When Egyptian women called for a demonstration in Tahrir Square during International Women's Day last year, they were physically attacked, subjected to virginity tests and chased from the square.
An on-campus lecturer Dr. Haleh Esfandiari detailed the day's events Thursday and said a large cloud currently hangs over the future status of women's rights in the Middle East.
Esfandiari currently serves as director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C.
Women's rights in the Middle East have gone through a variety of changes since the Arab Spring began over a year ago, Esfandiari said.
Men and women from all walks of life stood side by side during demonstrations calling for reform and regime change in certain Middle Eastern countries, she said.
"Men and women called not for women's rights but for human rights, human dignity, transparency, the rule of law and independent judiciaries," Esfandiari said.
These were 21st century revolutions born in the age of internet and social networks, she said.
"The world could see revolutions unfolding before their eyes 24 hours a day," Esfandiari said.
Once uprisings ceased, women were returned to a lower status, Esfandiari said.
They were routinely harassed, beaten and chased out of public places, she said.
"Unfortunately the Arab Awakening, for them, was a spring without flowers," Esfandiari said. "Women were chased out of the squares they had once occupied and where they had been welcome as sisters in arms."
Some steps of democratization are taking place in these countries, yet women feel they are being marginalized by conservative groups, Esfandiari said.
"It is a fact of life in these countries that women are treated as foot soldiers that after the revolution must shed their uniform and return to their homes," Esfandiari said.
However, women are making strides in other areas in certain countries, she said.
In Iran women have made significant progress since the revolution, she said.
Education creates a sense of self-confidence among women and raises their demands for opportunities, Esfandiari said.
In post-Mubarak Egypt, the civility initially shown to women has evaporated, Esfandiari said.
However, the women's movement in Egypt has not been passive, she said.
They are pushing for an article in the newly drafted Constitution that will preserve women's rights and the advances women have made in the pre-revolutionary period, Esfandiari said.
Esfandiari said she fears that Islamists will push for revision of the existing progressive personal statuses of women, but she remains optimistic that all is not lost.
"Once women become aware of women's power they cannot be delegated back to their homes and to traditional roles," Esfandiari said. "Women must stay vigilant, remain one step ahead and continue the struggle for their rights."
Esfandiari addressed the OU community at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in conjunction with the Stella Jo Morrisett Lectureship.
The lecture was the third and final event of an annual symposium, which is presented by the College of International Studies, Middle Eastern Studies coordinator Ariel Ahram said. The symposium features varying regions of the world each year, Ahram said.