Tell us about the International Conference on Celebrating Arab Women: Agents of
Change and Progress (ICCAW)
Women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region contend with social practices founded on patriarchal values, confining them to a secondary position in these male-dominated societies. History, past and contemporary, is, however, replete with examples of inspirational Arab women who transcend this socio-cultural reality, and successfully subvert that dominant narrative. These women have carved out public space for themselves and others throughout history, and have thus been effective agents of change. Examples are authors and historians, such as Huda Shaarawi, Nawal El Saadawi, and Fatima Mernissi, and writers like Sahar Khalifeh, Liana Badr, Huda Barakat, Ahlem Mosteghanemi, Leila Abouzeid, and Meral Tahawi, and the 2019 Man Booker Prize winner, Jokha Alharthi.
What are the aims of this conference?
Our aim is to observe this year’s International Women’s Day by organizing a conference that
celebrates the contributions of Arab women, past and present, to honor them, and to call for
substantial change towards women’s equality in our Arab region. Some of the topics that the
conference will cover are:
- Nawal Saadawi: A Vindication of the Rights of Arab Women.
- Fatema Mernissi’s Double Critique of Arab and Western Views on Women.
- Women and Media in the MENA region: New Subjectivities.
- Women Writers in the MENA region: Alternative Narratives.
- Women Filmmakers in the MENA Region: Cinematic Language as Action.
Why did you choose to organize a conference on celebrating Arab
women and to what extent this topic is important?
The idea behind the conference came to me as a result of my frequent visits to Cairo and
conversations with Nawal Saadawi over the past few years. I felt that we should honor her and celebrate with her the remarkable achievements she has made in promoting the rights of
Egyptian and Arab women and in exposing the various degrees of injustices they suffer in our
present-day Arab societies. But I must hasten to add that the conference is meant to be a festive,
a celebration, primarily, and an occasion to honor a great Egyptian woman, and through her,
Arab women thinkers, writers, activists and influencers, as agents of change and progress.
What are your expectations for the conference?
We have a two-pronged type of expectation: to connect with like-minded academics and activists
committed to the cause of Arab women’s liberation, and reach out to those who are interested to
know about the remarkable achievements of Arab women in the various fields throughout the
modern period. You could say that we aim to spread the word and celebrate the deeds and hope
to educate and draw attention to an important issue in our present-day Arab societies.
Are you planning to publish the conference proceedings?
Yes, we plan to publish these proceedings in a special issue of the Arabic and World Literature
In the end, I would like to thank all who have helped in organizing
the conference, particularly my colleague, Dr. Sanaa Benmessaoud for
her support and articulate description of the aims and objectives of
the conference program.