Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Nuanced Tales Behind the Veil

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Nuanced Tales Behind the Veil

Article excerpt

A close-focus study of Arab schooling calls Western views into question, writes Carine Allaf.

Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith, and Progress

By Fida Adely

University of Chicago Press

240pp, Pounds 48.50 and Pounds 16.00

ISBN 9780226006901 and 6918

Published 8 October 2012

Time and time again, media outlets conjure images of Arab women who need saving and empowering via the education and development initiatives of the Western world and international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. Fida Adely's close-focus examination of the education of young women in the Middle East moves away from such generalisations and stereotypes, and instead thoughtfully analyses the nuances and complexities of the everyday lives of a group of young women at al-Khatwa Secondary School for Girls in Bawadi al-Naseem, Jordan. This result is a breath of fresh air in an area dominated by sweeping terminology and homogeneity in descriptions of women in the Arab world. I found Gendered Paradoxes an exciting addition to a limited body of literature and one that is sure to shift perceptions of women's schooling in the region.

Adely opens the book with a consideration of a 2005 World Bank report on Jordan that called the state a "gender paradox" because education levels for women are high but their participation in the labour force is low, and concludes by showing the stark difference between the findings of the UN Development Programme's Arab Human Development Report 2005 and her experiences during her time researching at al-Khatwa. By focusing on the lives of these students, Adely questions common definitions of progress, development and empowerment. Through an examination of four themes - nationalism, religion, morality and employment - she transports the reader to an educational establishment in which the lives of young women unfold in distinct and different manners as they interact with each of these issues.

Beginning with an illustration of how the school's rituals, such as the daily morning assembly and celebration of national holidays, play into issues of identity (Trans-Jordanian versus Palestinian) and modernity (the acceptability of girls singing and dancing in patriotic performances), she casts a critical eye over Jordan's nation-building efforts and considers how these young women make sense of such matters. …

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