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Women's activism in Jordan from 1946 until 1989

*CORRECTION: please note that at 22:50 in the recording, when Dr. Pratt is talking about the Battle of Karameh, the date is 1968, not 1969.

CBRL British Institute in Amman presents a lecture by Dr. Nicola Pratt (University of Warwick), "Women's activism in Jordan from 1946 until 1989"


Drawing on interviews with women of different generations who have participated in public work in Jordan, this paper examines women’s activism from national independence in 1946 until the onset of political liberalization in 1989. The paper attempts to address gaps in two bodies of existing scholarship. First, accounts of Jordan’s history almost exclusively focus on the actions of the monarchy and other political elites in shaping the development of the country. The marginalization of other actors, including women, reflects an implicit assumption within mainstream Jordanian historiography that Jordanian citizens have been little more than passive objects or potential spoilers of state building processes. Contrary to these assumptions, this paper highlights the largely unacknowledged contributions of women to the development of the Jordanian state. These include considerable voluntary and charitable activities, particularly in moments of humanitarian crises, as well as contributions to national struggles against colonialism and for women’s rights and democracy. Moreover, through a narrative approach, the paper also goes beyond national Jordanian histories by highlighting the different meanings of national events for different women, thereby contributing to a pluralization of Jordanian histories.

Second, scholarship on women’s activism in the Arab region has not only generally ignored the case of Jordan but has also tended to limit its focus to the colonial period, highlighting women’s role in the anti-colonial struggle, or to essentialize and dehistoricize women’s activism as a ‘natural’ reaction to gender discrimination and inequality. Against this backdrop, this paper also contributes to our understandings of women’s activism by historicizing women’s public work in relation to national and regional dynamics. The paper focuses in particular on three key turning points in the history of women’s activism before 1989, each of which led to the emergence of new forms of women’s organizing and participation: the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan after 1970.


Nicola Pratt is Reader in the International Politics of the Middle East, University of Warwick. She has been researching and writing about Middle East politics since the end of the 1990s and is particularly interested in feminist approaches as well as ‘politics from below’. Her work has appeared in International Studies Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Review of International Studies and Review of International Political Economy, amongst others. She is author of Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World (Lynne Rienner, 2007), co-author (with Nadje Al-Ali) of What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq (University of California Press, 2009) and co-editor of Gender, Governance and International Security (Routledge, 2013, with Sophie Richter-Devroe), of Women and War in the Middle East (Zed Books, 2009, with Nadje Al-Ali) and of the recently published, Rethinking Gender in Revolutions and Resistance: Lessons from the Arab World (with Maha El Said and Lena Meari). In 2013-2014, she held a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, researching the history of women’s activism in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, which she is currently writing up into a book to be published by the University of California Press in 2016.

About the photo:

"Eva" (Oil and Silver lead on canvas) by Marwa Alnajjar, graciously reused with permission from the artist. For more information email