World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Feminine Strategies in Political Change (394) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU, 22 / 5-7 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Yolanda Aixelà (Milà i Fontanals Institution /CSIC-Spanish National Research Council)

Paper presenter: Ben Wagner (Graduate Student, Universiteit Leiden & LMU Munich, Switzerland), “Obstacles and Motivation of Women in NGOs in Jordan and Tunisia”
The role of women within civil society is one of the most fundamental questions that can be asked of civil society movements. Whether in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East, female activism plays and has played a significant role in the development of civil society movements. Particularly in the Middle East, the most frequent narrative is the role of women as oppressed victims who need to be ‘empowered’ rather than the role of women as civil society actors themselves. As there is some evidence that the full potential of women has not been realized by either by political parties or NGOs in the Middle East, the relationship between women and NGOs seems to warrant further inspection. This includes looking closely at how, why and in what context women participate in NGOs, as well and exploring the expectations of women who actively participate. This paper also includes an analysis of how different forms of non-democratic rule impact women within NGOs in the Middle East. In this regard Tunisia is particularly interesting as it has experienced long periods of state feminism, while Jordan has not. At the same time both countries exhibit many comparable societal and cultural aspects. Following Halliday and Stetter, the role of NGOs in Jordan and Tunisia can only be understood in the wider context of world society. This is particularly relevant for women in NGOs, as there role is being increasingly stratified. The resulting dynamics which provide for openings and closures for women’s agency within MENA societies may be equally important to long term government policies such as state feminism. By providing in-depth perspectives and analysis of the biographies and individual stories of women who participate in NGOs, this paper will attempt to shed more light on the obstacles women face in these roles, as well as their motivation to participate in NGOs in the first place. Focusing on the agency of women in NGOs in the MENA region may assist in providing an alternative narrative of the aspirations held and the barriers women in NGOs face.

Paper presenter: Anatoliy Kharkhurin (PhD, American University of Sharjah, UAE), “Women's Empowerment in The UAE”
This paper challenges the traditional image of Middle Eastern women as veiled and shackled by their traditionally subservient roles within the family. Our study of women students in the UAE suggests that women are greatly empowered however this empowerment is nuanced. Our paper draws attention to the multiplicity of images inherent in ‘women’s empowerment’ and questions their efficacy. On the one hand we find that young women are so empowered that they expect a far greater share in decision making in the family once they are married. On the other hand, despite their high levels of education and empowerment they are still hesitant to participate in the economic sphere after graduation. Women’s Empowerment has been identified as central to the holistic process of sustainable development. Therefore the UAE Government, as part of development efforts, has embraced ‘women’s empowerment’ and has encouraged women to the forefront in education. Consequently today the UAE is singular in registering one of the highest rates of females in higher education in the world. Education is a much used indicator of Empowerment. Our study of 23 male and 45 female Emirati university students at the American University of Sharjah found that the female students scored significantly higher than male students on the empowerment index that we constructed. Empowerment is intrinsically linked with decision making power. Consequently the female students in our study did project that they expected to share greater decision making powers with their future husbands. However despite the high levels of education of women in the UAE the ratio of female to male participation in the work force remains abysmally low. Only 15% of the UAE workforce is female (BBC News: Dubai Women Storm World of Work, 10/19/2008). This statistical proof suggests that women prefer to remain within the confines of domesticity despite their education. One is led to question whether UAE culture has a fundamental schism wherein it encourages women to participate in education but eschews their participation in public spheres of the economic domain. More importantly, one wonders whether such prejudice is so deep rooted that it prevails despite the best efforts by the government to publicize women achievers in the work world. The paper questions the nuanced image of Women’s Empowerment in the UAE and suggests ways in which government policy could address this problem.

Paper presenter: Janine A. Clark Paul Kingston (Associate Professors, University of Guelph University of Toronto, Canada), “Gender and Cross-Sectarian Dynamics: Women's Activism within and Across the Sunni and Shi'a Communities of Postwar Lebanon”
During the approximately two decades since the end of the Lebanese civil war, several trends have emerged in post-war Lebanon. The first is a general growth and intensification of patriarchal sectarianism as a result of: the sectarian legacies of the civil war (Khalaf 1989; Corm 1994; Harris 1997; Picard 2000); the constitutional legacies of the Ta’if Accord (Maila 1994; Bahout 1997; Leeders 2004); and/or the sectarian reinforcement dynamics emanating from the external arena- both with respect to Syria and to the broader regional Sunni and Shi’a competition in the context of Iraq (Abu Khalil 1993; Hinnebusch 1998; Kassir 2003; Khazen 2003). Simultaneously, however, scholars also have noted a degree of contestation within sectarian communities. While sectarianism forces have become stronger in post-war Lebanon, they are also riddled with external contradictions and fault lines (Salam 1998; Makdisi 2000). This has given rise to a variety of competing political movements and ideological tendencies within the various sectarianism communities. Among other consequences, it has opened up opportunities for contracts and/or alliances with like-minded groups outside of the community. As of yet, however, little literature has explored the issue of cross-sectarian alliances in Lebanon (Salloukh 2006; Schwedler and Clark 2006).
Based on fieldwork conducted in Lebanon in 2008 and 2009, the purpose of this paper is to add to this incipient literature on cross-sectarian dynamics—their extent and consequences—by examining women activists within the Sunni and Shi’a communities of post-war Lebanon. Looking specifically at the Council of Lebanese Women (CLW), an umbrella NGO with NGO-members from all sects, this paper questions the degree to which Sunni and Shi’a women activists work together on issues, the consequences for women’s activism, and the impact of their cross-sectarian activities via the CLW on their respective parties. Women have re-emerged in post-war Lebanon as active players in Lebanon post-war public sphere. This include their participation “as women” within the various political parties, including Islamist parties such as al-jama’at al-islamiyya within the Sunni communities as well as Hizballah within the Shi’a communities. Examining Sunni-Shi’a Islamist women’s activities offers a window into cross sectarian alliances at the grassroots level. This paper thus will contribute to the literature on cross-ideological/sectarian alliances in the region (Abdelrahman 2009, 2004; Browers 2007; Schwelder 2007, 2006, 2004; Clark 2006; Wickham 2004; Cavatorta 2006) and, as a second objective, to the literature on Lebanese Islamist women’s activism (Deeb 2006; El-Bizri 1995).