GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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The Other Half: Bahraini Women and the Arab Spring
Paper Proposal Text :

With the changing social and political dynamics in the Middle East, women’s public role has become increasingly visible, yet still highly contested. In the Bahrain case, despite serious efforts by the Al Khalifa to carve out a place for women in society and politics through a series of legal and political reforms, the gender discourse in Bahrain remains defined by the traditional practices of tribal and patriarchal culture. Contrary to the conventional social mores and norms, women’s social and political activism throughout Bahrain has actively and creatively confronted conventional politics and challenged the status quo by taking calculated actions. In the recent protests against the Al Khalifa regime, Bahraini women have become increasingly vocal, visible, and organized. They have also played a powerful role in organizing and participating in demonstrations to topple the regime. Although the current social mores and norms and the cultural rules and practices may continue to regulate the gender discourse in Bahrain, women’s continuous strength of character, leadership, innovation, and commitment to challenge the status quo are a movement to redefine women’s spatial domain in order to build an egalitarian society in Bahrain.
From Tahrir Square in Cairo to Pearl Square in Manama, women joined mass demonstrations, distributed leaflets and led crowds just like their male counterparts in societies where female political activists were once scarce.
“These revolts are leaderless, faceless and genderless. The women were as oppressed as men before and during the protests”, said Nadim Shehade of Chatham House in London.
Challenging the stereotypical image of the housebound Arab woman, female protesters have faced tear gas, baton-wielding troops, sexual assault and have, in several cases, been killed.
In Egypt, liberal women and their conservative Muslim sisters wearing the niqab stood side by side during the popular revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and is now challenging military rule.

In Bahrain, women were among the first wave that descended on Pearl Square in the capital – some with their children to demand change. And the Bahraini movement has latterly found a figurehead in Zainab al-Khawaja, the woman who went on hunger strike in protest at the beating and arrest of her father, husband and brother-in-law. \"Women have played a hugely influential role this time and put themselves in danger,\" said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. \"They treated the injured in the streets and nursed them in their homes when they were too afraid to go to hospital”.
This study will begin by examining women’s social and political activism and its impact on Bahrain’s political landscape. Also I will discuss the Bahraini Shii matams; religious meeting places, which occupy a significant social and political space in the dynamics of the country. For example, they served as sites to rally political opposition in the recent Shiite uprising. These informal religious networks illustrate the ways in which informal networks are created and utilized by segments of society that are disenfranchised by authoritarian regimes.