Rethinking Gender Constructs

Politics and Gender:
On Citizenship, Representation and Reform
Panel at the German Congress of Oriental Studies
24-28th September 2007
in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Contemporary societies in the Middle East and North Africa are undergoing multiple
social transformations, political crises, and conflicts. As a result, many, if not all,
societies are rethinking and renegotiating the relationship between the state,
individuals and social communities, in which gender relations, and in particular
women’s space in the social order, and the political sphere are at the core. Current
research is rethinking and broadening our understanding of the causes and effects of
this considerable momentum as well as strategies of state agents, civil society actors
and transnational networks to cope with conflicting and contradicting demands.
This panel explores new areas of research on social or legal reform, network and civil
society activities, as well as representations of gender. We invite scholars from various
disciplines or with an interdisciplinary perspective to contribute. The panel is coorganized by Working Group Migration- Gender- Politics at the University of Oldenburg,
the Center for Studies on Research on Women at the Université Sidi Mohamed Ben
Abdallah, Fez (Morocco), the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre at
the Sana’a University (Yemen), the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at
the Lebanese American University, the Women’s Research & Training Centre at the
University of Aden (Yemen) and the Working Group Gender (AK Gender) of the
German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO).
Chair: Martina Kamp, Department of Political Science, CvO University of Oldenburg
Women and Islamization in Morocco
Prof. Dr. Fatima Sadiqi, CSAROW, Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, Fez
Islam is three things in Morocco: faith, culture and politics. Gender is important in the
three. As faith, Islam is perceived as a personal relationship between an individual
(man or woman) and God. This relationship is perceived by both sexes as part of what
constitutes a meaningful life. In my work on Moroccan women’s expressions of faith, I
note that women often voice ethical, rather than doctrinal Islam. I also note that
women’s expressions of ethical Islam often carry strong overtones of Sufi or spiritual,
rather than doctrinal and legal Islam. As culture, Islam interacts with other aspects of
Moroccan culture such geography, orality and multilingualism. For example, Morocco’s
long history and proximity to Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa has promoted flexibility in
the way Islam is conceived and practiced. Islam and monarchy came hand in hand to
Morocco and the first Arabs conquerors had to marry Berber wives. Islam and culture is
also manifested in the specific shape of mosques, specific styles of dress and ritual
practices. Islam in modern Morocco has never been daily threatened by the presence
of Christianity or Judaism, as has been the case in the Middle East, where Islam
coexists and even “competes” with these two religions. Finally, the cultural aspect of
Islam is apparent in many strong icons of Moroccan social life. For example, almost all
aspects of Moroccan social behavior are religious in origin such as greetings and
leave-takings, as well as rituals that accompany the celebration of marriage, birth,
circumcision, funerals, etc. In my work on Moroccan women’s expressions of Islam as
culture, I note that these expressions sometimes carry clear residues of pre-Islamic
expressions of faith in the form of various rituals and practices. Pre-Islamic deity was
dual in what is now Morocco and the passage of North Africa from polytheism to
monotheism erased the feminine aspect of deity and relegated it to the unconscious
collective memory. Women’s expressions of this memory often filter through orality,
symbols and art. I also investigate the relationship between Moroccan women’s
expressions of faith and their expressions of culture and I note that sometimes the
borders are thin.
In spite of the fact that women’s engagement with Islam has been successful, the
Moroccan feminist movement is still poorly understood both inside and outside
Morocco. The reason for this is the absence of the language perspective in known
accounts of the Moroccan feminist movements. Seen from the language perspective,
Moroccan feminisms are at the same time different from Western and even Middle
Eastern feminisms, and also similar to both. The encounter with Islam and later with
the West have been integrated in women’s expressions and because oral texts and
rituals have helped institutionalize authority-laden practices but were never
institutionalized themselves, they escaped abrupt rupture and found strength and
continuity in symbolism which remained vivid in language, rites and art. Berber
women’s religious expressions have been systematically shrouded in silence because
both women and Berber have been marginalized until very recently. Opening the door
of this silence is both launching fresh thinking about Berber women’s complex
relationship with religion and filling some gaps in the epistemology and histories of
Morocco, as well as in the European discourses on it. In fact, I challenge some
established assumptions about Berber women and add information to new
reconstructive histories of North African women. Amazigh women’s expressions of the
sacred are not dislocated from today women’s expressions of Islam. The links between
the two are not apparent; they are interfered with by powerful historical, political,
economical, and social elements that render the readings difficult. The link between the
two also interrogates the relationship between oral and written texts. Women in
Morocco have engaged with religion well before their encounter with the West, indeed
well before their encounter with Islam. These expressions have been gathered from
various periods of Moroccan history. They constitute strong voices where symbolism is
central. Neither school textbooks nor national galleries reflect this. The folklorisation of
the millennial oral Berber tradition and culture minimizes both the language and the
story of women’s complex, and multi-vocal expressions of the sacred. It is this attitude
which created a culture where Berber is a private and “limited” language and of
women’s voice is ‘awra (taboo).
Women Religious Guides ‘mourshidat’ as Agents of Change in
Prof. Dr. Moha Ennaji, CSAROW, Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, Fez
This paper deals with gender, activism and development in a broader socio-political
approach .The emergence of women religious guides and women’s NGOs is an
answer to the crisis of the nation-state model form of governance. Such grassroots
movements are treated as a way to ensure democracy and sustainable development.
They create social dynamism through the mobilization and participation of the masses.
They also decentralize governance in a more globalized world. Their modes of action
raise new challenges for government development policies and open up new ways of
thinking about the issues of sustainability.
Morocco has been volatile since King Mohammed VI came to power with a reform
agenda. Islamists took to the streets to protest changes to the family law. After the
shock of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Moroccan society, especially women rally
behind the young Western-minded King, who has elevated the status of women. A new
family law has granted them equal rights in marriage, divorce, and the ownership of
property. Lately, women have started breaking taboos in the religious realm.
In May 2006, 50 women pioneers graduated from an “imam” academy in Rabat, joining
the ranks of the few women in the Arab world trained as religious leaders. Empowered
to do everything that male imams do -- except lead Friday prayer in a mosque -- the
women will fan out across Morocco to work as spiritual guides in mosques, schools,
hospitals, and prisons, even hosting their own television and radio talk shows. The
mourshidat program is part of an effort by authorities in Morocco to promote a
moderate Islam as it grapples with Muslim extremism, and to give women basic
instruction in religion, chiefly a specifically Moroccan version.
I contend in this paper that the mourshidat are a political pawn of the Moroccan
government's fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Facing high illiteracy and poverty
rates, Moroccan women need more than religious instruction. The mourshidat program
is insufficient to elevate the status of Moroccan women, and the fact that women do not
lead prayer may diminish their value and their role. Nevertheless, women mourshidat
together with women’s NGOs are influential in various development projects, and will
have a positive impact on the promotion of moderate Islam and on the modernization of
gender relations in the region.
Representations of masculinity/ies, Islam and Migration
Kamal Elaissaoui, MA, CSAROW, Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, Fez
This paper investigates the concept of masculinity/ies in both its individualist and its
pluralist dimensions. Interestingly, neither Moroccan Arabic nor standard Arabic have a
plural form of masculinity; a linguistic/symbolic way of legitimating masculinity as a
homogeneous category that resist unpacking. Theoretically, I will address the interplay
of masculinity/ies, Islam and migration from the perspective of Jacques Derrida’s
theory of ‘Differance’ and Umberto Eco’s “limits of interpretation.” These analytical tools
will help bring about an insight into the deferral of what masculinities stand for within an
Islamic Moroccan culture and particularly how masculinities have been constructed
within the minds of four different Moroccan social categories: high school students,
high school teachers, graduate office workers and illiterate people whose ages vary
from 15 to 50 years old.
The paper equally aims at deconstructing how masculinity/ies are portrayed in the
Qur’an, male and female conceptions, as well as in ancient Arab poetry, folk culture
and Francophone media. Methodologically, I will rely on content analysis, critical
discourse analysis, and qualitative empirical research.
Women and the Moroccan State:
The Struggle over the Issue of Citizenship
Mohammed Yachoulti, MA, CSAROW, Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, Fez
Morocco’s choice and commitment to follow the path of gender equality, children’s
rights and preserving family cohesion has been reaffirmed in his latest reforms of the
Nationality Code. The new code, being regarded as a completion to the reforms made
in the Mudawana (family status code), would not have seen the light of the day without
the ongoing struggle and pressures of the nascent Moroccan women’s movement.
Despite the vigorous opposition of the conservative Islamist forces and the limitations
still associated with the new code, the women’s movement, along with some liberal
political actors, has once again managed to dynamise society, and to create tension
within the public arena; it has revealed an urgent need to revise the prevailing pitfalls of
1958 nationality code to put an end to the sufferings of a large number of community
members. Following its recent struggles, this paper aims to analyze how this
movement has remained faithful to its oath to undermine the authoritarian political
culture; it critically discusses the strategies women’s movement adopted to instigate
reforms concerning the laws regulating the issue of nationality which in its turn governs
citizenship in Morocco; it also addresses the different reservations of the movement
regarding some articles of the new code.
Rethinking Gender Constructs:
Towards a Substantive Political Participation of Women
Hanane Darhour, MA, CSAROW, Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, Fez
From private spaces into public spaces, gender works as a construct of changing
aspects of women’s identities and is a means through which gender expectations are
settled, social structures are constructed and power relations are distributed and
negotiated. Gender conceptions and meanings function as a prominent aspect in one’s
political participation, impede women’s access to public spaces and thereby limit
women’s equitable access to power and public empowering positions in society. Of
particular focus in this presentation, facilitating and expanding women’s access into
political elective bodies across the world and in particular in Morocco is endangered by
obstacles presented by the distribution of power dynamics across gender and social
structures. My research engages the attitudes and conceptions of male and female
MPs in Morocco. My goal is to understand how being a woman affects access to
political and elective bodies, experiences, capacity to act and decisions taken. It is
assumed world widely that facilitating and expanding women’s representation in the
parliament through a quota system represents one of the strategies of women’s
empowerment. Using qualitative methodology, based on in-depth interviews conducted
in the Moroccan parliament, it has been found that gender conceptions and norms are
central to one’s political involvement. The parliament reflects gender social identities
and realities, and demonstrates the complexity of achieving a substantial democratic
political participation and women’ empowerment in Morocco and elsewhere through a
quota system, especially if it is not accompanied by structural reforms on the level of
gender perceptions and constructs. Gender norms prove to be impossible to overcome
only through the use of a quota.
The Impact of Male Migration on Rural Women in Morocco
Eva Fuchs, AK Gender & University of Hamburg
This paper focuses on the impacts of male migration on women, who are left behind in
the rural area of Morocco. Taking into account the long and diverse effects of
emigration in Morocco it gives a micro analysis of Jorf, which is situated in the region of
Tafilalet in southeast Morocco from an anthropology perspective.
One result of male migration is a big number of households, which are female-headed
interacting in an imagined community as transnational family. This means on the local
level, women have to assume parts of the male responsibilities and tasks. The
research is based on the idea of the traditional, binary construction of gender roles
assigning women’s lives to be predominantly occupied with the duties of the home,
while men try to earn a living and represent their families in the public sphere. These
constructions have to be renegotiated when the male part of the family is absent.
Focusing on topics such as female mobility, economics, networks, and the return of the
migrant husband, son, brother, or father, the paper analysis the reorganization of
gender relations.
The macro level of the research focuses on the general reasons for migration in
Morocco and their consequences for the emigration country, especially for the city of
Jorf. The data for the micro analysis is drawn from a social-anthropological field
research, which was carried out in July and August 2006.
Economy and Culture:
Gender in the Yemeni Wage Labor Market
Sabine Falke, MA, CvO University of Oldenburg
Communalism, Ethnicity and Gender in Iraq
Martina Kamp, MA, Department of Political Science, CvO University of Oldenburg
This paper examines the re-construction of Iraqi citizenship since the collapse of the
Ba'th-regime in 2003. Although the process of drafting a constitution for the new Iraq
was influenced by Iraqi diasporic communities in the West and the Middle East, the
US-administration also played a crucial role — both directly and indirectly via Iraqi
politicians and civil society actors. Additionally, recent developments in post-conflict
management and peace research had a strong impact on the constitutional debate on
ethnic and religious communities in the political system. The paper analyses how the
relationships between state power and the subject are defined along the boundaries of
ethnicity, religious and/or communal affiliation and gender, and examines the policies
of the internal and external actors involved in the constitutional process.
Recent research broadened the understanding of the gendered nature of citizenship,
and has underlined how issues of women’s rights are tied to questions about the social
fabric of the state (Joseph 2000; Charrad 2001). Taking up the notion that gender
relations are a vital field for conflict and compromise in power bargains (Kandiyoti
1992; Thompson 2000), the paper examines how questions of ethnic autonomy and
the role of religious and communal ideologies are intertwined with a redefinition of
gender relations. In spite of gender-equality policies laid down in the constitution, it is
argued that the emerging Iraqi citizenship strengthens the patriarchal privileges of
ethnic, religious and social communities.