Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change

Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change

Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change

Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change

Synopsis

This book examines the position of women in the contemporary Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Although it is culturally diverse, this region shares many commonalities with relation to women that are strong, deep, and pervasive: a space-based patriarchy, a culturally strong sense of religion, a smooth co-existence of tradition and modernity, a transitional stage in development, and multilingualism/multiculturalism.

Experts from within the region and from outside provide both theoretical angles and case studies, drawing on fieldwork from Egypt, Oman, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Spain. Addressing the historical, socio-cultural, political, economic, and legal issues in the region, the chapters cover five major aspects of women's agency:

  • political agency
  • civil society activism
  • legal reform
  • cultural and social agencies
  • religious and symbolic agencies.

Bringing to light often marginalized topics and issues, the book underlines the importance of respecting specificities when judging societies and hints at possible ways of promoting the MENA region. As such, it is a valuable addition to existing literature in the field of political science, sociology, and women's studies.

Excerpt

The key conceptual issue of this volume is that of women as active agents of change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In much of contemporary social and political theory, the concept of agency is commonly defined as either the capacity to create a difference or the freedom to act otherwise. However, men and women do not self-elect circumstances; they make their own history, not as they please but according to the norms regulating their culture, society, and general historical, economic, and socio-political context. From this perspective, understanding women’s agency cannot be achieved without understanding the sources of power and power-negotiation in the region.

MENA is not a homogeneous region; specific historical, political, and economic factors resulted in a number of sub-regional entities such as the Maghreb, Egypt, Iraq and Syria, the Gulf, Turkey and Iran, Israel, etc. (Abun-Nasr 1975; Laroui 1977). From the perspective of this volume, however, the countries of the MENA region share women-linked commonalities that are strong, deep, and pervasive: a space-based patriarchy, a culturally strong sense of religion, a smooth coexistence of tradition and modernity, a transitional stage in development, and multilingualism/multiculturalism—hence the importance of understanding the historical, socio-cultural, political, economic, and legal issues in the region.

Historical context

The Middle East and North Africa are two diverse regions that are often grouped together because of the many important things they share, such as the fact that Islam is the dominant religion and Arabic the dominant language. MENA is not all desert, and many populations do not speak Arabic. However, there are many exceptions to these two facts. For example, most Iranians are Muslim, but speak Farsi and are not Arabs; the Turks, who originally came from the land northwest of India, are also Muslim but speak Turkish rather than Arabic, and the people of Lebanon primarily speak Arabic, but more than one-third of them are Christian. Also, about twenty-five million Kurds live in the mountains between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Most Arabic-speaking countries were Arabized in the seventh or eighth centuries and had previously different civilizations, languages, and . . .

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