Peace X Peace Forums: Reconciling Change and Tradition
Peace X Peace Forums: Women and the Arab Spring
Welcome to the first Peace X Peace Forum! These forums, which we hope to host regularly, will take on pressing issues in the world of peacebuilding and gender. This time, we have gathered women from around the Middle East – from Egypt to Tunisia and beyond – to discuss how women have influenced the Arab Spring and the impact it has had on them. We hope you enjoy this discussion and add your own thoughts in the comments!
Pro-change Women of the Arab Spring Must Be the First to Reach Out to Traditional Women
By Sahar Taman
Roua Seghaier writes in her article for the Peace X Peace Forum on Women and the Arab Spring, “A Step to Implement Democracy: Transforming Women from Political Instruments to Political Actors” , that “the unification of pro-change and pro-tradition (Arab) women is crucially important, since females are the first beneficiaries of their participation in the new government. It is insanity that numerous women stand against their own rights. We need to come to the realization of our common goal that can only be achieved through consensus, and finally move up the ladder from being an unconscious group to an organized one.”
I agree completely that bringing pro-change and pro-tradition Arab women together is vital in restarting women’s gains during the Arab Spring. I also put the burden of initiating that partnership on the pro-change women.
Let’s start by defining pro-change. Here I tend to mean women who often come from privilege of wealth, status, and education, and therefore enjoy great freedoms from them. I am not talking headscarves, face veils, apparel, and other nonsense. We are talking about women who are making themselves visible with their ideas, actions, art, music, speech, protests, etc. to a public audience or to smaller audiences such as a local community or even a family.
Too often I have observed these pro-change women alienate their pro-tradition sisters. The first group can give itself a superiority over the other, often expressing that they have achieved more for women and for women’s status than their pro-tradition sisters. Pro-change women, while many may not admit it, may feel that their pro-tradition sisters may be held in higher regard by the traditional, conservative aspects of Arab and Muslim society. And we are seeing that that social sector is much larger than imagined. Pro-change women feel that pro-tradition women choose to play it safe while pro-change women are willing to take risks, put themselves out on the line publicly, and thereby open themselves up to judgment – and unfortunately even to verbal and physical abuse. Some pro-change women feel they have little in common with pro-tradition sisters, especially if the pro-traditionals are religiously ultra-conservative Muslims. Christians and women who do not use religion as part of their identity may not feel welcomed in reaching out to these women because there has never been a dialogue between them in the first place. It’s time to change that.
Roua’s post encourages the two groups of women to find a common goal. For that to happen, someone has to come to the table first and pull the other group in. Of course there is a common goal: All women want to take a place in society, both as individuals on a personal level and as half of their society. Traditional Arab society has a large Islamic cultural influence. Pro-tradition women often find comfort in this framework, and it is up to pro-change women, as they approach their pro-tradition sisters, to respect that framework, again on the personal level and the societal. Our pro-tradition sisters have great dignity in their beliefs, even in concepts like separation of the sexes and the roles women can play. As pro-change women encourage dialogue we must come with respect for that which is different than our own ideas. We need to make allies of our traditional sisters. They have great knowledge, for example, of the Qur’an and of Islamic sciences. Together, with our knowledge and theirs, we can create partnerships to bring women forward in Arab societies.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.
Sahar Taman – Bio
Sahar Taman is a board member of Peace X Peace. In 2011 she received the Peace X Peace Women, Power, and Peace Connection Point Award for her efforts to connect Muslim and Arab women with women in the West.
She is co-founder of Journeys to Understanding, a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening windows of understanding between peoples of the world through immersion journeys. Sahar directed the Religion and Society Dialogue Program at the National Peace Foundation, where she developed the program to foster dialogue between the Arabic-speaking Middle East and American religious communities of all faiths. She led study tours of the religious landscape of the U.S. and in the Arab world, with over 70 American and international delegates: scholars, religious practitioners, activists, and journalists. Sahar led several programs in Egypt, before and after the 2011 revolution, which aimed to address Muslim-Christian relations.
She received the 2010 National Award for Citizen Diplomacy from the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy for her work in U.S.- Muslim relations. She is the editor of Reflections and Experiences of Religion and Society (2010), a compendium of essays from writers who describe their personal transformation from interfaith experiences.
She previously worked at the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President of the United States. She is on the Charitable Giving Committee that manages the Trust of the Islamic Society of Northern Wisconsin and the Board of the Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center.