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Year 2 Workshop

Workshop: ‘Reconceptualising Gender: Transnational Perspectives’, held at the Institute for Women’s Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine, April 2012

Session 1: Masculinity, Militarism, Conflict and Violence

The discussion around this problematic was really interesting and fruitful. Participants critiqued how foundational feminist frameworks pose militarism as essentially masculinist. The discussion raised issues such as the need to understand what type of militarism, in what type of context, and how contextual difference is fundamental to understanding how men are entangled with, marginalized by and/or have to negotiate militarism rather than being simply its perpetrators or beneficiaries. This is crucial to understanding how different formations of violence enable varying solidarities or enmities between men and women within and across different racial/ ethnic divides. As well it is necessary to understand the various ways that gender interacts with resistances to militarism in everyday life.

‘My Life is a Prison’: Female Relatives of Palestinian Prisoners
Penny Johnson, Birzeit University

This paper, based on extensive interviews with the relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, argues that understanding the lives of women relatives of prisoners is central to understanding post-Oslo dynamics. The wives of prisoners describe a “triple captivity” –as a result of Israeli colonialism, the penal system and the isolation that they feel in the Palestinian context. They are haunted everyday of their lives by the prison visit—the request to receive permission, the arduous journeys, the humiliating searches by Israeli security officers and the short visit at the end. Before Oslo, the sacrifice of prisoners and their families were valued in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination. Since Oslo, prisoners and their families are on the margins of the Palestinian state-building project and feel isolated. The prisoner hunger strikes in 2012 represented a new politics and the first time since the 1980s that Israel’s policy of administrative detention, a lynchpin of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has been challenged.

Masculinity and Militarism
Cynthia Cockburn, Professorial Fellow, University of Warwick

This paper, based on wider research on anti-war groups, argues that women’s anti-war/peace activism (as opposed to mixed anti-war groups, such as the UK Stop the War Coalition) problematises the link between masculinity and militarism. As many feminist sociological studies have examined, violence is a factor in gender differentiation, embedded within cultural processes and the ways in which boys and young men are socialized, for example, through games. This makes societies predisposed to violence. Interviewing different women in anti-war/peace groups around the world, all of them point to patriarchy as causal in war. Women anti-war activists make this link between masculinity and war/militarism and, consequently, see gender transformation as part of peace work.

Masculinity and Checkpoints in Palestine
Rema Hammami, Birzeit University:

This paper is based on ethnographic work conducted at checkpoints in the West Bank. Until now, those who have written about checkpoints represent Palestinians as victims. The paper argues that we should see Palestinian agency at checkpoints and, in particular, the ways in which checkpoints are constitutive of Palestinian identity. Palestinians display a range of repertoires in crossing checkpoints – between resignation and resistance. Checkpoints are seen by some as livelihood opportunities, including peddlers, informal transport providers and traffic volunteers. Checkpoints are masculine and militarized as well as civilian spaces. The masculinities constructed at the checkpoints reflect a shift in Palestinian discourses of masculinity – from the heroic militant fighter in the second intifada to a breadwinner masculinity. The breadwinner masculinity necessitates self-discipline by not getting angry at checkpoints but also by control of gender relations. There is a male obsession with gender propriety at checkpoints because men are not able to ‘protect’ women at checkpoints.

Session 2: Gender, The State and Social Transformation

Gender and the Practice of Politics: Comparing Local and Regional Government in Wales
Nickie Charles, University of Warwick

This paper examines how women behave in the gendered spaces of politics, comparing the Welsh Assembly with local government in Wales. Members of the Welsh Assembly are salaried and engage in constituency work as well as debating in the chamber. According to interviews, the Welsh Assembly is less ‘macho’ than the Houses of Common. The Welsh Assembly was designed to be more gender inclusive and there have been measures implemented to increase women’s representation. It is more ‘family friendly’ and has developed its own policies and strategies on domestic violence, equal pay and families. However, this is not as significant for the lives of women Assembly members as it is symbolic for the Assembly itself. The Assembly ‘looks different’ and ‘does politics differently’ because of the high number of women representatives. Local government, on the other hand, is male dominated, not salaried and entails long hours that are not compatible with paid work. There is a high percentage of retired men and a hostility towards special measures to increase the number of women elected. Women councillors feel like they have to behave ‘like men’ but they also try to bring something ‘different’ to politics and tend to work across party lines.

Muslim women's Political Participation in the UK after 9/11
Khursheed Wadia, University of Warwick

Since 9/11, Muslim women have entered the public sphere in new ways. These women may be categorised in three groups: stay-at-home political protesters; civic activists; and political activists. The first category, the stay-at-home protesters, were not politically engaged before 9/11 but felt that they had to respond to the scrutiny, racism, the raids on their families’ homes and the stop and search operations against male relatives. Consequently, they became more engaged in political discussions, signing petitions and donating money in order to protect their families. The civic activists were those who used their professional positions to counter negative stereotypes and be positive role models for Muslim girls and women. The political activists were mostly already involved in some sort of politics before 9/11 but their engagement intensified and took on new significance after 9/11. The paper argues that the events of 9/11 and afterwards gave a space to Muslim women to act in their own right. They disrupted power relations within their communities and enabled women to challenge patriarchy, using Islam to claim a space.

Session 3: Reconstructing Gender in The Contexts of Conflict, Occupation, Neoliberalism and Revolution

The discussion over the following papers picked up on the earlier theme of problematising feminism but, this time, as a motivating force in women’s agency.

Education as Promoter of the Neoliberal Citizen in Palestine
Eileen Kuttab, Birzeit University

The paper explored how the education sector has become incorporated into neoliberal development plans in Palestine. The World Bank and other aid agencies have intensified their activities in the education sector over the past few years, aiming to reform the management, delivery and content of education. Historically, higher education has traditionally promoted itself as a public good but is now being transformed along commercial lines and instrumentalised for the market. Pockets of resistance to neoliberalization have been neutralized, although unions are becoming more aware of the importance of working on these issues. There has been a trend to increase the ‘productivity’ of teachers, by lengthening the working day, increasing the student-staff ratio and increasing teaching hours, but not increasing pay which are all World Bank recommendations for cost-effectiveness. At the same time there is also a quantification of research and a growing dependency on contract research, leaving little time to develop conceptual tools and theories. A continuous devaluation of concepts of solidarity, collectivism and resistance, and encouragement of competition and individualism has been promoted in the different plans of the Ministry of Higher Education. This is exemplified in the school system curriculum where the Nakbeh is not taught and Palestine is represented as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip only, although there is an emphasis on the declaration of independence.

Gender, Citizenship and Revolution in Egypt
Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick

This paper examines the discourse of women’s citizenship in the aftermath of former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. Many commentators have described a ‘rollback’ in women’s rights since the January 25 Revolution. The paper argues that this resistance to liberal notions of women’s rights is not a result of the rise to power of political Islamists but is embedded within a longer political-economic trajectory in Egypt, within which liberal notions of women’s rights became coopted by and aligned with neoliberal economic reforms, corrupt businessmen and repressive authoritarian government. These changes to Egypt’s political economy, which began at the beginning of the 1990s but intensified after 2003, resulted in the deterioration in livelihoods and living standards for a large number of Egypt’s working people. Neoliberal authoritarianism threatened ‘social reproduction’, experienced differentially by men and women. In short, neoliberal authoritarianism was perceived as turning ‘men into women’ and ‘women into men’. Unsurprisingly, many of the banners in Tahrir Square during the January 25 uprising expressed men’s desires to be ‘heroes’ once again. Against this backdrop, the paper argues that women’s actual legal rights are meaningless unless they are embedded within a restructured political economy that supports social reproduction and enables dignity for both men and women.

Palestinian Women between Globalism and Islamism
Islah Jad, Birzeit University

This paper is based on research conducted between 2001 and 2004 and more recently and examines the discursive and institutional division between Islamist and secular women activists. After Oslo, femocrats (that is, secular women activists within the Palestinian Authority) emphasised building the country through mainstreaming gender, reforming legislation, implementing universal rights, building links with other women’s organisations locally and globally, and ‘training’ young women in these approaches. After the election of Hamas in 2006, the Women’s Affairs Ministry adopted a ‘practical approach’ rather than a ‘strategic approach’ to women’s issues. Hamas wanted to support the families of martyrs and of political prisoners and to support young women economically. After the 2007 split between Hamas and Fateh, there became two ministries of women’s affairs. The Ministry in the Gaza Strip deepened its practical approach. It sees itself as the women’s organ of government and is spreading the government’s message amongst women: to break the dependency on the Israeli government, for self-reliance and creating employment for youth. Towards this end, women and youth are targeted to encourage resistance to the occupation and to adhere to ‘ideal’ family and gender roles. The Gaza Ministry of Women’s Affairs does not reject universal rights outright but its focus is on ‘practical’ solutions. Meanwhile, the ministry in the West Bank deepened its universal rights approach. It developed a national strategy on violence against women. The Institute for Women’s Studies wanted to broaden the PA’s definition of violence against women to include violence as a result of the occupation and national security forces but the PA refused this.

Session 4: Frameworks for Studying Gender Transnationally

Based on the presentation, the workshop discussion provided an opportunity for participants to discuss a counter-view based on varying experiences with gender-focussed statistical surveys in both the UK and Palestinian contexts. Rather than seeing the production of statistically based knowledge as essentially inimical to concerns of gender and social justice/ transformation, the discussion opened up the opportunity to ask when and in what contexts can particular forms of statistical knowledge be a force for resistant/critical knowledge and practice.

Feminist Quantitative Methods
Rachel Cohen, University of Surrey

Second wave feminism was critical of statistics, surveys and quantification as male-biased and promoted feminist research, for women, with women. In a survey conducted by the author, she found that quantitative methods were used in 50 per cent of women’s studies journals but only 27 per cent of these self-identified as feminist and only 60 per cent used feminism. US scholars use quantitative methods the most, whilst the less feminist the journal, the more quantitative research it contains. Feminist methods text books tend to marginalize quantitative research. Yet, the lines between quantitative and qualitative research is actually more blurred and there is a tacit acknowledgement of the importance of quantifying things/people in qualitative research. Yet, there are problems. In quantitative research, the sex/gender differentiation actually only examines sex. There is some difficulty in quantifying ‘gender’. Can quantitative methods quantify the ‘social individual’? However, there are ways to address these problems. For example, life course studies, network analysis, development of complex models. We need to continue asking relevant questions (what, who, how counts), build links with statistical agencies (who works there) and engage with quantitative studies.