Feminism and Theory in the Arab World

Workshop, March 18–19, 2016


Prof. Dr. Bettina Dennerlein, Dr. Yasmine Berriane


Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies – Chair of Gender Studies and Islamic Studies, URPP Asia and Europe, Swiss Society for Gender Studies


University of Zurich, Room RAA G-01 (Aula), Rämistrasse 59, 8001 Zurich


The question of women’s rights, and by extension of feminism, is a highly debated topic in the Arab World. Not only does it touch upon the controversial issue of gender equality but also on questions of identity, ideology, power and politics. Organizations and actors with different – and often opposing – ideological backgrounds that claim to have a women’s rights agenda have been amongst the most active in the region in the past decades. Studies of their work and trajectories have led to substantial scholarship, both in the fields of academic research and of activist grey literature. These works have shed light on processes of political advocacy and negotiations, and have described ensuing legal and social changes. They have further contributed to producing typologies of different forms of feminism, and to highlighting the interrelation between diverse currents.

Starting from the different historical experiences and political as well as intellectual trajectories of feminisms (understood as both feminist movements and ideologies) in the MENA region, the workshop focuses on how scholars who have long been observing feminist endeavors, while being themselves women’s rights activists, interpret the present situation beyond ideological fault lines. What are the relevant concepts for understanding current debates and evolutions inside Arab feminisms? What is the potential of feminism(s) as both a set of critical theoretical tools as well as an ensemble of movements in the region? How does one theorize Arab feminisms from within while taking account of their historical entanglements as well as their current transnational connectivities?