Posts tagged history
The radical feminist organizing in the MENA region emerged 20, 30, 40 years after the similar movements in the West. In Turkey, for example, it didn’t start until the late 1980s. This is not because the women in our region were stupid or were not politically engaged or did not have demands. It is rather because we were under autocratic regimes or in the middle of wars and post-colonial struggles that there was no space for any of these movements to rise. The moment a small space became available, you immediately saw these initiatives taking form. The problem is that by that time, there was already an international discourse at the United Nations around gender and development. So when these movements rose, they clashed with these existing structures of funding and NGOs and civil society that were already in place. Most of the initiatives were thus quickly institutionalized and tamed. And from this clash rose the whole debate on whether feminism is authentically local or a Western import.
My non-verbatim account of a comment made by Pinar Ilkkaracan at the GFW meeting in Jordan: Feminisms in the Middle East and North Africa
I’m currently at a conference in Cairo entitled “Collective Work on Women’s Rights” organized by GTZ and NWRO. There’s around 120 participants here – mostly Egyptian – from women’s rights organizations. Check out their cool conference graphic on the rights. I’m here representing AWID <3 and will be speaking tomorrow afternoon about youth networks.
The first panel included what I call “mandatory speeches” & of course wasn’t very interesting. Ms. Seham Negm delivered a message from Dr. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
The second panel, however, was extremely interesting every single minute of its 2 hours. It started off with a paper by Dr. Margot Badran on a historical perspective of women’s rights networks. Interesting things she said included:
An Egyptian Feminist Union was formed in 1923 and was the first to use the term “feminism.” It used both religious and secular nationalist (later human rights) strategies at the same time. 75 years ago, the Pan-Arab Feminist Union was formed across Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. The Arab women’s movement was also the first to take advantage of the printing press to express what later became known as a ‘feminist consciousness.’ Throughout the 20th century, women gained progress in education and work rights, but still today press for political rights. When Egyptian women gained the rights to vote in 1956, it was after 32 years of hard work by the women’s movement. But we know that this was only for the benefit of the state, which shut down the Egyptian Feminist Union in the same year. We have learned that women are protected in exchange for obedience. We have also learned that strategies women activists use haven’t really changed much. What changes more is the political situation and we must know how to adapt strategically to these changes.
I will be posting more of the first panel later. Now I need to pay attention to a really cool presentation on practicalities of network-building.