“Facebook girl” isn’t a girl, really. Esraa Abdel Fattah is a courageous 33 year old activist who has been a driving force for social change in her country, Egypt. She’s both a pragmatist and an optimist, with an understanding that change is both hard fought and hard won.
Esraa’s use of social media started in 2008, when she started a Facebook page to support a textile workers strike. That page garnered 74,000 supporters and landed her in jail for 18 days. Fast forward to earlier this year, Esraa live blogged and tweeted from Tahrir Square, and became one of the most well-known Egyptian activists getting the word out to the rest of the world.
Last week, Esraa was named one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year, and this week, she spoke at an event at the Vital Voices offices in Washington DC. Esraa is impressive – for what she has done of course – but also for the matter of fact way she talks about her country and what needs to be done to create democratic institutions and ensure that freedoms and rights are enshrined. Esraa, a human rights activist, did not start as a women’s rights activist, but now she is working hard to ensure that women keep their rights and are part of Egypt’s future. To do this, she has started a nonprofit group to train women to become political leaders: “my time in jail taught me you should bear any pain to achieve what you believe in,” she says. “Then nothing—nothing—will stop you.” Esraa hopes that people can be judged on their qualifications for office and leadership, not gender.
Esraa, who would like to run for parliament herself someday, sees the Egyptian election next week as just a beginning. She does not think that there will be many women elected next week (her prediction that there will be maybe 6 women in a parliament of over 400). She supports a quota for women in parliament and that at least 40% of the Egyptian cabinet should be women. On this election day, she’ll be in the streets, protecting hard won rights. Hopefully next election, she’ll be on the ballot as well.
This piece was cross-posted on Stephenie Foster