Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Women of the Mediterranean; 'A Shared Destiny'

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Women of the Mediterranean; 'A Shared Destiny'

Article excerpt

RUNNING in filigree through studies on the situation of women in various Mediterranean societies is a common thread: a desire to seek out the feminine presence wherever it lies hidden, in the political and cultural as well as the religious and urban conext. Far from attempting to analyse the situation of "the Mediterranean woman" as a stereotype stamped with the seal of absolute subservience, they aim to identify the specific tensions which arise from confrontation between a particular cultural heritage and a hegemonic cultural model.

The two dominant aspirations of feminist movements in the industrialized countries--the equality of the sexes and the search for a specifically feminine identity--find an echo in the perceptions of women of the Mediterranean countries. The first of these preoccupations give rise to calls for modernization, for removal of the social, economic and juridical obstacles that inhibit the expression of women's individuality and militate against equality of opportunity between men and women as far as rights and career possibilities are concerned. Equality of the sexes forms part of the liberal tradition (encompassed by the rights of man and of the citizen) and enables women to escape from the confinement of a world apart, punctuated by childbirth, and to aspire, like men, to the wider status of "human beings."

The second aspiration arising from the female experience, from the sexual specificity of her body, has become the ground of battle against male domination. Here the purpose is not, as in the case of the demand for equality of the sexes, the breaking down of barriers that stand in the way of the free participation of women in all spheres of public life. It is above all the recognition by women of their repressed femininity, imprisoned by the one-way language of man, and the desire to give back to women "their own territory". Rather than social integration and reform, what is demanded is a transformation of the psycological social climate, until now dominated by male-oriented language; it is a call for recognition of the difference between the sexes and a rejection of reductionist destruction of specificity in the name of universality.

In the industrialized countries these two themes of the feminist movement, equality of the sexes and affirmation of the female identity, made headway only with difficulty. The difficulty arises from their very nature: the dilemma is how to affirm the female identity, the specificity of woman, without leaving the way open to claims that woman is inferior? At the same time, is there not a danger that affirmation of women's status as "human beings", of their participation in "the universal", will lead to an erosion of the notion of the specificity of woman? Does not the demand for both equality and recognition of a specific identity leave women in a "Catch 22" situation?

This thorny problem also faces the women of the Mediterranean. The societies in which they live are exposed to the onslaught of the hegemonic cultural model of the industrialized countries, a homogenizing model conceived in terms of the Universal, of History, of Progress, as opposed to regional, national and cultural specificities. Yet, at the same time, Mediterranean women are subject to these specificities which are the source of their confined situation.

How, in Mediterranean cultures, does this principle of the equality of the sexes, which is alien to their cultural model, fit in with the indigenous culture in which the identity of and the relations between the sexes are based on differentiation, a hierarchical organization and segregation? In other words, leaving aside national and religious differences, to what extent is there a specific Mediterranean culture?

The fact is that the unity of the Mediterranean is revealed in the broad sweep of its history, a unity so profoundly experienced that the peoples of every Mediterranean shore share the same destiny, with the Muslim and the Christian Mediterranean sharing the same life rhythm. …

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