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Carrying the Torch toward Justice

23 July 2012

Egyptians secured many gains in the revolution that began in January 2011, yet many suffered and many died. One Egyptian woman, Azza Hilal Suleiman, shared her traumatizing story with us at the MENA conference in June 2012 of what she suffered at the hands of Egyptian armed forces, and what she is doing now in her struggle for justice and accountability. 

Azza Hilal Suleiman six months after undergoing a brutal beating at the hands of the Egyptian armed forces. Photo: Rowan Farrell.
Azza Hilal Suleiman six months after undergoing a brutal beating at the hands of the Egyptian armed forces.
Photo: Rowan Farrell.

When we met Azza Hilal Suleiman in June 2012 at the WILPF Middle East North Africa (MENA) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, we would not have imagined that this Egyptian woman, only seven months prior, had been lying on a hospital bed bruised and bloodied, fearing for her life. In the same sense, Suleiman would not have imagined that she would indeed survive, and then go on to share her testimony with women from all over the world. Her courageous story has been an inspiration to those working to achieve their aims of peace, justice and security for women in every society.

In December 2011, almost a year after the start of the Egyptian Revolution, and long after former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, violence was still being waged in the streets of Cairo. A CNN segment shows a swarm of Egyptian soldiers beating and dragging a defenseless woman in the streets. It was at that moment that Azza Hilal Suleiman decided to intervene and was answered with a merciless beating of her own at the hands of Egypt’s armed forces.


The pride that many Egyptians once had in their armed forces has been undoubtedly shaken from instances like these that have continuously taken place since the uprising. Suleiman stated, “I grew up in an environment that respected the army: my father was a general. Two of my uncles were generals. Two of my brothers are also generals. We were raised up respecting the army and strongly believing in the nobility of our national army.”

In an interview with Suleiman’s brother, he says “Yes we come from a family of officers and yes, the army was once a source of pride for us. I am so thankful my father died before seeing my sister in this condition. It would have pained him a great deal having been a part of the organisation that attacked her.”

Despite blood clots and deep bruises that have not yet healed completely, Suleiman does not regret her decision to intervene on that December day in Tahrir Square.

“The day I helped this veiled girl I never thought of what they would do to me. All I thought was that another human being needed help. I ran to her and asked the officers ‘why this violence’?”

Shockingly enough, a few months following the attack, Suleiman’s fiancé was shot and killed by men she believes to be working in tandem with the armed forces. She is now committed to avenging his life through legal recourse.


After the horrors that Suleiman and many other Egyptians experienced, one may expect them to feel defeated or helpless against such a powerful military force. Yet, Suleiman states, “When you go through hard times, solidarity is strongest. These attacks have proven to me the love between us, the strength we share…we must ensure we get our rights back, that we hold these people accountable.”

In the current Egyptian atmosphere, accessing civilian courts remains a challenge and many perpetrators have yet to be held accountable. Nevertheless, Egyptians like Suleiman will not give up and they will continue to struggle until they can welcome a day where their cries for justice will be answered, and the impunity of the military will come to an end.

The solidarity among women protestors is especially strong after coming together on the streets during the uprising and demanding that their voices be heard. They rallied not only against former President Hosni Mubarak, but also against any factors that have continuously kept them on the periphery of the political process in years past.

In the coming months, Egyptian women have much more to fight for to ensure an equal and inclusive society. They will struggle for increased access to education and economic opportunities, a place for women in government, unbiased media, laws against harassment and sexual violence, and the prevention of politicized religion that could potentially be used to justify their exclusion. Brave women like Azza Hilal Suleiman will not shy away from these challenges, especially when it comes to continuing the revolution and bringing her assailants to justice.


During her recovery, Suleiman would constantly voice her desire to get back to Tahrir Square. Her fiancé would tell her not to worry, that she had done what she could. He said, “Let others also carry your torch”. In memory of him and the many others who suffered the same fate, Egyptians will surely continue to carry the torch on the journey toward justice so that no life given in its pursuit will be in vain.

Learn more about WILPF’s MENA Agenda 1325 project. 

By Meghan Walsh





25 January 2011: Day one of demonstrations

10 February 2011: Mubarak gives defiant speech, refuses to step down

11 February 2011: Mubarak resigns and flees Egypt

25 March 2011: Mass frustration with military rule

27 May 2011: “Second revolution” protests stem from frustration over the slow place of reforms

28 July 2011: Violence in Tahrir Square

8 July 2011: Protests against ruling generals, police brutality, stagnant economy

29 July 2011: Million-Islamist March

16 November 2011: The armed forces reinstate emergency law, prompting anger from protestors

7 October 2011: Protestors demand a civilian government

19 November 2011: Soldiers and police attempt to clear Tahrir Square by force

21 December 2011: Women march for their rights; some women beaten by soldiers

23 December 2011: Largest protest against the armed forces since the summer

2 June 2012: Mubarak jailed for protest deaths

15 June 2012: Highest court annuls parliament; military extends its power

24 June 2012: Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Morsi declared president in first democratic election in Egyptian history; makes call for unity

9 July 2012: Parliament meets at the request of President Morsi despite earlier military ruling

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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