The women's majlis: Feminist Twitter has ruffled feathers

Late last year, a group of Emirati women launched an account on Twitter with the handle @feministsinuae. Their purpose of doing this was to promote social awareness of women’s issue in the UAE, and to start a conversation regarding women’s rights, general roles and patriarchy in the UAE. The account was instantly popular: it gained […]

Late last year, a group of Emirati women launched an account on Twitter with the handle @feministsinuae. Their purpose of doing this was to promote social awareness of women’s issue in the UAE, and to start a conversation regarding women’s rights, general roles and patriarchy in the UAE.

The account was instantly popular: it gained several hundred followers in a matter of weeks. I followed the account as soon as I discovered it, and was very pleased with the intellectual conversation it initiated. I was also pleased to see other Emirati Twitter users responding positively to it – sharing their thoughts on feminism, and why they think feminism should be supported in the UAE.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was the backlash from other Emiratis who took great offence to the messages spread by the women behind this ­Twitter account. Some users reacted violently to the content, which was a disturbing development to say the least. Some were tweeting threats of murder and rape, with others saying they would report the account to the authorities.

This reaction surprised me, because if they didn’t like it they could have simply dismissed and ignored the messages by unfollowing the account. It makes me wonder how simple tweets about “women’s rights” posted on a social media platform where you follow if you are interested could generate such anger – seriously, what gives anyone the right to threaten anyone anyway?

The only thing I can think of is that this level of anger and discomfort might stem from sections of society who perhaps now feel like they’re living in a different world than they previously thought they were. From my experience, it’s sometimes the case that men who grew up believing that the roles of women in the UAE were limited are often stunned to find out that women are not happy about those ­attitudes.

They may also take these calls for social equality as a personal attack on them, because it’s their gender that appears to be benefiting from the traditional views that have been in place for many years. The tweets by @feministsinuae, as far as I can see, have done nothing more than try to spread awareness of women’s rights and push for equality, just as the UAE government has long tried to do.

Yet a lot still needs to be done in this quest, and I do hope that more people will begin talking about these issues and this movement. Hopefully one day we will find ourselves having a conversation about it without people getting offended. Because the call for social equality really shouldn’t offend anyone.

Fawzeya Abdul Rahman works for the Abu Dhabi Government.

If you have a good story to tell or an interesting issue to debate, contact Melinda Healy on mhealy@thenational.ae.

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