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Feminist Movements: History and Discourse
24 October, 2016

Translation of the Speech of HRH Princess Basma bint Talal at the Centre for Women′s Studies Conference, “Feminist Movements: History and Discourse”
23 October 2016 – University of Jordan, Amman

Dr. Azmi Mahafzah / President of the University of Jordan
Ms. Nermeen Murad / Chief of Party of USAID Takamol - Gender Program
HE Mr. Erik Ullenhag / Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to Jordan
Dr. Abeer Dababneh / Director of the University of Jordan′s Center for Women’s Studies

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today′s conference on "Feminist Movements: History and Discourse" here at the University of Jordan, through the Center for Women′s Studies, is yet another milestone in the university’s overall legacy. We′ve come to know the university as a pioneering institution, always interested in issues that impact Jordanian society.

I thank the university and the center for hosting this event, and I extend our gratitude to USAID for their support and assistance.

To all of today′s participants, including many guests in Jordan, I am pleased to welcome you. Your very attendance is a clear sign of the solidarity among women′s movements throughout the world, regardless of their differences.

As we begin, I would like to highlight three issues that must be addressed, whether by researchers and academics, or by women′s organizations.

The first of these issues relates to the concept of empowerment. Women’s empowerment, both economic and political, has been the central focus of scholars and women’s organizations. As I see it, however, the empowerment approach has derailed. Instead of developing into a sustained and complex process, as it was intended, the empowerment approach has been confined to specific steps in projects with limited timelines and agendas. What empowerment actually means is having those who are deprived of making choices gain the ability to do so by offering them decent alternatives.

The second issue is the importance of reaching out to other social movements. Women′s movements in the West, for instance, have been able to persuade other activist groups to advocate for feminist principles as well. This helped put women′s rights into the mainstream discussion on policy-making and public opinion.

Likewise, the Arab women’s movement must appeal to other social movements to adopt women’s equality principles as part of their own prevailing discourse. This will help us overturn deep-seated ideas about women′s roles. And at the same create a space for exchanging expertise and best practices, and for overcoming obstacles to social activism.
And lastly, there are situations in the Arab region that have actually further entrenched certain practices that so many have been working hard to eradicate, albeit slowly. Practices like early marriage and violence against women and children. By the same token, as these outdated ideas persist, some women activists have fallen back on a non-confrontational stance vis-à-vis traditions and institutions, imposing self-censorship on themselves.

Amid the misery and war, the threat and destruction taking place, in many Arab countries, there is an urgent need for articulate Arab feminist discourse that actively contributes to curbing the daily cycle of abuse and killing, which makes no exception for woman or child, nor discriminates between soldier or civilian, victim or aggressor. If women′s activism is built on the moral imperative to achieve justice and end oppression, and that women′s rights are in line with the causes of nations and humanity overall, then I cannot help but stress the importance of forging collective action to overcome such challenges and stimulate positive change. This is all the more pressing as we see the spread of discriminatory discourse in the West targeting Arab women.
Finally, we hope your research and expertise will enrich women′s discourse with concrete recommendations for closing the inequality gap and creating safer and more just societies. We truly appreciate your hard work toward a collective vision for women in society.

Thank you all and God bless you.