Women Leading in the Public Sphere: Demonstrating in the Square

This was first posted on Peace X Peace, an NGO focusing on 1) raising women’s voices, and 2) building cultures of peace. Visit their site to learn more about their interconnected work at: http://www.peacexpeace.org

From Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square, the Goddess of Democracy Award officially catapults the grassroots efforts of a struggle into globally recognized emblem of history. Inspired from the Goddess of Liberty statue in Tiananmen Square, the US based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) recognizes activists by awarding its miniaturized version. This year, Zahraa Said and Jamel Battaieb both received the honor on behalf of its people. Zahraa Said raised not only women’s voices, but raised men’s voices too as millions of Egyptians protested peacefully from January 25th to February 11th.

On Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 Egyptian activist, Zahraa Said, made history again: it was the first time President Obama received Arab Democracy activists as award recipients since the Arab Spring. Ms. Zahraa Said and Tunisian activist/professor Jamel Bettaieb visited the White House after receiving the NED’s prestigious award.

In 2010, Zahraa immediately took action after two police officers, in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria, brutally beat her brother, Khalid Said, to death because of Khalid’s photos exposing police corruption. The Facebook page, “We Are All Khalid Said”, signified Zahraa’s grassroots interconnectedness as she enlisted thousands to go beyond sympathizing for the young businessman’s death to empathizing for a cause. As a result, Zahra’s efforts contributed directly to the January 25 revolution in Egypt and, ultimately, led to toppling ex President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Founded in 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) operates as a private NGO and receives funding from the US Congress. NED established a tradition of recognizing freedom and democracy leaders across the globe by awarding the Goddess of Liberty statue. Aside from awarding this honor, NED also holds a roundtable to reflect on the lessons learned that had led up to the awardees’ success. NED’s Director of Middle East region, Laith Kubba moderated the roundtable, which canvassed Arab countries participating in the Arab Spring: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Two other female leading activists joined to comprise a gender balanced dialogue at the NED panel held at the US Capitol’s Rayburn building: (1) Sahar F. Aziz, an Egyptian-American civil rights attorney, reflected on Egypt’s judicial reform; and (2) Atiaf Zaid Alwazir, an independent Yemeni researcher and blogger, epitomized how social networking technologies affect even lesser developed countries. Ms. Alwazir’s blog, http://womanfromyemen.blogspot.com, captures live accounts as well as provides analysis. Ms. Alwazir received her M.A. in International Affairs. This fall, Ms. Aziz will be teaching law at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.

Husain Abdulla Aly Ramadan Abouzaakouk, and Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, provided perspectives on Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Concluding the two part event, State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William J. Burns, highlighted NED’s enthusiasm for continued success in supporting activists on the democracy front.

Next year, NED will select awardees for advocating for democracy and freedom. Based on the efforts of women to lead both physically on the public square, as well as virtually master the newer communication mediums, the Goddess of Democracy will probably be embraced by another woman—regardless of her regional influence because she will inspire globally.

Recognizing Previous Awardees
Previous National Endowment for Democracy Awardees for Goddess of Democracy include the following women—whom also raised women’s voices and/or built communities of peace—from the Middle East & North Africa as well as the Muslim world:
• Sakena Yacoobi, Afghanistan-2005
-NED selected Ms. Yacoobi for founding the Afghan Institute for Learning, which propels computer education as a vocation for Afghani women.
-Specifically, Yakoubi’s institute has trained hundreds of Afghan women in bookkeeping, management and accounting.

• Nadjet Bouda, Algeria-2002
-From the age of 16, Nadjet Bouda joined the Rally for Youth Action while raising awareness about the number and plight of “disappeared” Algerians during its Civil War.
-According to the NED, Ms. Bouda’s efforts reflect “the importance of youth in the effort to spread democratic values throughout the Muslim world.”

• Mehrangiz Kar, Iran-2002
-Ms. Mehrangiz Kar continues her work as an outspoken Iranian attorney, writer, and activist who has constructively critiqued discrimination against women and non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
-She is married to prominent journalist, Siamak Pourzand, who is a political prisoner in Tehran.

• Mariam Hussein Mohamed, Somalia-2002
-Dr. Mariam Hussein Mohamed founded Somalia’s leading human rights group, the Dr. Ismail Jumale Human Rights Organization (DIJHRO), which objectively documents human rights violations committed by all groups in Somalia.
-NED selected Dr. Mohamed because she expanded her human rights crusade that envelops twenty-four Somali civil society organizations under the umbrella: Peace and Human Rights Network (PHRN).

• Muborak Tashpulatova, Uzbekistan-2002
-Ms. Tashpulatova received NED’s award for her role as the Director of the Tashkent Public Education Center (TPEC).
-The Center collaborated with Uzbekistan’s leading educators to (1) develop handbooks for teaching human rights, and (2) conduct “town hall” style civic forums for parents, youth, and government.

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