Arab Feminist Manifesto
Many people challenge the idea that Arab feminism exists.
As though we, Arab females, have no concern or enlightenment about misogyny.
No concern over our bodies. Our safety. Our minds.
It’s true, our feminist movement has been gradually silenced as the fight against colonialism, fundamentalism and occupation rise in our home countries and have only intensified since independence. For those of us in diaspora, we are reconstructing our identities in exile and trying to emerge despite the daily invisibility that assimilation imposes.
In war and revolt, we are placed in the impossible position of putting our survival before our needs.
We are forced to put our nationalism before our needs.
To put our families before our needs.
Our country before our needs and safety.
The everyday misogyny, assault and repression we face — simply because we are female — must be viewed in jest, as innocent fun, or the natural interest of men. Whether or not we feel safe, we start to find ways to avoid encountering it. Our comfort, reputation and safety falls in our hands.
We ask our 9 year old male cousin to take us to the store.
We wear baggier clothing to gain the respect of strangers (enough to walk down the street) and we wear sunglasses to avoid their gaze.
We find ways, or we’ve always known the ways — it is nothing new and our responsibilities to modesty is second nature.
Our needs are inferior to the “greater good”.
We sacrifice our children to fight against invasions and occupations. In order to survive, we must accept whatever social and economic conditions that are dealt to us. This struggle between “our needs” and the “greater good” is in a perpetual state of struggle.
But, the “greater good” always wins. Do we want to fight against our own men, or the invaders and occupiers of our country?
This is my experience. Maybe I am alone. But I feel I am not alone, because many Arab feminist activists shared this very same narrative during the revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria that began in 2011.
My answer to those people that say the Arab feminist movement does not or never has existed — they are wrong. History has documented the Arab feminist movement for over a century.
In 1881, the first “women’s educational society” was founded in Egypt dedicated to raising public awareness about women’s rights, and issues relating to their inferior status. Women’s associations reached a degree of maturity in the Arab world around the 1940’s, with a primary focus on defending women’s rights.
Women’s associations were present in nearly every Arab country come the 1940’s.
Egypt gave rise to the Egyptian Women’s Party in 1942 and the Daughters of the Nile association in 1948. In Tunis, the Union of Tunisian Women emerged in 1944, while in Morocco the Union of Moroccan Women was founded in 1944, the Association of the Sisters of Purity in 1946, and the Association of Moroccan Women in 1947. In Lebanon, the Lebanese Women’s Council came into being in 1943, the Association of Lebanese Women in 1947, and the Committee of Lebanese Women’s Rights in 1947. Iraq witnessed the establishment of the Iraqi Women’s Union in 1945, while in Jordan the Society of the Jordanian Women’s Union was founded. (1)
Despite the lack of documentation of our feminist movement, since the early 1900’s our assemblies, associations and education has empowered us to seek the resources available for our self-emancipation. Colonization, occupation and invasion has taught us how to struggle, liberate and survive before embarking on the struggle for our freedom within Arab societies. We have a remarkable history that has created a foundation for our movement.
Writing was an instrument of organizing for Arab women in the 19th and 20th centuries — and still is today. Writers like Hana Kurani, Zaynab Fawaz, Hind Nawful and Huda Sha’rawi may have had their books burned, their political opinions censored to only ‘feminine domains’ and their work lost over the years — but they are still alive in my writing.
In my work.
In our work.
It is in our hands to enable change, but first, we must start with liberating our minds.
1. The Arab Human Development Report 2005, United Nations Human Development Program. New York, New York: 2006.
2. Al Raida Quarterly Journal, Volume XX, No. 100 Winter 2003. Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon.