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.


Women in French Politics

Women’ s March to Versailles during the French Revolution”WCsg_women's march to versailles(image courtesy of – class struggle online)

WCSG November meeting was organized and moderated by Maryline Kautzmann:

I introduced the discussion on political women by sharing what I had learned from a few readings about women in French politics.

After a short historical review where I tried to show how women gradually made their way to the French political scene, I focused on three very different French political women:

Simone Veil, who is still considered by many as the best example of a successful political woman, Edith Cresson whose extremely short and negative experience as the first female Prime Minister was marked by deep-rooted political sexism, and Ségolène Royal, the first woman to have made it to the second round of presidential elections. I considered her a very positive example because her failing to be elected could not, in my opinion, be imputed on her gender.

Finally in a more improvised third part, I talked about Rachida Dati and Rama Yade, the two young and good-looking ministers during Sarkozy’s term. I wondered if their presence in the government was not part of strategy on the part of Sarkozy, to defuse critiques concerning his debatable decisions on immigration limitation. Ornit added that even though that may be the case, one should not undermine the fact that they both have been very powerful women,  which is extremely encouraging. Finally, I quickly mentioned Christiane Taubira, our current Minister of Justice, for her eloquence and determination and Marine Le Pen, the head of the nationalistic party the “Front National”, and whose recent popularity I qualified as terrifying despite the advance it may represent for women’s participation in politics.

A very interesting discussion followed.

Rajashree and Smriti talked about Indian women, and their role in politics. They explained how certain governmental instructions have placed women in important political positions on the local level. However these women’s role often comes down to being their husbands’ voices. Women’s participation in politics was imposed from the government which explains the fact that there has never been a real women’s movement in India. Women in India also unite for environmental causes: there was a Hugging tree movement: they prevented trees to be chopped off by hugging them or drawing effigies of the Gods on them.

Oge talked about politics in Mongolia. 10 out of 76 seats in the Parliament are reserved for women. Nonetheless, these women rarely dare to voice their opinions or concerns, except for one of them who comes from a remote rural area, who expresses herself despite her lack of political education. The wives of the political men of Mongolia can also be very powerful. They are often Russian and can have a great influence on their husbands.

Marguerite mentioned women who, in certain small communities, hold important positions and are very good examples of strong women. She deplored the fact that not much has been said about women like these.

As far as American political women are concerned, we mentioned, Sarah Palin, the “loose cat”. Linda said that in her opinion, Palin was chosen to be the vice-presidential nominee not because she was competent but rather because she was seen as both sexy and feisty.

Ruth mentioned Jane Swift, who was governor of Massachusetts, and who, much like Edith Cresson, had seen her career interrupted because many were not happy to see women holding such powerful positions.

We also talked about immigration:

We discussed the heated debates that exist in France concerning the Arabic immigration. Marguerite underlined how aggressive and stubborn many French people can become when talking about the Arabs. Elizabeth shared what she had learned about Norway and the way some people were actually proposing to consider only those born from a Norwegian mother as being eligible to the Norwegian nationality. (Moderated and summarized by Maryline)