World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


The Liminality of Gender Issues relating to Social Stability and Post-Oil Economies in the Gulf States (236) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (Italy) / University of Alabama, Huntsville (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Annemarie Profanter / Stephanie Ryan Cate

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: In the age of information an unprecedented opportunity to investigate research interests utilizing; published scholarly research, collegial interaction and action research amongst others, has opened the door for deeper and diverse investigations into emerging female frontiers and entrenched boundaries in the Gulf states. The rapidly shifting commercial and social policies relating to development, education and cultural identity have been impacted by transnational processes yet are emerging as regionally and culturally specific delineations. The effect of war, civic unrest and changing civil rights for women over the last 20 years has combined to accelerate the liminal state of gender and gender relations in these post-oil, post-war societies. Education plays a vital role in these times of transition and therefore the question needs to be addressed “Would changing the curricula [and educational systems] help to change the gender paradigm?” The cross-disciplinarity of the panel will contribute to the depth of the themes being addressed through questions such as:
In what arenas do we see liminal gender frontiers/boundaries/ spaces?; In which educational contexts do we see the reinforcement of historic frontiers/ boundaries/spaces?; How and why have gender identities in the workforce changed in response to greater or lesser social/economic stability?; In what way have these socio-economic transformations helped to create more liminal gender identities/roles/relations?; How has the development of higher educational facilities for women impacted the gender frontiers/boundaries/spaces?; In what way has the development of a new Muslim Feminism affected a discourse on higher education?; How has the civic tension relating to religion/ethnicity/gender helped to develop a more marked liminal state for women and children?

Chair: Annemarie Profanter (Bozen-Bolzano)

Paper presenter: Hatoon Al Fassi (King Saud University, Saudi Arabia/ Qatar University, Qatar), “Saudi Women and the Islamic Discourse, Selected Examples of Saudi Feminisms”
Saudi women entered the realm of writing and dealing with language since only half a century ago through either the creative or the journalistic writing. Although they were female experiences, it is difficult to call all these writings as Feminist writings. During that period, many changes swiped the Saudi society politically, economically, religiously and socially positively and negatively, that were reflected in many ways on women and men, one of which was on the Islamic Discourse. Women were part of this trend and through which the particularity of the female identity appeared and was displayed. In this paper, I shall take the example of four Saudi female writers who represent a wide range of intellectual pluralism. Taking examples from right and left, exemplifying the writers Nora al Saad, Suhaila Zain al Abdeen, Fowziyah Abu Khalid and Wajeha al Huwaider. These women are all concerned with women issues, however, have different positions that reflect their ideological stand. They also belong to different regions of Saudi Arabia and different sects. In addition, by tracking their writings, there was a major observation that is their changing in positions, which happened many times from left to right or vice versa as seeking for identification. This paper comes partly under the question of “How and why have gender identities changed in response to greater or lesser social stability?” The lives of these women and their literally produce represent the continuous search and reformatting of their different levels of their identity. It is important to mark these experiences as part of the complexity of Saudi Arabian intellectual discourse or any society in this respect.

Paper presenter: Annemarie Profanter (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano), “The Balancing Act: STEM and WOMEN in the Khaleegy”
This paper examines the ideological foundations of the mainstream national educational curricula focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Saudi Arabia and Oman. It explores this topic using empirical research relating to gender challenges both societal and structurally. The dearth of qualified women Phds in these fields has created a vacuum that requires an intense push to both educate interested scholars and build frameworks for the dissemination of these studies. Historically these academic fields were closed to women; however, due to economic and political pressure the need for Arabian female specialists in these areas continues to rise. This analysis takes place within a framework that considers and interrogates the ways in which Arabian women have continued to function as markers of both oppression and opportunity within the feminist discourse. The paper attempts to relate conceptual and theoretical challenges presented by the opportunities inherent in the need for STEM educators and practitioners in the area and its reflection on gender construction. The gap between historic representations of appropriate Islamic female identity and career and the contemporary avenues currently open for women necessitate a synthesis and realignment of both social and political rhetoric.

Paper presenter: Elena Maestri (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy) “Women and Human Security in Bahrain: the 1970s and the 1990s”
On August 15, 1971 Bahrain was declared fully independent: that was a turning point in the history of the country. Independence had been steadily prepared and it was followed by the emergence of new social characteristics of women as well, which emerged more clearly in the following decades. They were progressively involved in education at all levels, in the labour market and in development, through the activities of their dynamic associations. This paper, aims at providing a historic framework for a better understanding of the necessary distinction between the urban context (sunni and shi’a) and villages (mainly shi’a) on the one hand, and between handicraft and fishing villages and agricultural villages, on the other. Since the 1970s, the perceived social role of women both Sunni and shi’a had started changing significantly in the “old” towns (Muharraq and Manama), as well as in the new urban contexts (Madina Isa), affecting gradually the type of education received by women, family life, as well as their view of themselves in the public sphere and in their work possibilities. All that in the 1990s represented a positive bulwark against destabilising forces and contributed effectively to social cohesion in a more and more urbanised country.

Paper presenter: Francis Owtram (University of Kurdistan Hawler, Iraq), “Iraq and global governance: Non-Governmental Organisations and poverty of women-headed households in Iraq”
Every morning, I go with my children to a construction refuse site. There, they search for bricks and stones to sell to factories: They have to do this; I cannot afford to send them to school or even to feed them properly without this work. Amal supports six children and two grandchildren. Since 2003 the poverty of women-headed households in Iraq has become a significant issue with considerable implications for social stability. International and Iraqi Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have attempted to address this. The role of NGOs as actors in the processes of global governance is well-established in the evolving academic literature on global governance and policy. Relatively little attention, however, has been paid to the role of NGOs in Iraq. Using a case study approach this paper analyses the activity of NGOs concerning the poverty of women-headed households in Iraq within the theoretical context of literature on global governance.