Voices of women of the Middle East heard loud and clear

March 8 is International Women's Day, and this year there's no better place to recognise the occasion than the Middle East, where women have been at the forefront of social change.

The old clichés that the women of the Middle East are backward, uneducated and complicit in their oppression have been wrenched away from the global discourse. It was a narrative that sought to take away your voices by claiming to know better than you what you want.

But you have changed all of that. Around the world, we've seen your presence across television screens, in newspaper pictures and throughout the internet. We've heard your voices on the radio, in interviews and speaking to friends, colleagues and global citizens. We've felt the strength of your emotions and beliefs translate into political change - which was unforeseeable three months ago - change that has occurred thanks in great measure to your participation. We have seen you side by side with men demanding justice and freedom. Irrespective of religion, ethnicity, geography and education, you have had your say. And your say has made a difference.

On January 18, a 26-year-old woman in Egypt, Asmaa Mahfouz, uploaded a video on YouTube, urging her fellow citizens to go out to Tahrir Square, to fight for their country. The video went viral and it is suggested that her say was one of the catalysts that sparked the revolution. She is just one example among many of how a woman's voice can be clear, true and unafraid; how a woman can and must make a change; how a woman must be listened to and respected. In this case, Mahfouz had her say, which helped to inspire a nation.

We should pause at this moment in history to recognise the voices of such women at the front line of carrying the aspirations of their people into visible change. Even more important is that society has come to realise that women have voices, that they have something important to say. And more critically, they must be listened to.

Those in power - whether at the level of high political office, or simply at home - have realised that a woman's say is fundamental to a healthy and dynamic social fabric. If women's voices - "her say" - were not recognised, valued and listened to before, the time is now for them to be acknowledged for the importance and value that they hold.

This column has the most appropriate title for a piece of my writing at this moment. And it is even more poignant because March 8 will mark the centenary of International Women's Day. Who can say if a century ago I could have written to express my views so freely?

"Her say" might have been considered inappropriate, might still be considered as such in some quarters, but the seeds of change are flowering today.

There are those who claim that women should restrict themselves to the private domain. But recent events have proven otherwise. It is only when men and women have come out together, when men and women have raised their voices together, when her say as well as his are articulated, that change can happen.

The importance of her say in public and political events is clear, but this applies equally to the private domain. Whether you are a man or a woman, take a moment this week to turn to the women in your lives and ask them: "What do you want to say?" Then make sure to listen clearly to her aspirations.

The answers might surprise you.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk