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  • Consortium of Gender and Women’s Studies in the Arab Region
  • Nawar Al-Hassan Golley

Although the field of women’s studies has experienced phenomenal growth in many countries around the world, most universities in the Arab region do not offer programs or even courses in women’s studies. The process of building women’s studies has been painfully slow. For example, the minor in women’s studies that I developed in 2006 at the American University of Sharjah remains the only such undergraduate program in the Persian Gulf region.

The idea of establishing the United Arab Emirates Gender and Women’s Studies Consortium emerged from a collaboration between Susan Feiner (University of Southern Maine) and me that began in March 2010. We held the consortium’s first conference, “Gender and Women’s Studies in the Arab Region,” on March 7–9, 2012, at the American University of Sharjah. The conference was deemed a great success, attracting over one hundred scholars from about seventy universities around the world. The conference revealed a high level of interest in forming an Arab regional consortium to pilot and support the development of gender and women’s studies programs and projects in the Arab region. Such a consortium would create a network where scholars focused on gender and women’s studies in the Arab region could share their research, discuss educational initiatives that enhanced student learning, develop collaborative research projects, and train new generations of scholars in feminist methodology. The consortium also initiated efforts to incorporate gender scholarship into university and high school curricula and facilitate faculty and student exchanges between campuses in the region.

The Consortium of Gender and Women’s Studies in the Arab Region held its first planning workshop, “Building Regional Alliances: Institutionalizing Gender and Women’s Studies in the Arab Region; Paths Forward,” on August 29–30, 2012, at the University of Jordan in Amman. Fourteen scholars engaged in teaching or [End Page 136] research in gender and women’s studies or both from universities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, the United States, and England convened for two days. We grappled with the institutionalization of gender and women’s studies and discussed the prospects and challenges associated with establishing related programs in the Arab region.

To build new programs and support existing ones requires devoted and qualified faculty, sympathetic administrators, and funding. The small number of scholars who met in August 2012 is indicative of the first challenge to institutionalizing gender and women’s studies: there are not enough academic women’s studies experts in the Arab region. This shortage in personnel is coupled with the considerable resistance of skeptics and opponents to the field. We are hindered by the need to regularly respond to allegations that women’s studies is alien or irrelevant to the region’s culture and those of us who work in it are pawns to the West. In some contexts, forms of state feminism have created the illusion that gender equality has been achieved and gender analysis is redundant, an illusion accepted by many women and men. Procuring funding to support such academic programs is also a large hurdle. Finally, the challenges include the latest sociopolitical turmoils sweeping across the region, which have created dogmatic, military, or conservative Islamist regimes calling on restricting women’s freedoms and rights. Many women’s studies scholars are disheartened by the setbacks, while others have been forced to change their priorities in the light of the resulting declining economies, widespread insecurities, repression, and violence affecting women and men. However, these setbacks are inspiring many of us to even more passionately continue our efforts toward building a field that will positively transform knowledge and education for the coming generations. [End Page 137]

Nawar Al-Hassan Golley
Consortium of Gender and Women’s Studies in the Arab Region
August 5, 2014


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