World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Rethinking Women Social Rights and Identity 222 - Panel

· Date: WED 21, 11.30-1.30am

· Language: English

· Description: Chair: Afaf Bataineh (Media Studies-American University of Sharjah)

Paper presenter: Liv Tønnessen (PhD Student-Chr. Michelsen Institute, CMI, Norway), “Bargaining with Patriarchy in Sudan: The Art of Reimagining Islam”
The Islamist coup d'etat in 1989 in Sudan has fuelled intense debates about the subordination of women living under Islamic law. The article claims that the very processes of Islamization that secure women’s subordination under Islamic law also offer the tools of potential liberation. The article analyzes how Muslim elite women actively accommodate, resist, redefine, subvert and reinterpret the dominant Islamist ideology as espoused in discourse and de facto laws. These processes of accommodation and resistance may be seen in the multiple (re)imagining of Islam. Islamism in Sudan has provided a religious-political public space in which Muslim Sudanese women have begun to bargain and challenge patriarchal interpretations of the Islamic law and (re)negotiate their rights within the frame of Islam vis-à-vis the state. In contrast to earlier research on Islam and women in Sudan, I include secular, Islamic, Islamist, and salafist groups in my study. My findings suggest that there are two trends of activism within civil society. The first trend bargains for a reinterpretation and reform of women’s rights within the Islamic law, whereas the second trend bargains to conserve and uphold the patriarchal structures within an Islamic paradigm. The article suggests further that the qualitatively different reimaginations of women’s rights within Islam are at the heart of debates about conflicting visions of Islam, society and, politics in Sudan.

Paper presenter: Ewa Strzelecka (PhD Candidate-University of Granada, Spain), “Culture, Gender and Development: Rethinking the Policy and the Practice of ‘Gender Equality’ and ‘Women’s Empowerment’ in Yemen”
The present paper examines the intersection and inter-connection of ‘culture’, ‘gender’ and ‘development’ in the contexts of the shape of a new paradigm for development studies, which has shifted from an emphasis on political economy to now include other areas of study, including feminist studies and cultural studies. According to this paradigm, women from developing countries and gender relations in general are not only placed at the centre of development and global processes, but their culture(s) are finally beginning to be visible and discussed. This hypothesis states that human and sustainable development is possible only if gender equality and local cultures are embraced. The central question is how can this paradigm for development studies be put into practice in the context of developing counties? I examined this question in the context of gender policies and practices in Yemen. The fieldwork I carried out in 2009 in Sana’a focuses on formal and informal associations that work for women’s rights, gender equality and development in Yemen. I analysed female and male voices and practices in order to understand the ways in which gender inequalities are negotiated, re-produced and challenged. The research is aimed at the significance of culture in these grassroots programmes, initiatives and strategies for social change. I applied a new ‘Women, Culture and Development’ (WCD) approach in my research, authored by Kum Kum Bhavnani, Peter Chua and John Foran (2000). This perspective throws a spotlight on three aspects: on ‘culture’ as lived experience, on women’s agency, and on the crucial relationship between reproduction and production in women’s lives. The WCD framework permits an opening of new avenues for development, because it recognises that the economy should not be privileged above other aspects of peoples’ everyday lives - their cultures. From this perspective, Yemeni women are not simply limited to being symbols of cultural identity and keepers of tradition, but they are more fully identified as agents of social activism and diversity, capable of creative power and political dynamism. The research results challenge western stereotypes on Yemeni women as passive victims, citing as evidence their leading role in society through their productive and reproductive activities and their contribution to social and cultural change. In addition, the WCD perspective challenges the limitations of Euro-centric assumptions about relations between men and women in Yemen, because there are not only exploitation, subordination and conflict, but also significant levels of co-operation, which include the importance of familial bonds. In summary, the WCD perspective allows us to depict both the tension and continuity in women’s lives and experiences, as well as the complexity and diversity of gender relations in Yemen.

Paper presenter: Bouderbane Azzedine (President of Scientific Council-Département de Bibliothéconomie, University of Constantine), “Women as Users of New Technologies: between Difficulties and Challenges”
The development of new technologies and their integration in various fields of human activities have generated significant changes in society. These transformations concern both the organisation of working activities and the individual's ordinary daily activities. The transition from the industrial society to the information society has portrayed one specific characteristic which consists in making information and knowledge as a general principle for the management of human and social matters. As a consequence, handling information and mastering the techniques of information search have become a fundamental and a strategic basis for any progress. If new technologies have become an essential resource in the individual's life within the digital environment, we find difficulties to explain why women, in contrast to men, do not show any enthusiasm in using and exploiting the new technological products though it is supposed that the main objective in generalising the use of modern technologies consists in providing freedom to man in general and women in particular. This problem has led us to ask certain questions:
-What are the characteristics of the new digital society that push all individuals to cope with this new environment?
-Why is there a division between men and women in terms of use of technological products?
-Why do women retract from using technology? Is it a decision taken by women themselves or is it a deliberate orientation from the part of men?
-Are there winning cards that technology can provide specifically to women? If so, what are they?
-What are the obstacles that prevent women from crossing the ground of technology? This is just a sample of the interrogations that can be raised, analysed and discussed. In our paper, we will present the results of a survey led at the University of Constantine. Through this study, we intend to understand the female teachers and the female students' point of view about the use of new technologies and about the major difficulties these women face in relation to the exploitation of technology. The significant results that have been obtained can certainly enhance a fruitful debate.

Paper presenters: Abeer Najjar / Afaf Bataineh (Assistant Professor of Media Studies-American University of Sharjah // Assistant Professor of Arab Studies- Zayed University, United Arab Emirates), "Objectification of Reality: Un/Veiling of Arab/Muslim Women"
This paper examines the symbolic significance of unveiling in Arab/Muslim societies. Our initial research shows that the examination of unveiling is tied to the thorough understanding of the varied meanings of the veil. Therefore, the meanings of veiling will be discussed then contrasted with the meanings of unveiling. In Arab/Muslim societies, veiling is often viewed as a religious obligation denoting one uncontested meaning; the covering of the face or head. However, our investigation reveals that veiling has numerous meanings. These are dynamic, fluctuating over time and differ across and within societies. State, religious groups, traditions and the individual seem to be the main actors who determine the particular meaning of the headscarf. In some cases, the law of the State determines whether women can or cannot wear the veil. Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example, rule that all women must wear the veil in public. In contrast, Turkey’s laws forbid the wearing of veil in public. In other cases, active religious groups, such as Hamas, impose veiling on women who live within their boundaries. Furthermore, traditions play dual roles; discouraging women from wearing the veil as in certain areas of Indonesia, and encouraging the veil as is the case in most Arab countries. Nonetheless, most Arab societies are collective, rendering veiling as the norm rather than an individualistic choice. Those meanings have implications on the meanings of unveiling, which the paper will clarify. Regardless of the actor, what seems to matter is the symbolic meaning created for the veil. On the one hand, the veil is seen as a marker of transnational identity, sign of women’s purity and protection, symbolic of female conformity, an indication of certain religious beliefs or deepening religiosity, a form of class distinction and a protest against the so called universal western hegemony. On the other hand, the veil can be seen as a restrictive dress-code for women, a backward move to indigenous Islam, a legacy of patriarchy, a tool for the objectification of women and a hindrance to the advancement of women in public. The paper argues that a more systemic analysis of the un/veil requires the employment of ‘objectification of reality’. This is the creation of a single reality within which meanings gain validation. At the same time, the creator fails to recognize not only the existence of other realities but also that the reality created is a constructed one. It is this objectification of reality that this paper shall use to explore the processes through which the meanings of unveiling are constructed in Arab/Muslim societies in contrast to those attributed to veiling through the same processes

Paper presenter: Maryam Khalid (PhD Candidate-University of New South Wales) “Gendered Orientalism in US 'War on Terror' Security Discourse”
In the aftermath of 9/11, images of the Middle Eastern or Islamic other have been highly visible in the West. These representations have played a role in publicly justifying the military interventions of the War on Terror. For example, in the lead-up to the October 2001 Afghanistan war, the image of the oppressed veiled Afghan woman was deployed in official discourses, to construct intervention as (at least partly) emancipatory. Drawing on Edward Said's concept of orientalism and informed by postcolonial and feminist international relations, my analysis explores how, using the examples of the US-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, gendered orientalist representations of the Middle Eastern or Islamic other have been deployed in official US discourse to facilitate intervention as part of the War on Terror. The basic tenets of Said's thesis on the power of Western representations of the East will be applied to the War on Terror context in a modified form, taking into account both the specificity of the historical context and the importance of gender as an analytical tool. I argue that a range of binaries situating the West in opposition to the East for example, good vs evil, civilised vs barbaric, rational vs irrational, progressive vs backward have been used in ways that are gendered and orientalist. By this I mean that gender roles and identities (femininities, masculinities, and their correlation with ideas of appropriate maleness and femaleness) inform and shape the repository of orientalist knowledge that is drawn upon in War on Terror discourse. Using a discourse-analytical approach, I explore the dynamics of this gendered orientalist power in terms of its operation in US security discourses through which certain Western entities (specifically the US George W. Bush) construct their others. To this end, I have undertaken research that locates and examines official texts (spoken, visual and written) regarding War on Terror policy created and distributed (by the Bush administration) for a public audience. Within these texts, I identify dominant representations of the Eastern other, how these might be orientalist, what kinds of gender roles and identities they reproduce, and how they have been used politically. This is an important task as critical engagement with such discourses and the representations that create and reproduce them serves to destabilise and unravel the orientalist and gendered justifications for military intervention.

Paper presenter: Ndeye Andujar (Viceprésidente-Junta Islámica Catalana, Spain), “Féminisme islamique: interprétations des textes religieux et avancées sociales”
Le concept de féminisme islamique fait son apparition dans les milieux universitaires et intellectuels dans les années 1990. Actuellement, on parle d’une réalité émergente dans différentes régions du monde. Ce mouvement, divers et pluriel, prend sa source dans la révélation coranique, c’est-à-dire, il s’appuie sur la conviction que le Coran ne justifie pas le patriarcat. L’Islam peut libérer les femmes musulmanes et changer son statut actuel. Pour cela, il est nécessaire d’ouvrir les portes de l’ijtihad (effort d’interprétation), en tenant compte du contexte qui est celui des sociétés du 21ème siècle. Dans un premier temps nous nous intéresserons à la réflexion théologique, aux apports des intellectuels féministes musulmanes qui travaillent depuis une vingtaine d’années pour l’égalité de genre dans le cadre de l’islam. Un débat s’est ouvert autour de questions diverses : l’Islam est’il compatible avec le féminisme ‘ Est-il possible de parler de féminisme dans le cadre d’un discours musulman ‘ Le féminisme islamique est’il une solution de rechange au fondamentalisme? Ou est’ce une menace pour les discours et les mouvements laïques? Comme nous pourrons le constater, cette dynamique féministe s’intègre à un mouvement beaucoup plus large de réforme de l’Islam qui conteste le monopole interprétatif d’une certaine élite masculine et met en question le rôle des autorités religieuses auprès du pouvoir politique. Les féministes musulmanes encouragent les femmes à se réapproprier les textes sacrés pour déconstruire les lectures patriarcales dominantes. Dans un deuxième temps, nous nous centrerons sur le travail des différentes organisations transnationales, nationales et des activistes sur le terrain. Nous allons nous interroger sur les avancées en matière juridique et esquisser un état des lieux du féminisme islamique dans quelques pays comme l’Iran, le Maroc, l’Egypte, la Malaisie ainsi qu'un bref aperçu sur les problématiques actuelles des femmes musulmanes en Europe.