Harper’s Magazine, n+1, and Women Make Movies present a screening of the documentary JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE, followed by a conversation with Laura Kaplan, the author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, and the journalist Madeleine Schwartz. Jane: An Abortion Service follows the activities of a Chicago-based women’s health collective, members of which performed—without […]
Gerry Mander (see above) was the Scarfolk Party candidate in the 1974 election. Though much of his nationalistic campaign consisted of subliminal brainwashing techniques, complicated satanic invocations, and simply lying and punching liberals in the face, he did also proffer tangible promises.
For example, he wanted Britain to be the first western nation to construct an underground sewage system designed specifically to transport its disabled and sick to landfill sites. He also insisted that women finally be recognised as the most valuable resource in their husband's or father's livestock.
Most of all, he strongly promoted British exports such as conker wine and badger cheese and demanded that the UK be acknowledged as the clear trade leader out of all the world’s authoritarian third world nations.
Mike’s also posted up a great video today from the Canary, the Corbyn-supporting site, which has fired off a few, very well aimed shots at Theresa May’s latest party-political video. In it, May does what Tories always do, and spouts off her checklist of lies about creating a better Britain after Brexit, giving record funding to the NHS, creating a more open, fairer Britain, giving people the opportunity to succeed on merit and tackling racial and gender discrimination.
This is all complete twaddle and double-talk. The Tories have cut the NHS and the welfare state to the bone, and are preparing the health service for complete privatisation, just as Thatcher wanted to do in the 1980s. As for being a meritocracy, social mobility stopped under Blair and New Labour, and nothing the Tories have done since has started it up again. If anything, there’s probably a downward mobility as more and more people succumb to poverty and debt through the Tories’ stagnant wages and cuts to the welfare state.
As for creating a more open Britain and ending racism and sexism, this is another lie that’s so grotesque it’s very much verging on a sick joke. Margaret Thatcher, despite being the first female prime minister, was never a feminist. Neither is May. While some of the worst offenders went off to UKIP, it’s probably fair to say that the Tory party still contains many, who share the Daily Heil’s belief that women are too expensive to be employed in business, and should stay at home to raise their children, rather than pursue a career.
The Tories also aren’t likely to want to end racism any time soon either. Rather than making Britain more open and tolerant, it’s done the opposite. The racists, who previously kept quiet, have seen it as an opportunity to come out of the woodwork and start spouting their hate and worse, attacking immigrants and people from ethnic minorities. The Tory press, from the Torygraph to the Heil and Express, has always denounced immigration. I can remember how they ranted about unassimilable immigrants in the 1980s. Cameron tried to present his party as now nice and multicultural, cutting ties with the Monday Club and expelling a few party officials with connections to the Nazi right, but they won’t have changed their fundamental attitude. The Tories are still very much the same party that sent vans around largely ethnic minority areas asking illegal immigrants to had themselves in and for people to inform on anybody they thought had entered the country illegal.
So those jolly peeps at the Canary have taken May’s video, and added their own subtitles outlining what she really means. Which, put briefly, is poverty for all, except her and her rich chums.
The video’s also interesting to people from Bristol, as it begins with shots of Windmill Hill in Totterdown. This is not the best place to shoot a video trying to claim that Brexit is a good thing, as the good people of Totterdown overwhelmingly voted against it. Something like 70 per cent of the people there voted to Remain. As did 62 per cent of the people of Bristol.
So the video starts off with a piece of egregious misrepresentation, and it all gets quickly worse from there.
By the end of the book, we’ve learned all manner of detail about the Acacia tree genus, made up of fifteen hundred species, living in climates ranging from desert to tropics and found in ice cream, beer, and postage stamps. We learn about the Pimoa chthulu spider, Haraway’s neighbor in the North Central California redwoods and another inspiration for the Chthulucene. We learn about the history of Premarin estrogen tablets, made out of horse urine, and their effects on both midcentury reproductive politics and Cayenne Pepper’s bladder.
Even with this elaboration, one detects a mismatch between the simplicity of the message and the convolutions of the plot. If you stray from the straight and narrow you’ll get raped, and your life will be ruined, and we’ll all blame you: there’s a short, sharp shock for you, cognitively speaking, especially if you’re, like, 5 years old. Threats of violence and draconian sanction tend to stick in the mind all on their own. No need to construct a baroque and bulky narrative edifice.
What the…? I'm sorry, I didn't realise that we adjusted the clock by an hour and a century when daylight saving ended.
Roll up ladies! It's not a beauty contest, and certainly not an intelligence test! If you think for a moment that we would besmirch and demean the venerable title of "showgirl" in such a way, you are sorely mistaken. Rather if you can, in an emancipated and empowered way, sport a lovely frock, and giggle and simper with poise, a bright future awaits you.
Imagine spending years hanging onto the arm of some bloke in a sharp suit, childbearing, and finally a lucrative divorce settlement; all this can be yours! But hurry, because frankly you're not getting any younger and - this being Coffs Harbour - do you really want to be serving coffee or scanning barcodes for the rest of your life?
Cordelia Fine talks about her new book – and how
viewing risk as a “male” characteristic can mean we overlook risks to women’s
Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur model. PA/Rui Vieira. All Rights Reserved.
Cordelia Fine's 2010 best-seller, Delusions of Gender, explored the
science and popular thinking behind sex differences and the idea that gender is
an innate and immovable force. In her new book, Testosterone Rex, Fine turns to the influence of testosterone and its impact on
psychology and inequality between men and women.
It is a rare text: accessible to the
non-academic reader while exhibiting rigorous research, drawing on science from
evolutionary biology to behavioural studies. It’s an invigorating read that
forces you to interrogate your own ideas about gender and testosterone. I found
it repeatedly challenging my own assumptions.
of Gender actually ended up as a very different book to the one I set out
to write,” Fine told me. “I’d been reading a lot of popular books about sex
differences in the brain while looking at the scientific studies these authors
were citing as hard evidence for those differences. Initially I wanted to write
a book that cleared up what science was actually telling us.”
But, she explained: “I discovered real
contradictions within the studies... It was confusing, and that confusion led
to me writing a book that explored the problems in the science.”
WW Norton & Co (2017)“To me, Testosterone
Rex is the natural sequel,” Fine continued, describing how she “wanted to
look at the evolutionary backdrop to the story...at the relations between
circulating testosterone and gendered behaviour.” The question: can this help
explain enduring inequalities, where men are more likely than women to occupy
positions of power and influence?
For example, Fine explores the concept of
risk-taking—often considered a “male” characteristic, connected to the idea that
risk is reproductively advantageous for males. (That story goes: male
ancestors, taking extra risks foraging for food and fighting rivals, found more
mates and had more babies as a result).
Fine says these popular narratives draw on “this
vintage version of sexual selection to claim an evolutionary imperative for
male risk-taking. The next obvious step is to argue that this is a major
contributor to persistent sex inequalities, helping to explain why fame,
fortune and corner offices are disproportionately acquired by men.”
But, she cautions, things may not be how they
Risk: to whom?
For example, in some species there are
reproductive advantages for females in competitive and risky behaviour. Fine
adds: our conception of risk itself often ignores the diverse contexts in which
individuals live. And as risk-taking is intimately linked to masculinity in our
minds, we may fail to notice risks associated with women’s lives.
She explains: “although women routinely take
risks, these often seem to slip under the research radar...Going on a date
can end in sexual assault. Leaving a marriage is financially, socially and
In her book Fine gives other examples, including
the risk of “misogynist backlash by writing a feminist opinion piece,” or sex-based
discrimination or harassment in the workplace, that might not even be
considered by researchers studying risk.
She told me: “I think there’s a general
phenomenon that we think of risk and then we think male.” As a result, she
warns: when people think about what counts as taking a risk, they tend to
overlook examples that are gender-neutral, or more typical for women.
What can be done to challenge this? Fine says
she and colleagues are exploring how the association of risk with male lives
may “create a form of unintended confirmation bias in research.”
She said: “We’ve been looking at what happens
when you modify a commonly used risk-taking survey that looks at health, social,
financial, and physical risk-taking, to include items that are more gender
neutral or even more feminine. We’ve found this makes a difference.”
In both of her recent books, Fine challenges
gender stereotypes and the idea that gendered ways of being are innate. In Delusions of Gender she examined the belief
that a “female brain” made women more empathetic. In Testosterone Rex she does the same to the idea, for example, of promiscuity being hard-wired into men as a
result of the hormone.
Why do stories that men are like Y, and women
are like X, remain so sticky? Fine says: “The idea that gender differences were
critical for achieving reproductive success has a strong intuitive plausibility...
[and] if we think that a particular kind of behaviour was important in our
ancestral past, we assume that it must be deeply biologically rooted.”
“One of the things I do in Testosterone Rex is to take a closer look at this idea that biology
must always be playing the leading role in creating adaptive masculine and
As part of this, Fine reviews a range of
research into the behaviour of animals, from crickets to clownfish to hedge
sparrows. She gives a
thought-provoking example: “One thing we can all agree on is that having sex
with the same species is important for reproductive success...And yet, a study
on baby goats being fostered by ewes, and baby lambs being fostered by nanny
goats, found that the fostered male offspring would grow up with a strong
sexual attraction to the foster mother species, rather than their own.”
She said: “That’s an unintuitive phenomenon, but
is an example of an understanding in evolutionary biology that offspring don’t
just inherit genes, but an entire ‘developmental system.’”
I also asked Fine how our notions of masculinity
impact realities of inequality and violence. She said: “There was an
interesting study showing that when you present male sexual violence as rising
out of an evolved adaptation as opposed to power dynamics, young men perceived
perpetrators as having less control, and being less morally responsible for
This is why Testosterone
Rex is an important book. It consolidates data and evidence to interrogate
the narrative that men have evolved to be more competitive, more risk-taking,
and more status-seeking. In doing so, it helps us think about the kind of
society we expect to see or hope to build. It questions whether we have to accept
existing gendered norms about male and female behaviour.
Not only is that exciting, but it offers hope. As Fine put it to me, at the end of our talk: “The
research I put forward in Testosterone
Rex gives a sense of confidence that we can do better. Of course there’s
nothing easy about creating cultural change but the campaign for greater gender
equality isn’t us 'going against nature.'”
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The heated debate over reforming Muslim personal law
in Sri Lanka has resulted in an unprecedented mobilization of Muslim women across the
country calling for progressive and gender-just laws.
Securing equality within the family
remains one of the biggest challenges for women across the world. Central to
this is the struggle to rewrite personal status and family laws that are deeply
hetero-patriarchal. Sri Lanka’s constitutional reform process has brought this
into sharp focus particularly with respect to equality in the family for Muslim
women. At its center are Article 16(1) of the current Constitution and Sri Lanka’s Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act
Sri Lanka’s MMDA, which is applicable to the Muslim minority
community, was first codified during Dutch and later British colonial rule as
part of a plural system of family laws. Successive post-independence
governments guaranteed the maintenance of the MMDA, while recognising the
prerogative of the Muslim community to reform these laws at their own
initiative. Since then the MMDA was ‘reformed’ by male elites in 1929 and then
again in 1956, ostensibly to reflect the ‘true spirit of Islam’. Yet the
efforts of Muslim women’s rights
activists, who have for more than 20 years, been calling for reform of these
laws to reflect the values of gender justice and equality have been to no avail.
Political parties claiming to represent Muslims have long refused to
push for progressive and gender-just reform of personal law for fear that such
reform will alienate their vote bank. Muslim women have also been unable to rely on Article 12 of the Constitution,
which guarantees gender equality due to the presence of Article 16 of the
Constitution. The latter holds
that that all unwritten and written laws at the time the Constitution came into
effect (1978) shall remain valid and operative notwithstanding any
inconsistency with its fundamental rights guarantees.
from 1995 illustrates this point only too well. When the age of marriage for
males and females was raised to 18 in 1995, it excluded Muslims. This was
justified by the then Minister of Justice on grounds that the ‘Muslim community
is entitled to be governed by their own laws, usages and customs and it would
not be productive to aim at a level of uniformity which does not recognize
adequately the different cultural traditions and aspirations of the Muslim
community’. This ‘respect’ for the cultural rights of minorities was however an
all-too-transparent mask for a patriarchal bargain between political parties in
a coalition government ruled by entrenched ethno-religious identity politics.
However, the present Constitutional reform
moment has sparked a fresh debate and discussion around the MMDA and given rise
to an unprecedented mobilization of Muslim women across the country demanding its
reform. Lead by community-based women activists and a new generation of Muslim
women who have come together under the banner of the Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG), they are calling not only on
the Muslim community and its leadership but on the State to assume
responsibility to ensure that Muslim women and girls enjoy equal rights as
citizens of Sri Lanka.
Social media platforms such as Whatsapp,
Twitter and Facebook and increased news reporting on the issue acted as the
catalysts for this unprecedented mobilization of Muslim women. It is now
manifesting itself in a slew of writings - personal opinion pieces as well as
more analytical writing - demanding substantive reform by pro-reform
Muslim women, and a (few) men, in the mainstream press as well.
Discrimination under Muslim
Marriage and Divorce Act in Sri Lanka
Discrimination under the MMDA takes multiple forms. Under
the Act, adult women need the consent of male guardians to marry while men
can marry up to four times, without any conditions. Husbands have a right to
unilateral and unconditional divorce while wives have to prove fault, show
evidence, produce witnesses and go through multiple hearings before Quazis, a position which the MMDA
reserves for exclusively for ‘male Muslims of good character’ though it is paid
for from public funds.
The current controversy over the MMDA centers in
particular on the resistance from powerful and conservative sections within the
community to reform on two counts: stipulating a minimum age of marriage and recognition
of women’s right to be appointed as Quazis.
At the forefront of this resistance are the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) and the Sri Lanka Towheed
Jamaat (SLTJ). A committee to reform
Muslim Law established by the state in 2009 (the Justice Saleem Marsoof
Committee), which includes the head of the ACJU, is yet to reach consensus
largely on these two issues even after 8 years of deliberations.
Progressive Interpretations and
There is a long history of women rights activists
demanding reform within an Islamic framework, presenting progressive
reinterpretations of the Quran and evidence from Malaysia and Indonesia, which also
follow the Shafi madhab (school of Islamic
jurisprudence) followed in Sri Lanka. Yet conservative Muslim groups have
consistently rejected this in favour of retrogressive and sexist
interpretations. Despite evidence to the contrary, calls for a minimum age of
marriage have been dismissed on the ground that child marriages are rare
exceptions within the Muslim Community.
The opposition to women as Quazi court judges stems from a range of deeply prejudiced and misogynist
views. These include that women are biologically weaker, especially due to menstruation,
emotionally unstable, have lower mental capacity, and are less capable of making
sound decisions and retaining knowledge and information needed to function as
judges. Meanwhile Muslim women have held and continue to hold positions of
authority in the judiciary and the legal profession in Sri Lanka and globally.
CEDAW, GSP plus and MMDA Reforms
this year, Muslim women took their struggle before the UN, although not for the
first time. Sri Lanka’s eighth
periodic review by the UN Committee to monitor state compliance with the
Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
provided another platform to push for equality. Muslim women’s rights activists
not only highlighted the lack of progress on reforms, but also the increasing
intimidation faced by them and women who have shared testimonies, from conservative
actors within the community.
The Committee’s concluding observations, released in
March, makes several recommendations including calling on the Government of Sri
Lanka to: a) eliminate restrictions on women’s eligibility to be appointed as Quazis,
Members of the Board of Quazis (the Quazi appellate body), Marriage Registrars
and adjudicators; b) raise the
age of marriage to 18 years for all citizens; and, c) amend the Penal Code
statutory rape provisions to apply to all children without exception. Moreover,
the Committee has called on the government to amend the General Marriage Registration
Ordinance (GMRO) to give Muslims the choice to register marriages under the general
law and for the repeal of Article 16(1) of the Constitution to allow for
judicial review of all legislation including the MMDA.
These recommendations give an opportunity for the State
to address discrimination under the MMDA and the Quazi court system and establish basic non-negotiable rights for Muslim
women. However, can Muslim women rely on the Sri Lankan state to rise to
2016, a senior minister told the media about a proposal to appoint a Cabinet Sub-committee to
consider suitable amendments to the MMDA (ignoring the existence of the Marsoof
committee). The reason he advanced was that “Muslim Law in Sri Lanka is
not in conformity with international norms” and amending “the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act is also a part of
international protocol, which is a requirement to obtain trade benefits under
the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP plus)”.
This sparked a storm of protest by those resisting reforms. The ACJU issued
statement that it “strongly opposes bringing
changes in the Muslim Personal Law either due to international pressures or
stimulation of any evil forces acting against the Muslims”. This year, associations such as the Colombo District
Masjid Federation (CDMF) with a network of 175 mosques, carried out signature
campaigns against reforms in various mosques. The CDMF issued an open letter signed by 15,000
signatories including the religious heads of the ACJU stating that to their
knowledge no public consultations had been undertaken by the Marsoof committee
and urging that any amendments to the MMDA “should not be, in contravention of
This conflation of ‘divine law’ and the MMDA is a common
tactic of those resisting reforms. That ‘Sharia
or divine law cannot be touched’ is frequently deployed as a conversation
stopper on MMDA reforms. This of course completely ignores the fact that local
cultural practices and secular laws in fact make up the provisions of the MMDA,
as well as the rich diversity in Islamic jurisprudence, legal tradition and
practice on this issue, which is globally evidenced.
Conservative actors have benefitted from the lack of
awareness about the MMDA, its origins and its problems among vast segments of Sri
Lankan Muslims. Many who believe that the MMDA is based entirely on divine and unchangeable
Sharia are most likely also unaware
of the daily-lived realities and violations against women and girls because of the
MMDA. Narratives of
injustices faced by Muslim women documented by activists and citizen
journalism websites are now attempting to address this gap.
human rights actors also fail to understand the extent of the divergence of
viewpoints on MMDA reform within the Muslim community and tend to perceive that
consultation to reach consensus within community is the solution. This lack of
awareness all around has been debilitating for those struggling for reform.
Following the GSP plus fiasco, the Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group pointed out that linking reform of MMDA to GSP plus gave room for those who had been resisting change to
characterize any change as an international imposition while erasing the long
standing struggle of Muslim women demanding for changes to this law. This also raises the question whether CEDAW
recommendations are now going to be characterized as more international
pressure to be resisted? And with this pushback, will the Sri Lankan State acting
in concert with male elites of the Muslim community continue discriminating
against Muslim women and girls and be party to these injustices?
Read more articles on openDemocracy 50.50's platform Frontline Voices Against Fundamentalism
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Those of us of a certain age remember the right-wing political slogan, “America, love it or leave it.” I’ve seen it credited to journalist Walter Winchell, who used it in his defense of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt. But it’s heyday was in the 1960s, against the participants in the antiwar movement in the United States and (in translation, ame-o ou deixe-o) in the early 1970s, by supporters of the Brazilian military dictatorship.*
I couldn’t help but be reminded of that slogan in reading the recent exchange between the anonymous author of Unlearning Economics and Simon Wren-Lewis (to which Brad DeLong has chimed in, on Wren-Lewis’s side).
Unlearning Economics puts forward an argument I’ve made many times on this blog (as, of course, have many others), that mainstream economics deserves at least some of the blame for the spectacular crash of 2007-08 (and, I would add, the uneven nature of the recovery since then).
the absence of things like power, exploitation, poverty, inequality, conflict, and disaster in most mainstream models — centred as they are around a norm of well-functioning markets, and focused on banal criteria like prices, output and efficiency — tends to anodise the subject matter. In practice, this vision of the economy detracts attention from important social issues and can even serve to conceal outright abuses. The result is that in practice, the influence of economics has often been more regressive than progressive.
Therefore, Unlearning Economics argues, a more progressive move is to challenge the “rhetorical power” of mainstream economics and broaden the debate, by focusing on the human impact of economic theories and policies.
Who could possibly disagree?
Well, Wren-Lewis, for one (and DeLong, for another). His view is that the only task—the only progressive task—is to criticize mainstream economics on its own terms. Even more, he argues that we need mainstream economics, because there should only be one economic theory, on which everyone can and should agree.
Now imagine what would happen if there was no mainstream. Instead we had different schools of thought, each with their own models and favoured policies. There would be schools of thought that said austerity was bad, but there would be schools that said the opposite. I cannot see how that strengthens the argument against austerity, but I can see how it weakens it.
The alternative view is that the discipline of economics has a hegemonic economic discourse (constituted, at least in the postwar period, by an ever-changing combination of neoclassical and Keynesian economics) and a wide variety of other, nonmainstream economic theories (inside the discipline of economics, as well as in other academic disciplines and outside the academy itself). Reducing the critique of austerity (or any other economic policy or strategy) to the issues raised by mainstream economists actually impoverishes the debate.
Sure, there’s a mainstream critique of austerity: cutting government expenditures in the midst of a recession reduces (at least in most cases) the rate of economic growth. But there are also other criticisms, which don’t and simply can’t be formulated by mainstream economists. From a Marxian perspective, for example, austerity (of the sort we’ve seen in recent years in Europe and even to some extent in the United States, not to mention all the other examples, especially as part of IMF-sponsored stabilization and adjustment programs, around the world) often serves to raise the rate of exploitation. Feminist economists, too, have lodged criticisms of austerity, since it often shifts the burden of adjustment onto women. Radicals, for their part, worry about the effects on power relations. And the list goes on.
They’re all different—perhaps overlapping but not necessarily mutually compatible—criticisms of austerity policies. They raise different issues, precisely because they’re inspired by different, mainstream and heterodox, economic theories.
Wren-Lewis, in his response to Unlearning Economics, wants to limit the debate to the terms of mainstream economics, which is the disciplinary equivalent of “love it or leave it.”
*There’s also the awful song by Jimmie Helms, recorded by Ernest Tubb:
and more Jordanian women are refusing to accept the sexist status quo
and choosing to change it.
Women's rights activists protest in front of Parliament in Amman, Jordan on the 1st of December 2016 calling for an end to violence against women. Picture from the Jordanian Women Union’s Facebook Page.
Shamayleh’s family won’t discuss women’s rights at the dinner
table. Too often it ends in a quarrel. In the eyes of her family,
women shouldn’t talk about politics or religion. “They think a
woman should study, have a degree and work but be limited in what she
does or says,” explains 27-year-old Shamayleh.
as a child, growing up in a conservative community in Jordan, she
found these restrictions difficult to digest. While her younger
brothers spoke their minds freely, she was told to shush, “because
as a girl you should be quiet.” For Shamayleh, the expectation that
she would slot into traditional roles felt unnatural. “I had
something in me that kept asking why I should follow a certain path
and not have my own dreams. Why, when I wanted to start work, did it
have to be a job my father found for me?
frustration is widely felt in Jordan, where, despite having one of
the highest female literacy rates in the region, women
make up just 22 percent of the workforce. “A lot of girls here
are highly educated but they don’t care about getting a job at the
end of their studies. They just want to get married because their
family tells them that’s the best thing they can do and the only
way to be complete,” says Nadine Ibrahim, 28, a local dentist who
takes an active interest in women’s rights.
many of the barriers Jordanian women face, this disparity is rooted
in a network of strict social codes, propped up by a legal system
that frequently undermines the rights of women and reinforces the
patriarchal status quo. Activists point to provisions that perpetuate
women’s second-class status, such as the Personal
Status Law, under which men may inherit twice as much as women,
or the refusal to grant full citizenship
rights to the children of Jordanian women (but not men) who have
here don’t always identify as feminists, they see themselves as
legal impediments, and others facing Jordanian women, have been
confronted by activists across the country, often at great personal
risk. Yet while Jordan has a proud history of brave women’s rights
campaigners, many fear or refuse to call themselves feminists.
here don’t always identify as feminists, they see themselves as
women activists,” says Nadia Shamroukh director of the Jordanian
Women’s Union (JWU). “Some of them criticise feminism because
they have an idea that it is linked to radical ideologies and they
don’t want to be associated with this and attacked by society,”
in Jordan see feminism as a taboo subject, and a threat to the social
and religious order. Others within the women’s rights community
dismiss it as a predominantly intellectual movement that busy
activists have little time or energy to engage with. Shamroukh is
hoping to change this, starting with a new education programme
designed to open up the discourse around feminism and unite it with
concept of feminism is very elitist here,” says Ana, who also works
at JWU, explaining that the programme will target women from all
backgrounds, reaching out to those in rural communities with little
or no access to discussions around women’s rights. “Feminism is
something that’s raised at roundtable discussions or conferences
attended by highly educated women who mostly come from privileged
backgrounds. It’s not inclusive. That’s what JWU is trying to do:
introduce feminism as something every woman should adopt and claim as
her own,” she says.
Aseel Abu Albandora, project coordinator at JWU,
feminism in Jordan means something different to feminism in the west.
Jordanian feminists need to “equip themselves for the fight,” she
says, by learning about their rights. “In the west
people are free about taking a stand but for us to have a belief
that’s not usual in this country is a struggle.” Shamroukh
emphasises the importance of focusing on a feminism that’s distinct
to the region rather than ideas translated from overseas. “We need
a home-grown concept because our priorities are different,” she
explains, adding that some feminist issues such as lesbian rights are
difficult to address in a Middle Eastern context.
“Change has to come from within. We're not
waiting for the west to help us"
Laila Hzaineh says it’s essential to distinguish between what’s
imported from the west
and what’s bred in the Middle East. “Here
we’re still fighting for basic rights so movements like “free the
nipple” are absolutely out of the question. We’re still trying to
free our hair.” She points to a long lineage of strong Arab women
to look up to. “Change has to come from within. We're not
waiting for the west to help us because in the Middle East we know
what it's like to have the west intervene in our problems. It’s one
of the reasons feminism isn't accepted in Jordan, because it seems so
these hurdles, feminism is gathering pace in Jordan as more women
gain knowledge of the rights they are due and denied. “In the past,
it has always been a taboo topic that people don’t want to discuss
because they think it will ruin the family fabric and introduce
secularism into Jordan. Now, the feminist movement has become more
outspoken,” says Farah Mesmar, regional advocacy officer at Kvinna
till Kvinna, a Swedish women’s rights organisation with offices in
points to the role played by social media in raising awareness among
the younger generation, widening the scope for activism at all levels
of society. “New communication methods have helped us a lot.
Before, the only option was to go into the street and protest, with
all the risks that entailed, but now you can do social media
expansion of civil society in Jordan has also been instrumental,
providing a much larger platform to unite and engage women’s
activism. “Previously we had very few organisations working on
feminist issues but now almost all the NGOs have a gender programme
and this has opened a bigger pool for feminists to get involved,”
country has also seen a steady increase in the number of women taking
up public office, with 20 out of 130 seats in last year’s
parliamentary elections secured by women, an increase on 18 out of
150 in the previous term. However, only a handful of female
parliamentarians are willing to take up women’s rights causes and
those that do often face hefty opposition in the male-dominated
house. “It takes a strong woman to be in parliament and face the
patriarchy,” says Layla Naffa director of programmes at the
Arab Women Organisation, an NGO working to
increase female political participation in Jordan.
Abu Elbeh, a former MP and secretary general of the Jordanian
People’s Democratic Party, says female MPs feel pressured to
compensate for their femininity by outperforming male colleagues.
“Women have to be better than men to make up for not being male.”
This compounds the challenges for female MPs looking to raise issues
affecting women and confront the gender inequality that pervades
Jordan’s social and legal structures. According to Elbeh, “Of the
women in parliament, just three or four are effective (in this
of the problem is a failure to translate policy into action. Anas Al
Horani, 25, a translator, editor and women’s rights campaigner,
describes the tendency for feminist language to be co-opted by those
looking to earn equality brownie points. “In Jordan you have
authority figures claiming that they’re working for equal wages and
rights between genders, but in reality they aren’t doing anything
about it. The only good thing is that women’s rights are now on
He cites the same
discrepancy in social interactions between women and men. “Guys
have increasingly cottoned on to the fact that women are expecting a
more equal relationship and are using it to their advantage.” While
the discourse around women’s rights has shifted, in many ways he
says, chauvinism has simply changed shape. “Sexism has become more
subtle with men using the language of social justice to seduce as
many women as possible.”
A feminist future
Horani says feminist
men need to voice their support more loudly, but this can be
challenging in a society that draws sharp distinctions between male
and female spheres. Tony Dabbas, 21, feels that being a feminist is
just “common sense,” and believes lack of awareness is the
problem. “In my community they make fun of me (for these views) and
don’t take it seriously. Men are a big problem in this equation,”
"Feminism is not something to be
ashamed of, it’s something to be proud of"
while feminism may be variously viewed as a joke, a threat, a western
import or the prerogative of the elite, more and more Jordanian women
are taking it seriously by educating themselves and others about
their rights. Shamroukh believes that now it’s more important than
ever to invest in the younger generation and arm them with the
knowledge to take the fight forward. “The revolutions across the
Arab world brought all the dirt to the fore and now we can see it and
fight it. In the past we couldn’t talk about issues like secularism
and feminism, but now people can see with their own eyes and address
the problems that were hidden before.”
Altamimi, a 20-year-old computer engineering student, is part of a
group of feminist campaigners at her university. “People think
we’re just a bunch of rude girls and boys making noise and being
ridiculous but it’s up to us to change things,” she says.
Describing the impact ingrained sexism has on the lives of women in
Jordan, she picks a recent experience. “A few weeks ago this man
started following me down the street and calling me horrible names. I
wanted to teach him a lesson so I told him he didn’t have the right
to speak to me that way.”
kind of harassment is the norm for the Jordanian women, she
continues. “Instead of supporting me, people in the street told me
off for responding and said he’s within his rights to behave like
that.” Frustrated, she went home in tears. “My mum told me that’s
just the way it is and I should be stronger.” But Altamimi is part
of a generation where more and more Jordanian women are refusing to
accept the sexist status quo. “We need to educate ourselves in what
feminism means. I’m going to raise my kids to know this word,
understand it and grow up loving it. Feminism is not something to be
ashamed of, it’s something to be proud of.”
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