CNN Photos

Women in the Arab uprisings

American photojournalist Sarah Elliott was surprised by how many women were involved in the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The level of commitment the Egyptian women next door showed for human rights in their country impressed her, too.

A year ago today, Egyptian activists staged a pro-women demonstration in Cairo . The event coincided with International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8.

“The bodies of women, so often used as ideological battlegrounds, have withstood all kinds of police violence, from tear gas to live bullets,” organizers said on Facebook. “The real battleground did not differentiate between women and men.”

Inspired by what she saw during the Arab Spring, Elliott began documenting women’s roles in the uprisings as the governments fell in Egypt and Libya last year.

She met many brave women, she said, including three who ran a revolutionary newspaper in Libya. It was basically a flier, she explained, with demonstration dates and explanations of what was happening in Tripoli. Rebels distributed the papers to citizens too afraid to leave their homes.

One of these women also worked with her father, dangerously using a radio to listen to pro-Gadhafi troops and then warning people of future raids on their neighborhoods or buildings.

Elliott hopes to show the “invaluable contribution, tireless efforts and steadfast courage of women in the revolutions.” She also hopes the North African countries will provide women with more equal rights as government negotiations continue.

Women played an important part in toppling these regimes, she said, even though most of their work was behind the scenes and largely undocumented.

“Every woman wanted to contribute and tell me their story,” Elliott said. She was amazed by their openness and eagerness. “The majority of their efforts were done in secrecy … but their harrowing and brave contributions still needed to be recorded.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Learn about eight women at the forefront of the Arab Spring.