المرأة والذاكرة / Women and Memory
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Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
[In this interview, Hoda Elsadda, Associate Professor of English Literature, founding member of the "Women and Memory Forum" and co-editor of Hagar, a journal on women's issues, discusses some of the issues she is concerned with. The following is a translation of selected sections from the interview published in Arabic. *In the editorial of the second issue of Hagar, I attempted a definition of some of our goals and ambitions. I said then that these goals could be summarized in one sentence: to read and write from a gender-sensitive perspective. I tried to explain what I meant by this statement and I would like to quote here an extract from this part. I meant "reading and understanding the world, culture and society from a gender-sensitive perspective then taking a stand, or defining our position based on this reading, that is, writing. Writing, at a symbolic level, signifies the shattering of the wall of silence that envelops women and their world. Writing entails venturing into the outside world in order to participate effectively in working towards a better world, hence effecting change in history and society. This reading initiates an awareness that ultimately results in challenging dominant ideas. It is a reading that invites positive participation in which the reader relinquishes his/her role as a negative recipient of information to become an active participant in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Reading in this sense rejects taken-for-granted concepts: it becomes a search for the origins of things. It is a reading that necessarily leads to writing, that is, an act of positive participation that aspires to change reality." *One of the experiences that had a tremendous influence on my approach to women's issues, namely, focusing on reading Arab cultural history from a gender-sensitive perspective, was my joining in 1993 a group of women who were trying to push a new version for the standard marriage contract. The project included a questionnaire that aimed at finding out people's reactions and opinions concerning the suggested modifications. It became clear that there were numerous misconceptions that allowed people to view these changes as alien to their culture and heritage. This was the case despite the fact that history demonstrated that adding clauses to the contract was common practice until its standardization early this century. I was then convinced that more work needed to be done to define the concept of culture and to deconstruct hegemonic discourses that monopolize the representations and definitions of our culture, hence crushing the existing multiplicity and variety. *As members of the "Women and Memory Forum", we identify ourselves as researchers and activists who focus on Arab cultural history from a gender-sensitive perspective. Our goal is to participate in the construction of an alternate cultural discourse that recognizes the importance of women's multiple roles in the present and the past and that augments the efforts of contemporary women trying to improve their status in society. *The main goal behind establishing the "Women and Memory Forum" is to support research in Arab cultural history from a gender-sensitive perspective, and to encourage cultural publications that contribute knowledge that could potentially be used by women's groups and activists in their struggle for a better world for men and women. *New approaches to Middle Eastern women's history take into consideration significant variables: the historical origins of the modernist discourse on "the woman question"; the impact of colonialism on the writing of history; the specific challenges that face different women positioned differently in the world, an important issue within the international feminist scene. *I am convinced that all research in the sciences, the humanities or the social sciences that responds to real needs and that attempts to answer genuine questions that have come out from a particular social and historical reality will strengthen, directly or indirectly, the movement for social change. Our research, which is more historical and theoretical in orientation, is different from the field research that is more common among non-governmental organizations. However, all organizations cannot be expected to devote all their efforts to target one section in society, nor can they ignore the complex social structure. We address groups in society that actually exist and are influential, namely, the educated, the specialists, and the young. Also, in our work, we study the past to understand the present. Research in history is an exploration of the many layers of consciousness: the sources and reasons of prejudices, representations of ourselves and others and the relationship between knowledge and power. These issues are important for understanding our present. For us, studying history is our gateway for tackling women's issues. And, one of our main goals is to demonstrate the link between research and social work. *There are some strong links that exist between some women's groups and organizations. These are based on good personal relationships between members of these groups and certain basic agreements about common goals. On my part, I am optimistic about the future: I see a great deal of activity, a healthy diversity, and some differences that can only strengthen and enrich the movement. There will be more coordination between groups, but it will happen gradually when these groups feel stronger and more secure. Coordination cannot be imposed artificially on people. Unless it expresses a shared interest, it could disunite or result in a dangerous concentration of power. This is not what we want.]
(1999). المرأة والذاكرة / Women and Memory. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 210–230.
"المرأة والذاكرة / Women and Memory." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 19, 1999, pp. 210–230.