About 'Politics and Gender'
German-Arab University Dialogue
Gender relations and women's rights are contested areas in contemporary societies, and they are nodal points in discourses on modernity and tradition. On international and on national levels, gender is closely linked to development, and increasingly considered one of its key indicators. Consequently, on the state level as well as in most other areas of the public sphere, 'politics and gender' is a major issue for the 21st century and an arena for complex and multi-layered controversies.
Women's and gender studies as an academic discipline in Germany as well as in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) share some communality. They started simultaneously in the 1970s and the cultural and institutional context accepted them rather reluctantly. About three decades later, women's and gender studies centers and programs - still linked to the women's movement and civil society activities - are aware that in the era of globalization, national agendas on women's rights, gender relations and hierarchies are still important, but nevertheless insufficient. To promote gender equality in academia as well as in society in general, there is an urgent need to address issues on a transcultural level in order to deconstruct old forms and to prevent new forms of 'Othering' as well as to develop transversal policies across various divides.
The difficulty in conceptualizing the research agenda and a dialogical structure for a German-Arab university dialogue on 'Politics and Gender' is not a lack of publications on Arab women or gender relations in the so-called Arab or Muslim World. Just the contrary, the research material is abundant. Accordingly, the aim of the project is not to draw yet another study on women in Yemen, Morocco, or elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. In contrast, the partners seek to establish a interdisciplinary network for joint research and transnational teaching.
Against this background, the partners agreed upon politics and gender as the embracing topic for the interdisciplinary network. Based on previous work by all involved centers, two thematic foci of partnership activities were chosen, which are of major importance cross-culturally - citizenship and violence. Starting points for the joint research team on gender and citizenship are questions such as: Which options and limits for political participation and representation do German, Moroccan and Yemeni women face? How do citizenship rights differ along boundaries of gender, class as well as religious or ethnic affiliations? Which commonalties, and which differences are present? What is the scope for change? Which strategies do academics and activists pursue? Which forms of international support is effective and asked for? The second research team focuses on the interconnection of gender and violence in the private and public realm, and examines how, for instance, constructions of masculinity and femininity, understood as social relations of power, effect the practice of violence. The power to inflict harm as well as the vulnerability to harm, or the subject/object position in regard to violence is as much gendered as it is shaped by other categories of social structure, such as 'race', age, sexual orientation etc.
The project combines four areas of activity:
1. Research and Publications: Gender - Citizenship - Violence
A major part of the project activities will be the discussion and constructive critique of research activities including the design of new studies to be carried out during the project term. Hereby the interdisciplinary composition of the partnership is an asset in many respects. Although the thematic focus of the partnership is primarily in political science and sociology and calls for a strong social science input, the overall concept is intercultural as well as interdisciplinary, incorporating approaches from cultural studies, social linguistics, anthropology, comparative history, gender studies etc.
2. Qualifying Young Scholars on an International Level
A key issue of the project is to contribute to the qualification of young scholars, and it is closely linked to the area of research and publications. Students on the MA and PhD level will be directly involved in all project activities. The aim is to support students in producing high quality research including an international/intercultural perspective and reflecting the state of the art on methodological and theoretical level.
3. Curriculum Development: Citizenship and Gender / Gender and Violence
The current curriculum situation in the four involved universities is very diverse, in all universities, however, it is an important question to what extent gender mainstreaming is implemented in curricula and how it can be promoted. The mutual curriculum developed by the partners will be applied in an international 'summer school' in 2007, which will serve as a test to what extent it will be possible to implement transnational courses or a sustainable German-Arab Gender Studies program.
Strengthening the Connection: Civil Society and Academia
All partner centers in the MENA region cooperate with civil society organizations, most professors are actively involved in NGOs. The transfers are mutual: both sides provide special expertise, at times the centers research is funded via these connections, but NGOs often also do quality research and are very important for dissemination of research results. This is a major asset for the project.
The German-Arab University Dialogue 'Politics and Gender - A Transnational Research and Teaching Network' is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) http://www.daad.de/en/index.html within the Dialogue with the Islamic World.