Academic journal article Hemispheres

A Woman's Touch in the Arab Spring the Struggle of Jordanian Mothers for Equality in Citizenship

Academic journal article Hemispheres

A Woman's Touch in the Arab Spring the Struggle of Jordanian Mothers for Equality in Citizenship

Article excerpt

Today s march is more than a call for the release of our sons; it is a call on the government and the King to listen to Jordanian women 's demands for reform.

Um Ammar, organizer of the first all-women demonstration in Jordan2

1. Background

The Arab Spring has opened new channels for expressing political demands. Under the liberal guise covered by the international media, a number of political struggles of different citizens' groups are hidden. The members of trade unions, unemployed youth, Muslim groups and women are the main 'actors' that remain backstage. While public attention is directed to Egypt, Yemen or Syria, Jordan is regarded as a reliable Western ally with a relatively stable system. However, during the first year since the beginning of the Arab Spring in March 2011, 1,300 demonstrations have taken place in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan against corruption and unemployment, poverty, arrests of political activists and lack of freedom. One of the new grassroots groups, which started its own struggle during the mass protests, was composed of Jordanian mothers struggling for equality in the citizenship law.

Jordan is a country that is facing two opposing forces. On the one hand, the rapid socioeconomic as well as political changes have resulted in transformations of gender relations (but we cannot say that the women's share in the democratization process - one of the main 'fruits' of the political transformation - has been equal). On the other hand, the desire - in the pro-reform movement as well as in governmental politics - to preserve traditions and maintain the status quo is still very strong. These contradictions influence the position of women very deeply. All were reflected in recent discussions about amendments to the Jordanian constitution (the part concerning equality despite sex was not accepted). The concept of citizenship is at the center of the debate on women's rights in Jordan. There are currently a number of different initiatives that promote changes in the citizenship law. Such open discussion about this very sensitive topic was previously not possible.

In the theoretical section of my research I refer to interdisciplinary and comparative studies on citizenship - considered as an attribute of every person. Seldom, therefore, do we realize what theoretical complexities the notions of citizenship may imply. Citizens of the modem state are - in the opinion of representatives of classical social thought - autonomous and abstract individuals. The constitutional law should be neutral with regard to sex, ethnicity, race and class. However, if we discuss the problem not only through the prism of legislative acts, but also that of practice, we can see the complicated tangle of political, economic and cultural elements, which locate people differently in respect to the law. Sex is a category that reveals a large number of such dissimilarities within the legal mies.

From the perspective of my topic, the feminist debate on citizenship is the most inspiring aspect. Feminism refined the analyses of citizenship, rejecting the false (male) universalisms, opening them to the social context in which this notion is shaped. By describing one type of exclusion, based on the difference of sex, it sensitized the theoretical and political imagination to other types of exclusion and made them an integral element of the analysis of citizenship. The feminist debate about citizenship reflects the discussion in the social sciences about the relations between the individual and community. Similarly to other trends in social thought, there is no single feminist paradigm. The main line of the division is an expression of tensions between equality and the differences, which have existed in feminism from the very beginning. As a consequence, there are different concepts of citizenship: the first - concentrated on equality - is gender "neutral", and the second puts pressure on the significance of gender differences, which are reflected in different duties and goals. …

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