- Women's Activism and New Media in the Arab World by Ahmed Al-Rawi
by Ahmed Al-Rawi
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS, 2020, 166 PP.
Women's Activism and New Media in the Arab World by Ahmed Al-Rawi attempts to map and empirically investigate the role of new media in shaping and facilitating positive change within women's lives in the Arab world. One main purpose of the book, according to Al-Rawi, is a desire to close "the gap in empirical research of the study on women's activism in the Arab world" (xi). Al-Rawi investigates the use of new media technologies by diverse female actors and women's organizations operating in religious, political, social, and cultural spheres.
In the first chapter, Al-Rawi provides an introductory account of the social and cultural status of Arab women. Most importantly, he notes the changing beliefs and cultural values in recent decades due to the emergence of new media technologies. To make these claims, Al-Rawi relies on data collected from social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the methodological approach employed in subsequent chapters. Al-Rawi also gives examples of the tools he used to collect and analyze the data. Based on various resources from UN Women, UNICEF, and UNDP, the first chapter offers statistics about gender inequality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region while admitting that such issues are also pressing worldwide. In particular, Al-Rawi notes that MENA countries have the largest gap globally in terms of labor force participation between males (75–76 percent) and females (20–22 percent) (2).
Several leading female activists in the Arab world are discussed in the second chapter, especially those who have strived to create sociopolitical change in areas such as sexual literacy, ethnic and racial equality, and human rights. Al-Rawi shows how Arab women activists use social media to express their opinions and establish wider networks, influencing cultural change. To do so, Al-Rawi selects four famous women from the Arab world to examine as case studies. These include Yemini activist Tawakkul Karman, Algerian novelist Ahlam Mosteghanmi, Arab feminist pioneer Nawal El-Saadawi, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Iraqi survivor of enslavement by ISIS who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her activist work.
In each the following chapters, the author focuses on a particular form of women's activism: religious, political, social, and cultural. In each case, he demonstrates the positive changes enabled by new media technologies, discusses the affordances of the new technologies, and shows how women have used them as a tool of empowerment. Al-Rawi situates these discussions from a historical perspective, emphasizing changes that began in the early twentieth century and the role of globalization in women's activism. Al-Rawi also [End Page 100] makes an exciting connection to the Nahda movement in the Arab world in the nineteenth century, which witnessed many changes in the cultural sphere through the writings of famous Muslim and Arab thinkers such as Rifa'a al-Tahtawi (1801–73), Butrus al-Bustani (1819–83), Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905), and many others who advocated giving women varying levels of freedom. Next, Al-Rawi sheds light on other factors that affect women's movements, such as broadcast media. He also introduces the Arab Spring as an example of local circumstances that have influenced women's movements.
Al-Rawi's third chapter discusses feminist discourses in Islamic paradigms. While analyzing data from various female Muslim online communities, the author draws attention to pluralism within multiple Islamic public spheres. Social media outlets provide users with the means to create connective and collective identities that link users based on issues of gender, religion, ethnicity, age, race, activism, or other elements. These online gatherings serve women's interests and agendas, thus creating a "sense of sisterhood within the online community, as offline, and online practices often merge" (41).
Al-Rawi moves on...