The roundtable gathers authors who have contributed chapters in a handbook that increases knowledge on various aspects of women’s lived realities and experiences in the Middle East past and present. The field of research and theorization on women’s and genderqueer people’s experiences is witnessing innovative methodologies and new areas of inquiry. Current challenges in the region include the growth of security state apparatuses that are questioning and imprisoning researchers and women human rights defenders. Nonetheless, critical analysis of what we know - and do not know - about women in the MENA region continues despite these and other restrictions.
Contributors to the book that will be discussed address a wide array of themes and provide an overview of historical, social, economic, political, religious, and cultural issues which have shaped the conditions and status of women in the region over the past two decades. They produce knowledge across a wide spectrum of disciplines, time periods, geographies, and more.
With this broad and multi-layered approach towards exploring women’s lives in different states in the Middle East across time and space, the discussion in the roundtable takes as its point of departure questions pertaining to how knowledge on women and gender is produced? What are key points of consent and dissent on what constitutes issues of research on women in the region? In which ways do contributors perceive similarities and differences in their research on women and genderqueer people in autocratic states in the Middle East, and the current devaluation of gender research in some consolidated democracies outside the region? The roundtable seeks to provide an overview of what characterizes contemporary conditions for the production of knowledge on women and gender in the region, what kinds of knowledge is being produced in emerging fields, and what shifts have taken place over the past two decades in this field.
"Art as Material Form and Agent: Becoming Middle Eastern Women" Reckoning with professionalized art production by women in the Middle East since the mid-nineteenth century demands tending to diversity and mundanity. Whether in terms of institutional affiliation or livelihood, professional art-making among women in the Middle East corresponds to the temporal frame of modern nation-states but expands beyond its bounds. This contribution considers the motivations for scholarship on Middle Eastern women's lives with art as a category of national celebration and a global discourse. Most women artists expanded their resources and applications outside conventional artistic fields, drawing on the mundane in ways that have resulted in their art being undervalued in scholarly analysis of fine art production. Attention to the specificity and multifariousness of individual careers can give a sense of the breadth and depth of Middle Eastern women’s professional art production from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. The presentation reads across careers for themes and strategies that become visible when considering art as material agent of becoming female in modern Arab, Turkish, and Iranian state-contexts. It culls methodologies of study based on taking art practices seriously as epistemological resources and ontological interventions.
On the one hand, the Middle East and North Africa has a younger overall population than other regions of the world. On the other, in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa the population is aging at a faster rate than ever before leading to strains on health care systems to adequately address the needs of younger generations and older adults at the same time and to changes in ideas about gender, the family, and age. In my contribution, I will address this demographic change as it pertains to women in the Middle East and North Africa, recognizing the diversity of the region, discussing broadly how it has impacted women’s health, their care, and economic security in old age. Moreover, I will also comment on how an aging population has informed the roles that younger women take up within the family and society, as well as the changing constructions of the family and gender, given the entwinement of the region with the global economy.
Women and Revolution in the Middle East
This chapter discusses the nature and dynamics of ‘women and revolution’ in the Middle East and North Africa. Two historical periods frame the core theoretical argument of the chapter: first, women in the early 20th Century anti-colonial, nationalist, and socialist struggles and, second, women’s participation in the mid-20th Century anti-imperialist armed struggles. Methodologically, this periodization traces patterns of women’s resistance, organizing, achievements, and set-backs with the possibility of showing the path forward. The goal is to delineate the key attribute of women’s struggle including their ingenuity in resisting and their creativity in surviving the battle with patriarchal colonialism, nationalism, socialism, capitalism, imperialism, and theocracy. The theoretical framing of the chapter departs from orientalist tradition as well as post-colonial and post-structuralist approaches and instead build on historical materialist analysis which directs us to recognize the class formation in the region in the context of colonial encounters, occupation of land, genocide, and brutal suppression of national and religious minorities. The Marxist feminist analytical framework employed in this chapter extends this analysis to patriarchal structures of power and forms of women’s role in/and revolution.
Shifting Baselines of Female Citizenship and Denizenship in MENA 2000 – 2020
The presenter points out four trajectories that reflect conditions under which the extent, content, and depth of women’s citizenship in the MENA region has been shaped and reshaped over the past two decades. First, the re-emergence of state feminism where women-friendly policies are enacted under various forms of authoritarian regimes, particularly in monarchies. Second, strengthened pressures by women’s and human rights groups to amend patriarchal nationality laws have resulted in reforms that equalise between male and female citizens, most notably in states in North Africa. Third, the articulation of violence against women as a central women’s interest in ways that pressured for reforms in criminal codes. Notably, first-time protection laws against domestic violence were legislated in seven Arab states between 2008 and 2020. Fourth, war, violence, and dislocation have deteriorated women’s lives in large parts of the region, aggravating women’s denizenship in states such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
What do these trajectories tell us about the outcome of pressures and calls for gender justice in state laws that have been raised throughout the MENA region since the 1995 Beijing conference on women? The presenter argues that the 2011 revolts represent a critical historical juncture in shifting the baselines of female citizenship and denizenship throughout the region.
"Arab Women's Literature from Anonymity to Global Presence"
For centuries, Arab women have held the literary torch and competed with men in poetry competitions and prose prowess. This chapter provides a historical overview of Arab women’s literary production, demonstrating the vastness of its scope and the prolific nature of its output. It focuses on prose and novelistic genres, travelogues, and war narratives, analyzing various authors and trends as well their gendered expressions. It also explores the writings of women of the Maghreb and the Gulf regions, which are often overlooked. It highlights the links between the forms, the subjects they discussed, and the historical and political moments as well as projects for social change. Arab women writers started their literary journey with a personal project deeply rooted in the specificity of their national locales; from “a room of their own,” they followed routes that rendered the world their oyster.