Sara Ababneh


This paper asks whether–and if so, how–Islamic groups such as Hamas that clearly define themselves outside a feminist framework can be studied in terms of women’s empowerment. The material discussed is based on fieldwork conducted with Hamas-affiliated female Islamists, as well as women’s rights activists in general, in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2007. Centrally, this work debates whether it is possible to think of women's empowerment in non-feminist terms. The significance of this study lies in two critical contributions to questions of women’s empowerment in Muslim societies: Firstly, the case of Islamism exposes the hegemony of feminism–religious and secular–as a theoretical framework when we study conservative religious groups. The discourse of the Palestinian women’s movement functions as the ‘invisible’ framework that we often use to evaluate non-feminist groups. Secondly, this paper shows the importance of giving more attention to Islamist practice. While Muslim feminists’ reinterpretations of Islamic texts have made important contributions in terms of women’s empowerment, an exclusive focus on discursive analysis can result in overlooking significant developments in Muslim women’s activism. Conversely, a discourse-centric analysis can lead to romanticizing organizations and movements which, despite espousing, even foregrounding, gender-egalitarianism in their discourse, are quite hierarchal and patriarchal in their practice.

Author Biography

Sara Ababneh is an assistant professor at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, the coordinator of the internship program and the coordinator of the Arab Barometer. Ababneh is currently teaching a masters course in International Relations Theory at the Faculty of International Studies and Political Science at the University of Jordan. In addition, she has taught courses on Gender Politics in the Arab World to study abroad students at the CIEE in the past and was the faculty host of the Interdisciplinary Faculty Development Seminar entitled “Jordan: Women and Gender in Light of the Arab Spring” in the summer of 2013. After receiving a BSc in Politics and Economics from Earlham College and an MScEcon in International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystywth, Ababneh obtained her D.Phil. in Politics and International Relations at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford in 2009. She wrote her dissertation on female Islamists in Hamas in occupied Palestine and the Islamic Action Front in Jordan. Currently Ababneh is studying the popular Jordanian protest movement (al hirak al shabi al urduni), the Jordanian Personal Status Law and EU-Jordanian Relations.