Title

Role of women in the Arab Spring revolutions: A New Perspective on Islamic Feminism (Tunisia- Egypt- Yemen)

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

The proposed research seeks to contribute to contemporary feminist debates and dialogues in its exploration of Arab women activists’ contributions to and participation in the recent uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Historically, men were able to mobilize other men in effecting large-scale changes at the social and political levels and led most of the revolutions we study in history classes, including the French, American, Russian and Chinese revolutions. Yet the Arab Spring revolutions that began in 2010 present researchers, politicians, and activists with something of a paradox. Arab societies, being Muslim for the majority, are known to be conservative societies wherein women may play an important role in the home but face circumscription outside the home. This is especially true for women who envision themselves as agents calling for political change as well as their own active participation in revolutionary movements. The proposed research will examine, through the lens of postcolonial feminist theories, this emerging role for Arab Muslim women in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. By expanding feminist debates through including the works and perspectives of Muslim women who saw the benefits of women’s liberation movements in the West as examples to follow in their home contexts. The main contribution of this research will consist in collecting and analyzing data on the Arab Spring Revolutions obtained from within the Arab Spring countries, representing the understandings, opinions, and beliefs of women who have personally contributed to these revolutions, regardless of whether they call themselves Islamic feminists. The second contribution of this thesis is that it is conducted by a female and an insider; when the Arab Spring events started, the researcher herself was a second year student at a University in Tunisia and witnessed these revolutions unfold for eighteen months. The third merit of the work consists in achieving an appropriate level of triangulation, as the proposed research will use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative tools, and these are questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and a focus group. This project will involve select women activists who will be asked to discuss, illustrate, and think about the extent and importance of their and other women’s contribution to the Arab Spring and how women are now positioning themselves as forces of change. The ultimate goal of this project will be to see if the data collected and analyses offered from within the Arab Spring by Arab Muslim activists will contribute a new dimension to feminist theories, this time representing a feminist Islamic and insider perspective on the Arab Spring.

The research design will involve two months of interviews and questionnaires (for those seeking complete anonymity) in Tunisia, with additional interviews carried out via Skype with participants in Egypt and Yemen. I have already completed an IRB application, which I plan to submit in February 2014 with my supervisor, Susan Dewey, who has spent her career working with “high risk” populations and clearly understands how to help minimize the risks involved in my work. I will recruit participants in the research through a snowball sample based upon my existing social networks as well as social media sites that will help me identify women activists engaged in pro-democracy work.

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