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IN THE SHADOW OF THE STATE: Changing Definitions ofArab Women's "Developmental" Citizenship Rights Mervat F. Hatem C© The literature on citizenship and gender in the Arab world highlights the importance of women's relationship to the state by focusing on the way state policies, laws, and institutions have produced gender inequalities that reinforce the patriarchal character of society, i.e., its privileging of men over women (Joseph 2000:3-30; UNDP 2002). Paradoxically, this literature is silent on the discussion ofthe role that Arab women have or have not played in the debates ofthese rights and the difference that their mobilization and organization (or its lack thereof) made to their content. In this article, I argue that the power ofthe state in Arab societies, coupled with the absence or weakness of independent women's organizations , explains the slow progress made toward deepening women's citizenship rights. In the attempt to develop this particular argument, I will offer a historical overview of the roles that the state and/or women have played in pushing women's "developmental" citizenship rights over the last sixty years. These rights, associated with the economic and political development of a society, include women's access to education, health care, employment, and political participation. They lay at the heart of what the UN has identified since 1991 as the central basis of human development, whose goal "is to enlarge the range of people's choices and to make development more democratic and participatory" (UNDP 1991:1). The first section ofthe article will show that following decolonizaJOURNAL OF MIDOU= EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES VoL 1, Na 3 (Fall 2005). C 2005 MERVE HATEM eo 21 tion, Arab states used women's citizenship rights (especially their right to vote and to run for public office) as a means ofasserting their power over that group and serving their broad political interests. Where independent women's groups were able to resist, the acquisition ofpolitical rights allowed women to break into the political arena, although in small numbers . In the absence or division ofwomen's groups, formal political rights did not translate into even minimal political representation for women. The popularity of state-led development models in the 1960s and 1970s further enhanced the power of the state through the expansion of the education and the employment ofwomen. As a result, the state emerged with complete control over the agendas ofwomen. In the second section of the article, I will examine how the crisis of the above model and the regional switch to market economies begun in the 1980s had contradictory effects on women's citizenship. The economic retreat of the state loosened its grip on women's political and social agendas, but it introduced a new heavy dependence on international funding to service the educational and employment needs of women through the formation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The result was a small degree offreedom in the women's discussions oftheir rights/concerns and how best to service them, coupled with the increased politicization of women's agendas in the new larger struggle between Arab authoritarian states and their international critics. To concretely make the point, I will offer case studies ofwomen's NGOs to discuss the challenges Arab women face in the transition from state-centric to liberal definitions oftheir developmental citizenship rights. DECOLONIZATION, WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE AND STATE-LED DEVELOPMENT: ARAB WOMEN AS DEPENDENTS OF THE STATE (1945-80) The early history ofwomens developmental citizenship rights in the Arab world, which focused on their access to education and employment, was shaped by the policies of the colonial states. The backward status of Arab women was politicized and used as a justification for colonial modernization. Paradoxically, British and French colonial policies in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon were marked by lack ofinterest in the education ofyoung girls and represented a significant drop in state spending 22 ce JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES in this area. As a result, the education ofwomen became a centerpiece of the anticolonial nationalist agenda. It contributed to the modernization ofwomen's domestic roles as mothers responsible for the rearing ofnew generations ofchildren and as wives engaged in the management ofthe affairs of modern families...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 20-45
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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