Thursday, October 3, 2013

Women's Rights in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

Once upon a time in the land of Fes, I went to a conference on the above topic.

It. was. fascinating. Ok, so maybe it was a little boring too, because I was getting (most) everything translated from French and I was "self"-translating the Arabic and there was a bit of English dispersed in the mix, and I think I missed some crucial points in the translations which caused some of the talks to be... yawn. But, having not been at many academic conferences before, especially ones that are about EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE STUDYING... it was kind of awesome. Here were a group of scholars and activists who were not only fascinated by what I'm fascinated by, but they were THERE. They were Tunisian and Egyptian activists, they were Libyan and Mauritanian and Syrian and Lebanese (and obviously Moroccan). One of my favorite talks was actually about civil marriage in Lebanon, something I didn't even know was an issue before attending that session.

And while I thought I knew a lot about women's rights and social movements in North Africa post-Arab Spring, I gained so much insight and context, which is crucial for my future research self. And in addition to that, it was a really perspective-altering experience too. Sitting amongst hijab-clad women and uncovered Muslim women alike during a talk on Islamic feminism feels so much more authentic than reading about it in North Hall. I was also astounded by how many men both attended and presented at this conference. Men rarely study gender and women's studies in the US, and if they do, it's assumed they are gay. There was not that assumption or the feeling at all that this was a "women-only" issue -- it was a human rights issue to these men, and in that way, this conference was ages ahead of similar ones in the US. It was very impressive, and made me rethink prior assumptions about masculinity and oppression in the Arab context.

I've been thinking about these three days a lot lately as I've been reading The Butterfly Mosque, a memoir about an American women who moves to Cairo, converts to Islam, marries an Egyptian Sufi and tries to navigate her new life in a new family as well as come to terms with her past life in relation to her present. I highly recommend it, especially if you still harbor misconceptions that Islam is misogynistic or evil (and desire to not) -- it was quite eye-opening for me even to think through a lot of these culturally-entrenched biases that are passed down to us from generations before or the mass media. I think Islam is a beautiful religion full of meaningful, lovely traditions, symbols, and teachings, and even us educated liberals lose sight of that fact sometimes and need to be reminded.

Here I am, showing an embarrassing amount of collarbone for living in an Arab country. Oops.

No comments:

Post a Comment