In the last decade, and especially after Iran’s Green Movement and the Arab Uprisings, women in the Middle East and North African (MENA) have established extensive online networks of transnational advocacy as well as virtual “civil societies” in order to exchange ideas, share information, garner international grassroots support for their cause and to reimagine and rebuild social movements in their respective countries.
By gathering leading international researchers, feminists, activists, gender rights advocates, artists, public intellectuals and media, this interdisciplinary conference will examine how MENA women are making use of the social web and explore new possibilities of mass networking, and meanwhile attend to increasing threats of surveillance and censorship.
Social Networking Sites (SNS) have given rise to new forms of digital activism among women in the MENA region. Women’s online activism not only continually builds on the achievements of popular uprisings in the region, but it also creatively expands on the meaning of women’s rights and equality, gender(s) rights and justice, gender pluralism, deep democracy, and the myriad ways that other social movements might incorporate women’s priorities and demands.
Women's groups have also succeeded in establishing networks of solidarity with women’s organizations elsewhere; they connect with larger communities and share information; they educate broader sets of communities about women’s issues in the region; they build feminist subaltern communities and transnational advocacy networks; they create feminist online campaigns and globalize their campaigns’ goals and objectives; and they facilitate online political participation and engagement of marginalized groups in MENA, such as sexual minorities and young people.
Replacing the “real” public squares, these virtual sites have become transient public spaces offering, MENA women and activists a chance to identify, highlight and examine the intersections of various patterns of inequalities, and to form virtual debates and conversations around local, regional and global issues.
Given the vast scope of MENA women’s engagement online, how do they transform digital sites into feminist spaces? Research on digital activism in the MENA region often sidesteps the specific work that feminists and women activists bring to these new sites of struggle.
This conference will address a number of burning questions for contemporary digital activists in the MENA region: exactly, what do SNS mean for MENA women’s activism, women’s empowerment and gender pluralism? What is the role of SNS in contemporary feminist movements in the region? What role do SNS play in creating alternative women’s movements online and the digital dimension of women’s civil society in the MENA countries? Can SNS be one of the main tools of social, cultural and political dissent for women in the region? If so, in what ways, if any, SNS have become very effective subaltern sites of social, cultural, political and/or artistic activism in the region? What are the significant theoretical and methodological contributions of MENA feminists, activists and scholars to the burgeoning field of feminist digital studies? What are the real opportunities and threats for online women activists at the time of big data, increasing state monitoring, surveillance and censorship?
This conference is organised by Women and Gender Studies Program at the University of Toronto and led by Victoria Tahmasebi-Birgani, Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada.
The conference is supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant, Women and Gender Studies Program at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, the Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga and New College Initiatives fund (NCIF), University of Toronto.
We hope to publish the output of the conference as a special issue in a leading journal.