Gender issues

“Women’s Voices in the Mediterranean and Africa” Speak Up Against Religious Extremism

Chaima Lahsini

Rabat - Giving voice to the increasing gender-based violence in the name of radical Islam was at the heart of the 8th edition of the “Women’s Voices in the Mediterranean and Africa” Forum, held on May 5-7 in the city of Fez.

Attended by academics, activists and political actors from more than 4 countries, the forum was devoted to Mediterranean women who chose to resist to extremism. It highlighted debates on women's rights in the Mediterranean and Africa, Islamic feminism and the ongoing fight against radicalism.

Organized by the ISIS Center for Women and Development and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the 8th edition of the “Mediterranean Women’s Forum” chose “Women’s Voices in the Mediterranean and Africa: Movements, Feminisms, and Resistance to Extremisms” as the title for this year’s edition.

The discussions focused on topics related to the new conceptual forms of women's rights in the Mediterranean and Africa, Islamic feminism and resistance, and the exploration of theoretical and methodological tools.

“The main objective of the Forum is to combat radicalization and extremism among young people, strengthen peace initiatives, protect women's rights and strengthen their integration in the Mediterranean region and in Africa," Chair of the forum, Sadiqi Fatima, said.

From Daesh to Boko Haram, participants explained that anti-women ideologies are spreading in Mediterranean and African societies, a scourge that necessitates joint action. Solutions offered included research and collaboration between actors in these two regions to counter attacks on women's rights.

Most speakers at the meeting agreed that religious fundamentalism is spreading rapidly in Africa and the Mediterranean, both bastions of fundamentalist groups that invade both the MENA and African countries. Through an intersectional feminist discourse, these rising voices are denouncing biases, asking for justice, reclaiming rights in public spaces, and reconciling older with newer generations of feminists in the Mediterranean and Africa.

The Forum was a multidisciplinary rendezvous seeking to develop innovative and insightful ways of unpacking and accounting for these resistances.

During her speech, Assia Bensalah Alaoui, ambassador-at-large for King Mohammed VI, took stock of the multidimensional strategy launched by Morocco to combat all forms of extremism and terrorism. She explained that sensitizing women and strengthening their rights and involvement in development are essential conditions for the prevention of radicalization.

Meanwhile, Moha Ennaji, a civil society activist and professor at the FSJES in Fez, gave an update on the marginalization of women in history, saying that “regional stories of resistance are progressing without the women's share being totally obscured, but it is not really the subject of study either.”

The female fight against extremism has been, and still is, a long and arduous one. As the first victims of racialized discourses, whether in the Mediterranean or Africa, they are still facing the same horrors. And for the forum’s chair, resistance in no longer a sustainable solution; bold action is.

“Resistance alone is no longer enough,” Sadiqi declared, stressing that “women need to get out of the ‘victimization’ state and dire polemics to bold action in all fields. They must engage in concrete projects supporting the drive towards democracy and modernity.”

For Sadiqi, these projects must “improve youth’s – girls’ and boys’ - employability for real dignity- better involvement in inclusive, political, socio-economic development and civil society activism for greater social cohesion- intercultural and interfaith dialogue projects, the development of legal literacy, etc.”

From fighting radicalization and extremism, building and strengthening peace initiatives and protecting women’s rights, to enhancing women’s empowerment, this event helped uncover the gruesome reality of Mediterranean and African women.

Organized  in partnership with Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University and Penn State University (USA), it also raised numerous prickly questions regarding the role of religion in the oppression and reinforcement of violence against women in the region.

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