25/11/2016

Acceptance speech – Mozn Hassan

Back in 2011, when everything seemed possible, hundreds of thousands of young men and women were politicized and introduced to the public sphere. A new feminist wave is being formed in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution.

Let me first express my pleasure and honor to accept the right livelihood award, thank you for this recognition, it means a lot to us in these difficult times. This Award is not only a recognition of Nazra’s work, it is a recognition of a century of feminist activism in this country that has inspired us and that we have sought to carry on as much as we could.

Since the beginning of the past century, Egyptian feminists have entered difficult battles, and have struggled for women’s issues to be taken seriously, from fighting for women’s education, protesting for national causes, asking for women’s political rights, to taking actions as radical as storming the parliament and occupying it…and they have paid hefty prices for their cause. Egyptian history is not short of feminist activism, yet there has always been a persistence in not seeing this activism, in not seeing feminists in this country, or at least not seeing them as part of the mainstream narrative of Egyptian history or politics.

What this award means to me today, is that in some way, the world is able to see Egyptian feminists, not as women ‘’on the sides\margins’’, but as essential actors in their societies and as real agents of change. In some way, the world is able to see that there is an Egyptian feminist movement, one that we did not start, and that we do not contribute in sustaining alone.

None of our work would have been possible if feminists before us haven’t imposed ‘’the woman question’’ with its many facets on the political and social agenda, and nothing that we have done can be read in isolation from the history of the feminist movement in Egypt. Perhaps it has not been highlighted enough elsewhere, but this movement has made us who we are, and our work is concerned mainly with sustaining and developing this movement with all its diversity.

The feminist question has been put on the agenda more than a century ago in Egypt, but in 2011, the revolution has created a very peculiar context that shaped our work, and perhaps that of the whole feminist movement for various reasons. Back in 2011, when everything seemed possible, hundreds of thousands of young men and women were politicized and introduced to the public sphere. Questions of ‘’change’’ ‘’freedom’’ ‘’democracy’’ opened new perspectives for the feminist movement, and new young feminist consciousness were formed all across the country.

The context of the revolution and its aftermath also posed difficult questions, and it generated processes of change such as constitution writing, changing legislations, elections, and taking the streets for change. whether these processes failed or succeeded is a different question, but their generation in itself allowed us to put women’s human rights on the agenda of change, and allowed a debate around them.

The revolution has also posed painful questions, and imposed ugly moments, like incidents of sexual violence in the public sphere. Yet, the context of activism and movement building at the time somehow allowed us to develop and articulate a discourse around sexual violence, and allowed us to work on the issue in a way that perhaps would not have been possible in a different timing. We are conscious that our work has been mostly shaped in this very specific context of hopes and frustrations, where a new feminist wave is being formed in the aftermath of 2011.

I am saddened that I cannot be with you today to accept the award in person. Yet, the feminist movement underwent various upheavals, and feminists have for long been targeted for their activism. The memory of Doria Shafik who has been put under house arrest by Abdel Nasser for her feminist activism is not too far away. We know that the feminist movement has and will continue to go through difficult moments, but we also know that it is always able to sustain itself, and to pick itself up again.

We know that some of what has been achieved in the past years cannot be undone and cannot be reversed. Independent civil society faces great obstacles today in Egypt, but we continue to work as long as we can for the continuity of an Egyptian feminist movement.

And because we believe that the continuity of this movement cannot be done without access to resources, we have decided to use the money of the right livelihood award to establish a MENA region women’s fund.

In a region ridden by six conflicts, and where otherwise women’s human rights are being undermined, civil society and feminists persecuted, and where there are no women’s fund at all, we hope that the establishment of this fund by the end of 2017 will help new generations of feminists in the region to carry on the struggle for women’s human rights, and to continue dreaming of a better future for women in the region and in the world, as we always have and still do.

Thank you.