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Feminism in the Middle East

February 10, 2012

The problem is not with the Islamists – the problem is with the mentality of men in this society. Changing perceptions of women must come from the streets, not from the parliament.

-Nagwan El Ashwal, Cairo University political science researcher-

Been thinking a lot about Egypt lately. If you know me or had read my first post, you’ll know that I studied abroad in Jordan last year and that since then, I’ve been a little consumed with all things feminism + Middle East. It’s just such an interesting moment where my white, western feminism is completely at a loss to function because I don’t want to be that colonialist jerk.

Anyhow, this means that when I stumble upon awesome articles like this one from Al Jazeera, I get a little excited. More fodder for my ever thinking brain. The article goes through feminism in Egypt and it gets me thinking what that would look like. When I was in Jordan, the feminism i saw wasn’t always in line with my own but that definitely does not mean it’s not every bit as (if not more so) important and viable.

I’m guilty of this as much as the next person, but I think too often we play a fruitless little measuring game between “us” and “them”. It’s a terrifyingly easy habit to get into and does no service to cross cultural communication and understanding. Academics, activists, U.S. natives, and Egyptians alike have written prolifically on the topic of feminism, the Middle East, and Islam. And seeing as how I’m still on a road to understanding (or a road to realizing that that is an impossible task in and of itself), there’s no way I could recap it all in one blog post.

Comic from political cartoonist Jeff Danziger on the BlueBra incident

Suffice it to say, people are writing, talking, tweeting, blogging about what’s going on, and (in a good way) adding infinitely to the difficulty in being able to come to hard-and-fast conclusions about feminism and the Middle East. Check out this piece from CNN on Samira Ibrahim’s court win against virginity tests and on all of the organizing and rallying that took place because of the beating of a woman known only by her blue bra she was wearing at the time.

These articles should give us at least a little boost that in this time of change in Egypt (among other areas), people are well-aware of how women are playing into the change, being a part of creating change, and actively discussing issues they encounter daily. Yet another reason to love the internet in it’s awesome ability to dispense information and inform us beyond what would be possible without it, right?

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