Democratization, Women and the Arab Spring

Democratization, Women and the Arab Spring with a special focus on Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria was the topic of speaker Val Moghadam’s recent talk. A professor of sociology and director of the International Affairs program at Northeastern University, Val has spent most of her academic career studying gender and politics in the Middle East.


photo: Wikipedia

As summarized by Rajashree in our follow up meeting:

 It was such a pleasure to be part of our meeting today – despite the weather so many of us were there and reflected on Val Moghadam’s talk last month – all of it made it very lively and special.

Smriti set the tone for the discussion that ensued in that she stated that Val’s stance in presenting the Arab women as heterogeneous and representation of the feminists in the Maghreb region as “modern, educated, feminists.” The presence of these strong women resulted in positive, democratic outcomes for countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Nur shared her experiences from the collective of Muslim women where many of the leaders have made a separation from religion yet anchored in ideas of women’s rights. The reverse is also present. These views correspond with Val’s writings where she firmly believes that “Islamic feminism” needs to widen its boundaries and be open to western feminism. At the same time she acknowledges the presence of “feminisms” around the world as political strategies trying to bring about changes where women’s rights are concerned.

Marguerite, Ruth and Yarden shared their thoughts on varied issues relevant to today’s theme- whether religion and/culture determines who we are; can we be religious and be feminists in our different religions which the group members belong to; can change be brought about individually and/or collectively; can we all say we have participated in the feminist movement and feel that we have made strides in our personal lives…

In her post-talk comments, Smriti reflected:

What struck me was the emphasis on the diversity of outcomes for women in the Arab-Muslim world. I think the speaker really tried to challenge the notion of the undifferentiated ‘Islamic World’ that fundamentalists of all stripes embrace right now.

I was also struck by how uncritical she was of the concept of “modern” and “modernity”. I suspect she has little patience for post-modern or post-colonial ideas of culturally specific feminisms (with an ‘s’.) It has been a long time since I heard a speaker who did not put quotes around the word “modern”, so that was very interesting to me.