Few women know their true worth. Their potential for power, their upstanding place in society. But for a few days, in Egypt-- a place of current revolution -- women decided to speak up.
Ebele Okobi opened up the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit on Women and Social /Digital Media in Cairo with a powerful statement – “A determined woman is a force of nature.” These simple, yet eloquent words touched me deeply. It is funny how emotion and fact can move women to action. That is just the sort of character trait that I found in the women I met in Cairo.
The summit displayed a carousel of progressive voices. Women from across the globe (Egypt, Middle East, North Africa, the U.S., Europe) gathered and spoke about human rights/social justice activism, blogging, journalism, entrepreneurship, safety online, and shared views on how to use technology and media platforms to support virtual communication without borders.
The speakers had different backgrounds and stories, but the audience could clearly map a common denominator, that is the questions raised out loud to make everyone think critically.
- What is a woman? What is your own definition?
- Should we move away from the false fear driven equation women=loss of honor in society?
- What about transforming fears into a renewed energy for women empowerment and adopting a changed perspective in everyday life?
- What about women who bring honor to society and win a Nobel peace prize?
- What about women who understand who they are and are driven by motivation and strong will?
The summit moved from panel to panel and I kept hearing the same message over and over, “Women need organizational structure” and the question, “What triggers a paradigm shift in many women’s lives?”
Here is my summary in 3 steps:
- Understanding who you are and what inspires you.
- Aligning with other like- minded women.
- Connecting without borders and standing for each other according to your own comfort level (front line or behind the scene).
There was no shame during the summit, women felt free to express themselves: public female figures (and not) shared their dreams and spoke out loud their revolutionary minds. Can just having a voice beat fear? Yes! Fearful people usually hide behind other‘s widely accepted ideas. I listened to Manal Al-Sharif, a professional Saudi woman, who is leading the campaign to support women’s drivers and it just hit me, how is it possible that some women in 2012 have limited freedom of movement? I said to myself stop arguing with reality and accept it; it is what it is and only action can make a change. Manal acted and she was jailed for 9 days. She gained my respect for acting upon her belief. She helped me believe that Facebook campaigns, youtube videos, social and media platforms are the foundations we can use to support the global virtual alignment between women involved in social justice and human rights causes.
The Internet is virtual power. The Egyptians are a great example of how to use the internet to gather like-minded people and ideas, and make a real impact on issues that oppress their people.
Women are powerful because we are a main voice of society. Ideas and modern minds will continue to expand as long as we keep sharing our realities, even if we risk punishment and peril. Experience sharing is infectious because it creates a sense of belonging in other women’s minds around the globe – if facts and emotion combine, we cannot shake the pain of truth. I am convinced that creating awareness and sharing stories must be a duty for all women without regard for geographical borders.
I participated myself as speaker in the last panel “What’s next” and I conveyed 3 important messages:
- Who I am.
- Why I was in Cairo.
- My dream for the future.
I ask you: what is really next?
I have decided:
Next is to continue a respectful conversation with an audience made of men and women;
Next is creating new mentorship programs while growing existing ones (see Techwomen);
Next is breaking away from the concept of communication based on physical vicinity;
Next is spreading art among youth as powerful communication tool;
Next is Yahoo! leading discussions and creating action items from this Cairo summit.
I believe that the internet, women, and curiosity are key ingredients to an explosive but peaceful change in society!