- Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith, and Progress by Fida J. Adely
As the reader is invited into the very specific context of al-Khatwa Secondary High School for Girls, a public school located in Bawadi al-Naseem in Jordan, the author starts off with the “fictionalized” story of Nada, a girl attending that school. Nada’s account brilliantly offers the reader insight into the ways in which schools become locations where cultural and familiar relations, as well as political and religious norms, are constantly framed, shaped, constructed, and even challenged. Drawing on extensive school-based ethnographic research, Fida J. Adely’s book Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith, and Progress, focuses on the lived-experiences of young women attending the al-Khatwa school, as well as on some of their families, and depicts what it means to be an educated girl in the context of contemporary Jordanian society. In particular, Adely’s work aims to contest the paradox assessed by the World’s Bank Gender Assessment of Jordan (2005) regarding women’s education, namely that women achieve high levels of education but then fail to participate adequately in labor force participation. Through a well-grounded, sound, and effective use of both theoretical framework and ethnographic data, Adely demonstrates the extent to which education might be relevant for a woman concerns and needs, without necessarily being linked to the achievement of economic results, thus demonstrating the limit of global development institutions discourses.
The book is divided into seven chapters. In Chapter 1 the author explains the reasons behind her research and the methodology employed. Chapter 2 sets the ground for the context upon which the book is based. Sketching the history of Jordan, schools are represented not only as places where young Jordanian women might encounter the state more directly, but also as places where young women might be able to define their own identities, which are constantly shaped by cultural barriers, individual family histories, geography, and struggles faced in everyday lives. Moreover, schools become a place in which state’s discourses and interests promote notions of education, modernity, development, and progress, with women as central actors of society development.
The analysis of the role of the state in promoting education continues in Chapter 3, where the author, relying on the literature on education and schooling and on the experiences of young women, examines the extent to which patriotism is performed within the context of the [End Page 129] al-Khatwa school. Performances, as patriotic events, create controversies and raise questions about the moral authority of the state. On one hand, women become central keys to the representation of Jordan as a “modern” state; on the other hand, the influence of Islamism and Islamic piety movements have challenged the definition of what is modern, opening up the space for discourses of modernity and tradition, discourses that are always nuanced, multifaceted and subject to diverse interpretations, as described in Chapter 4. Adely soon discovers how her assumption of religion as a space of indoctrination is rebutted by her own observations during religion classes at the al-Khatwa school, where she identifies particular dynamics between girls and teachers in relation to religiosity.
In Chapter 5 Adely shifts the discussion to “gender lessons” on what it means to be a “good woman” in Jordan: Addressing questions of love and marriage, the author reveals how the educational status of a woman becomes a marker of her respectability in Jordan. The entanglement between marriage and schooling reveals a common perception that an educated girl is more marriageable than an un-uneducated one. Schools then become critical spaces and means for one’s future marriage opportunity.
Moving to the question “Education for what?” in Chapter 6, the author argues that women’s education is central not only for women, but also for their families and for the whole society. Adely stresses that expectations from education are gendered and that progress in education might help to change gender relations within...