Home Research Manchester Women of the Arab Springs: Patriarchy, Islamism and Politics

Women of the Arab Springs: Patriarchy, Islamism and Politics

Leader: Prof. Zahia Smail Salhi, University of Manchester

Examining the condition of women in the MENA region raises questions about states’ association with patriarchy on the one hand and the proliferation of Islamist ideology in the last three decades but especially in the aftermath of the Arab springs [ understood here as civil society uprisings/movements to bring down dictatorial regimes and effectuate change in society], on the other. Women from the region live in a climate of fear and oppression which becomes even more exacerbated under the rule of Islamic conservative regimes.
It is a fact that the latter factor exacerbated the general condition of MENA women and resulted in the loss of (or fear of losing) secured legal rights by women and the declining of their social conditions as some countries have adopted more conservative views and attitudes towards women both in the private and the public spheres.

Furthermore, this wave of conservatism has affected women’s attitudes and reactions. The younger generations of women in MENA are far less emancipated than the generations of their mothers and grandmothers. In many cases women adopt conservative attitudes both as learned behaviours and as a way to negotiate their access to the public sphere. An example of such attitudes is the proliferation of veiling amongst women of all generations. It has become evident that veiling is no longer a sign of religiosity or piety but rather a means for many ends including evading harassment in the street, gaining access to employment, gaining parents’ trust, safeguarding one’s good reputation etc, which may not exclude the initial religious significance of veiling.

Regardless of the reasons for veiling, the non-veiled women in MENA have become the targeted minority by Islamists. While many would argue that veiling is not a sign of women’s submission to the rule of patriarchy and Islamism, MENA women can be divided into two broad categories; Islamist women who believe that salvation lies in the re-Islamisation of the region since Islam guarantees women’s human rights, and secular women who believe that Islamism is detrimental to women’s human rights and discriminates against women at all levels.
In the aftermath of the Arab springs MENA women are forced to renegotiate traditional norms, values and power relationships in order to achieve social change (Weiss 1998), and although they actively make choices, many of the circumstances under which they act are not of their own making (Walby 1996), and claiming agency while working within Patriarchal boundaries results in deep contradictions and restrictions as in actual fact women are colluding with their patriarchal oppressors(Salhi 2013).

Arab springs and the rise of conservatism have divided women into two distinct groups and prompted them to mobilise for opposing plights; while Islamist women militate for the implementation of Sharia laws, removal of discriminatory rules against ‘Islamic’ dress code and unrestricted access for Islamist women to government institutions, secular women battle for the safeguarding of acquired rights (Tunisia, Egypt) and the abolishing of Sharia-based family Laws (Algeria, Morocco).

Associated Events:

02-04 November 2015: Women, Empowerment, Citizenship and Development

Mostaganem University First International Conference on Women Studies and Sociolinguistics. In partnership with the University of Manchester and the Centre for Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW)

For more information, please visit our Events page.

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