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Lessons from the Classroom: Renegotiating Critical and Feminist Pedagogy in the Middle East
Unformatted Document Text:  APSA TLC Conference Title: Lessons from the Classroom: Renegotiating Critical and Feminist Pedagogy in the Middle East I. INTRODUCTION In countries where there is an absence of social activism and formal civil societies, and where overt demands for women’s citizenship rights are met with suspicion and resistance, what alternative strategies are available to mobilize women and induce social and legal reform toward gender equity? This paper discusses best practices for women’s empowerment through alternative channels, ranging from gendering of curricula in higher education to partnering with local academic institutions and women’s groups to examine gender issues of specific contextual relevance. Given the dearth of local gender studies scholarship in the Arab Gulf, academics and activists find themselves having to navigate uncharted territory as they appropriate culturally resonant symbols to reframe gender issues within a local context. Alternative strategies to raise consciousness on women’s issues, mobilize women, and induce social and legal reform toward gender equity are especially relevant in countries where there is an absence of social activism and institutionalized civil societies, and where overt demands for women’s citizenship rights are met with suspicion and resistance. One strategy that has demonstrated effectiveness is the use of legitimate, state-sanctioned institutions as vehicles for change. Due to the Gulf’s states’ commitment and increasing investment in women’s education, it would seem that integrating gender studies into research and pedagogy within academic institutions in the Gulf would be an obvious avenue for women’s empowerment. Given the acute imbalance in the ratio of national to expatriate populations, the state’s motivation for supporting women’s education and entry into the workforce may be premised on economic survival rather than altruism. The fact remains, however, that in the Gulf, government expenditure on women’s education is higher than the rest of the Middle East, and thus should be harnessed as a resource for social change. In societies where social movements face debilitating political and social constraints, social activists, who are already members of existing organizations or institutions, ( in this case feminist faculty) often expand their activist identity by redefining existing roles. Their official jobs or titles thus become launch pads for subtly introducing incremental change. (Friedman & McAdam, 1992) Education has long been seen as a vehicle for social change and personal empowerment, a premise that is often traced back to Plato and Socrates. More recently, the liberatory potential of education has been popularized through the contributions of Paulo Freire, whose theories on dialog as consciousness raising, and Jurgen Habermas, whose analysis 1

Authors: DeVriese, Leila.
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APSA TLC Conference
Title: Lessons from the Classroom: Renegotiating Critical and Feminist Pedagogy in the
Middle East
I. INTRODUCTION
In countries where there is an absence of social activism and formal civil societies, and
where overt demands for women’s citizenship rights are met with suspicion and
resistance, what alternative strategies are available to mobilize women and induce social
and legal reform toward gender equity?
This paper discusses best practices for women’s empowerment through alternative
channels, ranging from gendering of curricula in higher education to partnering with local
academic institutions and women’s groups to examine gender issues of specific
contextual relevance. Given the dearth of local gender studies scholarship in the Arab
Gulf, academics and activists find themselves having to navigate uncharted territory as
they appropriate culturally resonant symbols to reframe gender issues within a local
context.
Alternative strategies to raise consciousness on women’s issues, mobilize women, and
induce social and legal reform toward gender equity are especially relevant in countries
where there is an absence of social activism and institutionalized civil societies, and
where overt demands for women’s citizenship rights are met with suspicion and
resistance. One strategy that has demonstrated effectiveness is the use of legitimate, state-
sanctioned institutions as vehicles for change. Due to the Gulf’s states’ commitment and
increasing investment in women’s education, it would seem that integrating gender
studies into research and pedagogy within academic institutions in the Gulf would be an
obvious avenue for women’s empowerment.
Given the acute imbalance in the ratio of national to expatriate populations, the state’s
motivation for supporting women’s education and entry into the workforce may be
premised on economic survival rather than altruism. The fact remains, however, that in
the Gulf, government expenditure on women’s education is higher than the rest of the
Middle East, and thus should be harnessed as a resource for social change.
In societies where social movements face debilitating political and social constraints,
social activists, who are already members of existing organizations or institutions, ( in
this case feminist faculty) often expand their activist identity by redefining existing roles.
Their official jobs or titles thus become launch pads for subtly introducing incremental
change. (Friedman & McAdam, 1992)
Education has long been seen as a vehicle for social change and personal empowerment,
a premise that is often traced back to Plato and Socrates. More recently, the liberatory
potential of education has been popularized through the contributions of Paulo Freire,
whose theories on dialog as consciousness raising, and Jurgen Habermas, whose analysis
1


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