders.
It’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with Muslim countries, and their seemingly medieval notions of womanhood.
Today, those niqabs send chills rippling along my spine.
I am overjoyed to see women in the streets, women openly participating in civil society, women voting — can it be true? VOTING.
from the morning wires: “I am voting for freedom. We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom,” said 50-year-old Iris Nawar at a polling station in Maadi, a Cairo suburb.
“We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them, too,” said Nawar, a first-time voter.
A first-time voter. At 50.
We are in the same age group, Iris and I.
I have lived in freedom and full, (some would say full-throated), open political debate.
I have gone to university in jeans since I was 17. I have studied politics and international affairs, and argued with men about politics since my teens (not always a happy event in our family).
I went back to school later, graduating at the age of 55. I am so grateful for this opportunity, I can get teary sometimes, just sharing the thrill of it.
And I have always voted.
I voted at 18, when the age of eligibility had just been lowered in Canada. I proudly cast my ballot for Pierre Trudeau, the controversial intellectual who would lead our country through some of the angriest and most fearful times in our history.
Certainly in my time. I have not forgotten that, in my first year away from home, there were tanks and heavily armed soldiers in Ottawa, near the Parliament buildings — Canada’s seat of democratic power.
In Canada. Tanks and guns and men in battle gear in the streets.
I was at Carleton University, the first child in our extended family to go to post-secondary school.
In our farming community, public education was a privilege and a right.
I am always grateful for the freedom to study, to argue politics, to get involved in campaigns, and to vote — in jeans or long dresses.
Voting is a freedom for which my forebears fought, in Finland; and sacrificed, in Scotland and Canada.
This is a right for which women in Canada and the U.S. marched and shouted and faced the threat of jail and violence, 100 years ago.
Then, women in both countries could not vote; they were considered a man’s property, as much as his horse (the man being a father, a husband, or a son).
Women wore long skirts and shirtsleeves covering most of their bodies, and were attacked as immoral for being out on their own (i.e. man-less), protesting in the streets.
Consider this: The first Canadian women won the right to vote, in Manitoba, in 1917.
The last province to permit its women to vote was Quebec. In 1940.
Women only won the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920, and still lacked full rights. (Alas, because the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment, is always fought by conservatives and business leaders — women and men — it is unlikely American women will see equality protected in the U.S. constitution soon.)
So when I see Egyptian women doing something many never thought possible in our lifetime, I smile and think of suffragettes here, and there. I am always thankful for their long-skirted protests in the streets, more than a century ago.
The veils will lift in Egypt; make no mistake about it.