Along with six other female leaders, Bugaighis and Yahyaoui are on a Sunday evening bus tour of Washington attractions. The sightseeing is meant to get the honorees — who have heard about one another on blogs or through Facebook but have not met — out of hotel conference halls and give them a little bonding time. And it seems to be working.
Fast friends, the visitors talk about how — despite the fact that women and men stood hand in hand during the Arab Spring protests — men sidelined the women almost immediately afterward.
“The question is how do we, as women, stand again?” said Shatha al-Harazi, a 26-year-old reporter for the Yemen Times who overheard the women from Libya and Tunisia. Al-Harazi, who has braces, could be mistaken for a teenager. But she was summoned to the presidential palace after her tweets called attention to Yemen’s human rights abuses. She said that President Ali Abdullah Saleh should resign.
“Since I was in the fifth grade, I have always been questioning things,” Harazi said as the tour van rumbled along Embassy Row. “But men always want women to be this decoration, like you are this remote control that they can turn on and off. It took so much courage for Salwa to resign. To meet her is like spending time with your role model.”
This year’s ceremony brings together many of the female leaders who emerged during the Arab Spring. It also includes Mexican anti-corruption politician Ruth Zavaleta Salgado and Liberian girl-soldier rehabilitator Rosana Schaack, who observed the need when she was working as a nurse during the country’s civil war.
It has been the kind of week when Samoan entrepreneur Adi Tafuna’i, who works with female farmers to sell the country’s organic coconut oil to the Body Shop, could be seen discussing the power of women in business with Samar Minallah Khan, a documentary filmmaker from Pakistan who focuses on her country’s discrimination against women.
“It does feel like a bit of girl bonding, but with superwomen, since each of the women have their own power and strength,” said Khan, who brought her 14-year-old daughter, who removed her generation’s omnipresent earbuds to take it all in.
The women photograph a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt during a stop at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. They say that they are amazed at how effectively the United States is able to market its short history and that their own countries should do a better job of honoring female leaders.