Panel 2c Discourses of Women’s Resistance in the Middle East

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Chair: Dr Maria Holt, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster

Paper 1Redefining Freedom: Arab Women, Islam and Resistance
Dr Maria Holt, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster

Women’s participation in the Arab revolutions of 2011 casts doubt on conventional western narratives of female powerlessness and, at the same time, highlights the ‘longstanding exclusion of women from political processes’ in the Middle East, which has been identified as is a ‘key factor’ in why the region has been so slow to democratize. The involvement of Arab women in revolutionary change raises several questions: (1) what has been women’s experience with nation making and ‘modernity’? (2) how does ‘Islam’, as faith and political activism, constrain or enable women? (3) how does women’s recent participation conflict with western imaginings of women as disempowered individuals? This paper will argue that western notions of how ‘modernity’ is enacted need to be re-evaluated in light of Arab women’s resistance and their claims to a more inclusive citizenship.

Paper 2: Woman, Reborn: Neo-feminist Discourses in the Arab Awakening
Dr Luisa Gandolfo, Altajir Lecturer in Post-war Recovery Studies, University of York

Since the Arab Awakening commenced in late 2010, women have been visible amidst the demonstrators and have taken to the online medium to express their aspirations and frustration at the socio-political status quo. Through the revolutionary discourse emerges a new, secular Arab feminist rhetoric: one that calls for enhanced participation, challenges taboos and (in the case of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy) polarizes the nascent revolutionary movements. This paper will explore the secular feminist activism emerging in Tunisia and Egypt through the online medium, assessing the impact of the Arab Spring on feminist movements and comparatively analyze the objectives and ethos of secular Arab feminism alongside the Islamic feminist ideologies posited by theorists such as Fatima Mernissi, Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Nawal El Saadawi. >> download the paper

Paper 3: Gender Subjectivity under the Situation of Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip: Contradictory but Self-Respected
Dr Aitemad Muhanna Matar, Visiting Fellow, Middle East Centre, LSE

The prolonged spatial control and segregation imposed over the Gaza Strip by the Israelis has generated profound gender and generational changes, which dislocated the structural basis of the ideology of male domination and patriarchy in the Palestinian society. This paper focuses on the extension of poor women’s mobility and on the feminization of community-based organizations handling humanitarian aid distribution. As a result, women’s enactment of agency shifted from being respected  wives in the domestic sphere to being good collectors of coupons, instrumentalizing the socially and culturally constructed image of feminine inferiority. These situational gender and generational changes were not welcomed by poor women and men in Gaza, but are rather considered a humiliation, as well as a distortion of the moral aspects of Palestinian gendered subjects.

Paper 4: Associational Democracy and Women’s Empowerment in Saudi Arabia: The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Elections
Dr Hendrik Kraetzschmar, Lecturer in Middle East Politics, University of Leeds

According to the 2007 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap index, Saudi Arabia ranks as one of the bottom five countries. This comes as little surprise, given the regime’s conservative attitudes towards gender equality. Although slowly, change is however forthcoming. Over the past decade, the number of women in secondary/tertiary education has risen dramatically, their rights have been strengthened and legal restrictions on female entrepreneurship eased. One area in which women have made particularly significant strides towards empowerment concerns the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCIs), where since 2004 businesswomen have been entitled to vote in and stand for board of directors elections. Focussing on the newly-granted suffrage rights for businesswomen in the country’s CCIs, this research probes how women have fared in recent CCI elections, what obstacles they face and how their participation has been received within the CCIs and the broader Saudi public.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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