Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Poetry as Women's Resistance to the Consequences of Bedouin Displacement in Jordan

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Poetry as Women's Resistance to the Consequences of Bedouin Displacement in Jordan

Article excerpt

Despite the significant displacement that Jordanian Bedouin families have undergone in recent generations, Bedouin women are able to mitigate some of the consequences of that displacement through the opportunities and influence they have gained as Nabati poets.

Bedouin populations in the Middle East have experienced significant displacement through loss of assets or of access to assets, leading to a loss of livelihood during the past six decades. Bedouin in rural Aqaba and Ma'an governorates in southern Jordan have been prevented from following migratory routes because of a reinforced border with Saudi Arabia and government initiatives that sought to induce Bedouin settlement. Very few Jordanian Bedouin today rely on herding for subsistence, and most families' survival depends on male wage labour (for example in the tourist industry), military pensions and state benefits.

This displacement from a migratory lifestyle has significantly affected Bedouin women's social and family roles. The transition to sedentary life and greater geographic and spatial proximity to non-relatives has required women to take measures to avoid contact with unrelated males. In the densely settled contexts into which Bedouin have been displaced, this has serious consequences for women's mobility, restricting their ability to contribute economically to their families and limiting their participation in public activities and decision making. Women's labour was formerly critical to family survival in a herding context, as women were responsible for caring for animals, milking and processing dairy products, as well as for the care, mobility and erection of tents. Women's activities also occupied a larger spatial range in herding contexts, with fewer restrictions on movement.

Because most families no longer depend on domestic animals and the vast majority of wage earners in Bedouin households today are male, women have been largely sidelined as economic contributors and their influence in their own household's economic decisions has consequently been reduced. Political activity is also difficult for Bedouin women due to restrictions on their public movement and interaction with unrelated men.

The traditional art form of Nabati poetry (al-sha'r al-Nabati), a genre of oral poetry composed throughout the Arabian Peninsula by both men and women, has proved to be an acceptable means of resistance. …

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