Years of Struggle: The Women’s Movement in Jordan: A Panel Discussion with Rana Husseini

The Asfari Institute and the AUB Women and Gender Studies department collaborated in organizing a panel discussion with author Rana Hussein on her new book Years of Struggle: The Women’s Movement in Jordan. Husseini spoke about the struggles women go through in Jordan to this day, how much things have changed recently, and what’s in store for the future of the Jordanian women’s movement.

This panel discussion with Rana Husseini included professors Dr. Kathryn Maude and Dr. Vivienne Baadan as well as undergraduate student Lynn Ezzedine. Dr. Maude introduced guest speaker Rana Husseini, citing her extensive work in feminist activism in Jordan.

Husseini’s groundbreaking investigation into honor killings in Jordan has made her a major contributor to feminism in the Arab context. Her book, Years of Struggle: The Women’s Movement in Jordan’ is based on 35 interviews with Jordanian women, extrapolating from their experiences, fears, and concerns; telling their stories.

“The research for this book made me feel very proud of where we are today despite the gaps and work that still needs to be done.

Rana Husseini

In the discussion, Husseini talked about documenting these stories. In the course of the discussion, she first stressed the communal aspect of her work. Husseini mentioned the nationalistic aspect of previous activism in Jordan. The Jordanian women’s movement in the 50s was intrinsically part of the global nationalist movement in the country.

Husseini continued to describe how the activism scene has changed. The form of activism has morphed in the past decades. She stressed the focus in her book on the struggles of the people she interviewed. She recounted her personal activism in Jordan through passing controversial laws which included sexual harassment, AIDS, and other issues many considered illicit in Jordanian culture.

As the talks advanced with questions from the other panelists Vivienne and Lynn. Rana stressed in her discourse the cultural impact on feminism. She delineated how education in the Arab world and specifically in Jordan has deeply influenced the global perception of women for generations. Furthermore, she expounded upon the necessity to address these attributes institutionally through national curriculums and culturally through media. Women, she believes, ought to appear in roles that fall extrinsic to the normalized binary faces of submission and degeneracy in Arab media.

Rana’s commitment to change is evident in her advocacy for communal initiatives. She believes the change will happen through deliberation and taking action by interested agents of feminism. Considerably, political foreign conflicts have been manipulated to “legitimize” indifference towards women’s concerns in the Arab world. Rana trusts that, through women’s cooperation amongst themselves, obstacles can be surpassed.

Dr. Vivienne Baadan, Assistant Professor in Social and Political Psychology at the American University of Beirut, expressed how there’s an overt rebuke of religious context in restricting women in Rana’s book. Husseini delves into political and religious Islam by contradicting the zealous manipulation of women’s roles in the Islamic rite.

Rana Husseini ends the panel on a positive note. She gives her advice to present-day activists, describing the obstacles they may face. However, she recounts how their efforts would be remunerative in the future, as they were in her case.

This summary was written by Mohammad Abou Hamdan.


Meet the speakers and moderators

Moderators:

  • Dr. Kathryn Maude is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies in the Department of English. Her research centers on women’s writing and writing for women in the early Middle Ages. Her most recent project concerned addresses women in guidance texts, sermons, and saints’ lives, putting women’s commissioning of work at the center of literary history. She is currently preparing this for publication as a monograph. Her other current projects explore women’s letter-writing across the medieval world and queer saints’ lives past and present.

Panelists:

  • Rana Husseini is an award-winning journalist for the Jordan Times and human rights defender. She has focused on the brutal crimes that are committed against Jordanian women in the name of family honor, culminating in the book Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Women’s Heroic Fight Against An Unbelievable Crime (2009). Husseini has earned nine local and international awards, including a medal from Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2007, for reporting on such crimes. Her work resulted in the formation of the National Jordanian Committee to Eliminate so-called Crimes of Honor in 1998. Husseini has also worked as a regional coordinator on a UNIFEM campaign to fight violence against women. She is a board member of several organizations, including the Man Up Campaign (USA), Jordan Football Association, and Jordanian National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation.
  • Dr. Vivienne Badaan is a social and political psychologist with a broad interest in social justice and equality. She received her Ph.D. in social and political psychology from New York University, and she is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut. Dr. Badaan enjoys conducting research that is translational, interdisciplinary, and actionable. My research focuses on collective action (e.g., feminist collective action, student movements), gender injustice (with a focus on the Arab region), prejudice (sexism, racism, sexual prejudice, and religion/sect-based prejudice), and interventions to reduce prejudice (in the field, in the lab, and online). 
  • Lynn Ezzeddine is an engineering undergraduate student at the American University of Beirut.

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