The first two decades of the 21st century has seen its share of dramatic events: the “war on terror” launched in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 assaults on U.S. cities; the 2003 US/UK-led invasion and occupation of Iraq; the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession; the 2011 Arab uprisings, Occupy Wall Street, and European anti-austerity protests; the NATO assault on Libya and external intervention in Syria; the 2015 migration crisis; the global expansion of right-wing populist movements and governments; a new cycle of protests in France, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Lebanon, and the U.S. in 2018-2020; and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has been unable to shape those events and their outcomes. Equally clear is that women have been involved in and affected by those events in multiple ways, whether as agents or victims. In this paper, the author examine the Arab Mediterranean region to elucidate women’s presence in varied movements and mobilizations, and their participation in national and local governance. Indeed, women’s intensive involvement in both institutional and non-institutional politics – in governance, civil society, and contentious politics – has been a hallmark of 21st century leadership and activism. Women’s presence, however, varies across countries. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have long had vocal and visible women’s rights organizations with the capacity to influence legislation, and the adoption of gender quotas and proportional representation electoral systems has enabled a relatively large female presence in local and national governance.
This paper examines expressions of feminist contentious politics, women’s involvement in broader protest movements, and implications for old and emerging forms of governance. It highlights demands for new gendered social contracts, more responsive government, and societal change. Despite the region’s serious economic and employment challenges as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s continued activism in both civil society and political society reflects the profound social changes that have occurred over the past four decades, with implications for democratization.
The article is featured within issue number 51 of the journal IDEES, entitled "A New Vision for the Mediterranean".
Illustration: Carole Hénaff
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.