International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 16: Gender, protest and political transition in the Middle East and North Africa
Since the end of 2010, when a wave of mass protests and uprisings swept across several Arab countries, there has been unprecedented media attention on Arab women and their role in regional political transformations. Yet this large body of commentary and speculation has tended towards dichotomous positions, representing women either as the heroines of social media and street protests or as the victims of violent and conservative backlashes. A smaller number of scholars have addressed the gendered dimensions of the political and socio-economic processes unfolding since 2011, including the revolutionary struggles, counter-revolutionary backlashes, street protests, armed uprisings and civil war. They have highlighted the complex and varied picture emerging when applying a gendered lens to political transformations across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (Salime, 2012; Kandiyoti, 2013; Pratt, 2013; Al-Ali, 2014; Hafez, 2014; Khalil, 2014; Skalli, 2014). In this chapter, we avoid using the term ‘Arab Spring’, as it tends to conflate the diversity of transitions and processes taking place in the MENA region, which range from political reform and protest movements in Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Kuwait to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. These different situations across countries in the region have different implications for women’s situations and women’s rights there. In general, the uprisings and mass rallies initially created new opportunities for women to participate in public life – as protesters, mobilizers, and volunteers in field hospitals, among other activities that contributed to successfully sustaining popular struggles.
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