In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, women are on the front lines of resistance with their voices proven crucial during the protests of the “Arab Spring”, even in the face of violence and sexual assault.
Yet, when we look at mainstream public discourses around coping with megatrends like digitalization, climate change and the rise of right-wing ideologies, women’s perspectives are often not included. Their voices however need to be heard, if the aim is to minimize the risks of increased injustice associated with current situations and predictable changes.
This is perpetuated by personal status laws in the region which render women subject to male guardianship and thereby impede the evolution of their traditional gender role which is entrenched with concepts of obedience and marginalization. After decades of feminist activism and advocacy in the region, the resistance to changing that traditional role is evident in the continuous exclusion of women in the political and economic spheres.
Moreover, due to the predominance of neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programs in recent decades, there has been a transition in feminist movements in the global south from broad-based political movements to project oriented and NGOized work. Additionally, clear gaps between academic feminist discourse and the work of activists on the ground have manifested. As a result, feminism’s political nature has been turned from revolutionary to docile. Moreover, alliances between feminist actors are often subjected to expiry dates that coincide with the end of single-issue based projects. Nonetheless, women’s rights advocates in the region have been, and continue to be, active in the quest for eliminating discriminatory laws and social practices and improving women’s representation in the personal, political and economic spheres.
Under the Political Feminism project in the MENA region, FES aims to address these issues by (1) facilitating the development of innovative strategies and feminist alternatives for the current socio-political and economic challenges in the region and introducing those strategies into public discourse; (2) by creating the space for feminists from across the region to share their experiences with other feminists and progressive actors; (3) and by fostering long-term alliances that will link political feminism with broader social justice movements.
FES implemented a series of workshops in which participants identified key issues hindering the development of a just economic system from a feminist perspective. From these discussions came a strategy paper and a research paper titled ‘Feminist Perspectives on a Just Economic System in the MENA Region’. FES aims to further engage the public on these issues with an upcoming comparative study on family law in the region and a podcast titled ‘Political Feminism for a Better Future’.
Building on this previous work, in 2019 a network of feminists will come together to form a regional action group. Meeting four times over the coming year, they will partake in a collaborative process to develop actions towards strengthening the assertiveness of the feminist movement in the region through their alliance.