There is no social justice without gender justice and there is no gender justice without socio-political and economic reforms. How can feminists in the MENA region drive these reforms, or at the very least, how can feminist perspectives be better integrated into them?
As the effects of global megatrends like digitalization, climate change and the rise of right-wing ideologies are slowly, but steadily, manifesting themselves in women’s daily lives, feminists around the globe are raising their voices to advocate for just transitions and resist marginalization and oppression. In the MENA region, women are in the front lines of protests with their voices proven crucial during the “Arab Spring”, even in the face of violence and sexual assault. Yet, when we look at mainstream public discourses around coping with these megatrends and minimizing the risks of exploitation and injustice associated with current situations and predictable changes, women’s voices and feminist perspectives are often overlooked.
This is perpetuated by personal status laws in the region which render women subject to male guardianship and thereby impede the evolution of their traditional gender role which is entrenched with concepts of obedience and marginalization. After decades of feminist advocacy in the region, the resistance to changing that traditional role is still evident in the continuous underrepresentation and exclusion of women in the political and economic spheres.
Moreover, due to the predominance of neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in recent decades, there has been a transition in feminist movements in the global south from broad-based political movements to project oriented and NGOized work. Additionally, clear gaps between academic feminist discourse and the work of activists on the ground have manifested. As a result, feminism’s political nature has been turned from revolutionary to docile and alliances between feminist actors are often subjected to expiry dates that coincide with the end of single-issue based projects. Nonetheless, women’s rights advocates in the region have been, and continue to be, active in the quest for eliminating discriminatory laws and social practices and improving women’s representation in the personal, political and economic spheres.
Under the Political Feminism project in the MENA region, FES aims to address these issues by (1) facilitating the development of innovative strategies and feminist alternatives for the current socio-political and economic challenges in the region and introducing those strategies into public discourse; (2) by creating the space for feminists from across the region to share their experiences with other feminists and progressive actors; (3) and by fostering long-term alliances that will link political feminism with broader social justice movements.