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ACHRS Hosts its First Monthly Women’s Meeting ‘Perceptions of Feminism: Feminism in the West and the Arab World’

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On Saturday 15 April 2017, the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies hosted its first Monthly Women’s Meeting.  The discussion series is designed to engage women from a range of backgrounds in conversation on issues relevant to women’s rights. The first topic was ‘Perceptions of Feminism: Feminism in the West and the Arab World’.

Following a presentation describing the meaning, types, history and leading figures of feminism our guests were encouraged to exchange ideas about feminism in Jordan and the Arab World. Questions proposed included whether feminism in Jordan differs from feminism in the West, how feminism could be promoted in Jordan and how Western feminists misperceive Arabic women.

Participants talked about the challenges that feminism faces in Jordan. Firstly, they noted that feminism is a relatively new term and lacks clear definition and goals.  As a result it is often mischaracterised as a solely aesthetic movement; about the way women dress and how much make-up they wear. Secondly, they discussed social traditions in Jordan, such the importance of strong family ties and marriage, and how these can conflict with a feminist agenda.

Many ideas about how to overcome these challenges to engage Jordanians in feminism were presented. One suggestion was to empower women in politics so that they could promote feminist reforms. Another was that the economic empowerment of women could change power relations in the household. Others felt that we should educate mothers about how to teach gender equality to their children

Regardless of whether the approach is top down or bottom up, everyone agreed that to succeed in Jordan feminism must take into account the unique circumstances of Jordanian women, including their language, culture, and religion. It must also acknowledge that Jordanian women are not a homogenous group and face different levels and types of gender discrimination depending on their socio-economic status, level of education, whether they are urban or rural residents and the attitude of their other family members, among other factors. We discussed using Islamic feminism, which advocates for equality between men and women based on a feminist re-reading of Islamic texts, and a human rights framework to promote an intersectional approach.  

It was agreed that there is some misunderstanding about Arabic women and the forms of oppression that they experience in the West. Participants noted that cross-cultural exchange is the key to ending any false stereotypes and expressed their hopes that women from different nationalities can come together in the future to learn about each other’s experiences.

Please stay tuned for a report on next months Women’s Meeting at the Amman Center for Human Rights. 

Prepared by Kimberley Malone, International Relations Unit ACHRS