Gender of the State and Politics

In collaboration by the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the International Affairs program at Northeastern University, and the Peace Islands Institute, a two-day conference was held at Northeastern University on October 24th – 25th, which aimed to provide a platform to discuss topics on the Gender of the State and Politics in the Middle East.

After a warm welcome by Dr. Berna Turam at NEU and Birol Ozturk, Dr. Valentine M Moghadam (director of the International Affairs and Middle East Studies programs at Northeastern University) delivered the opening keynote on feminism in light of democratic transitions.

The first panel explored the coalitions and splits in women’s political discourse. Panelists presented their studies in the following areas: political alliances and feminist-Islamist relations in Morocco, Women-focused NGO’s in Tunisia, and women’s activism in Turkey’s AK Party era.  One topic of particular interest was the status of practicing women in Turkey, and how they were in the crossfires of “secularist zealotry and religious bigotry”, particularly since the headscarf ban was recently lifted.

The second panel was presided over by Dr. Elizabeth Wood from MIT, and covered Sexuality, Political Power, and the State. Highlights of the discussion were the charisma and masculinity of Turkish PM Erdogan’s politics and power, as well as femininity in Islam, Muslim women in authority, and the periphery of rural Kurdish women in Turkey.

Finally, a roundtable was held to discuss the roles of feminism and the Green Movement in present-day Iran. Among the specifics explored were the image of Iranian women in the state and the Iranian media, as well as the probabilities of public office leadership for women in Iran.

Participants and panelists later joined the organizers in viewing the “She Who Tells A Story” exhibition and dinner at the Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition introduces the pioneering work of leading women photographers from Iran and the Arab world.

Second day of the conference started with an outstanding and poetic lecture of the keynote speaker, Dr. Marnia Lazreg. Dr. Lazreg is professor of sociology at the Graduate Center and Hunter College, City University of New York. She is an author of several books, numerous articles on human rights, social class, cultural movements, colonial history and gender, some of which were translated and published in several foreign languages. In her one-hour talk, Dr. Lazreg traced history of feminism addressing pivotal moments in gender studies: Iranian revolution (1997) leading to a breakthrough in social science epistemology; security state notion formation; approval of several pro-feminist reforms across the Middle East and the Arab World; and uprisings in the region what came to be known as Arab Spring. Departing from definition of ‘enlightenment’ by Kant ‘…man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity’ and people having courage to decide for themselves, Dr. Lazreg stated that social uprising in the Middle East has a lot to do with enlightenment. Following the talk, participants of two-day conference had a round-table discussion on possibility of publishing their works. The conference on “Gender of the state and politics in the Middle East” fulfilled participant expectation and ended with a follow-up discussion.