Women's Day 2013
On this International Women's Day as conflict and unrest rage on in the MENA region, we take the opportunity to reflect on the importance of gender justice to stability, even as we recognize the many forms gender justice may take. With the Arab Spring came the opportunity to reclaim women's rightful place in social, economic, and political domains as equal to men. With this also came the risk of reducing the feminist "project" in the region to only this specific form of gender justice. Concerns about presenting a "divided" front to the regimes overrode attempts at dialogue and identifying the commonalities, including common demands, between women in MENA. The mainstream "egalitarian" feminist project with its top-down approach remains detached from the realities of many grassroots women, who are rapidly leaning towards more "conservative" forms of gender justice and power structure in both the private and public spheres. We have to be careful that in our pursuit of women's rights, we are not constructing an autonomous movement that is exclusive and potentially alienating of the most marginalized and vulnerable.
At ARDD, our experience in Jordan this last year with working with both Jordanian women and Syrian refugees has given us an insight into this issue. Due to the many cultural differences between Syrian and Jordanian women and the sometimes resulting negative stereotypes, we found ourselves mediating in an indirect dialogue. We tried to identify commonalities, like the way women have been forced to abandon their traditional gender roles to work and support their families – Jordanian women due to worsening economic conditions and Syrian women to conflict. This need to work for survival is powerful and universal as it is simple and unproblematic. It might not be equal to agreeing on the need for equal integration of women and men in the economy and equality in the workplace, but it represents a strong entry point into women's economic empowerment.
In this spirit, it is with great pleasure that we announce our efforts to establish a specialized Gender Justice Unit this year. The Unit's objective is to mainstream gender in all and across our programs at ARDD. It will strive to integrate women and men at the grassroots in planning for projects in ways appropriate to their own needs and aspirations in a truly empowering manner. After years of work and learning, and with gratitude to our partners Oxfam GB, we are certain we have the aptitude for the great task of working side by side with women and men to empower them, in a more systematic, participatory, accountable, and transparent manner.