Saturday, 8 October 2011

Is the Arab Spring Leaving Women in the Cold?

Jordanian women demonstrating, Jan, 2011 - copyrights 9 News

Some Arab women argue that the revolution is about regimes not gender equality and the majority of Arab men share their views. Although Arab women are active participant in the Arab uprisings menfolk are not supporting them. Not one single slogan called for equality of Arab women or drew attention to their inferior position. Most Arab men and some women fail to see gender equality as part and parcel of the process of democratisation. The ‘women’s question’ is key to unleashing liberal and modernist forces in the Arab world, but old practices and prejudices prevail. Therefore, the following challenges face Arab women:

  • The state has tentacles in most women’s organisation and NGOs. Usually leaders of such organisations are stooges of the state. Like other civil organisations in the Arab world women’s organisation need to be ‘de-regimetised’. A painful, perhaps long, but necessary cleansing process.
  • Many Arab women are collaborators in their own demise. Women of the Arab world are divided along political and interest group lines, rather than united by common aspirations and objectives. Many believe that women’s organisations are weak because they see themselves as rivals: bickering and manoeuvring for position. They need to unite instantly to fight for key positions in future governments
  • One of the most important institutions in the Arab world is the family, where patterns of oppression are normally produced and reproduced. The Arab father (or the Arab ruler) aim to superimpose a consensus through “ritual and coercion”. After demonstrating in Arab capitals women went home to an archaic structure. Some were energised by the uprisings and decided to divorce their abusive husbands only to find that the whole system is tipped against them. Family Laws, mainly based on the Shari’a Islamic Law give them few rights, economic or otherwise and the legal justice system is male-biased
  • Separation between mosque and state is a prerequisite for true liberal participatory democracy and gender-equality in the Arab world. Although the Muslim brotherhood was forced to disavow a long-held principle that neither a Coptic Christian nor a woman could run for president of Egypt many of their members will oppose nominating let alone electing a woman. See also the position of Islamist in Tunisia, or virginity tests conducted on arrested female demonstrators in Egypt etc.

A positive outcome of the ‘Arab Spring’ is that women learnt a number of tactics and strategies of civil disobedience and the skills are being used at every level: familial, local, national and even international. Women in the Arab world today are fighting for labour rights, betters schools, roads, clean water etc. The road is long and the perils are many, but in the fullness of time the outcome is guaranteed: Arab women, the last colony, will be liberated.

Read the full article in Critical Muslim, published on 25 October, 2011.


  1. I think this view of gender equality needs to be teased out more. For one, the Arab father is not the only one to blame. In fact, I would argue the mother (not the woman) is just as responsible if not more so. She is often the one who raises the kids, and what does she teach them? To reinforce patriarchal norms. Second, your position relies too much on false consciousness: WE know THEY are oppressed and they don't know it themselves. Do we really? Are the largely western gender norms we have come to subscribe to ones of gender equality or neutrality? The problem is that we aren't able to think outside of the US-Euro notions of gender equality, which is fine, except that copy-paste they don't work so well, mainly because they remain problematic in the US and Europe. There are clear state practices in the Arab world that go against women's rights, which we are not fighting enough against, I agree. But I think gender rights in society need a bit more thought. Good post though, and a topic that needs highlighting.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my post. You raise interesting points. Here is a brief response:
    1-This is the danger of posting a taster from a longer article. I argue there that women have developed new strategies of resistance.
    2-My research shows that women are aware of their inferior position. Many see themselves as second class citizens. There is no false consciousness whatsoever.
    3-Many mothers are oppressors and carriers of tradition, but they mostly do that to appease the father/ruler and empower themselves.
    4-We must think outside the US-Euro notions of gender equality. In the fullness of time we will have our own fully developed social theories.
    5-I have my own reservations about western feminism. We need to learn from their successes and failures. But I also know slavery when I encounter it.
    Some of your reservations will be addressed when you read the full article in Critical Muslim.