Women’s studies at Kuwait University has come under attack from some politicians and public figures, but two female academics who launched the programme say the criticism has only increased their determination to keep going.
Alrudainy said the unit tries to analyse and provide solutions to social, political, and cultural problems, and to qualify students in women’s and gender studies research methods as tools for social planningsocial planning.
Alrudainy, who is also a professor of Islamic history, thinks the scientific approach that women’s studies provides is necessary to confront and overcome the problems facing women.
“Our role, as Arab feminists, is to use this new research to spread these ideas and speak about them out loud, amid a patriarchal domination,” she told Al-Fanar Media in an interview via Zoom.
The Starting Point
Alrudainy discovered this new major during her five years of graduate studies in the United Kingdom, where she obtained her master’s and doctoral degrees in Islamic studies from the University of Exeter between 2010 and 2015.
“The endorsement and approval of a public university for such a step grants great legitimacy to gender studies as an interdisciplinary major.”Moushira Elgeziri Associate director of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences
During those years, she tried to link her main area of research in Middle Eastern Islamic Studies with women’s and gender theories. That prompted her to think of establishing a gender studies unit later on, based on women’s studies research methods.
“At the University of Exeter, I found gender studies and professors specialised only in this field,” she said. “That encouraged me to study the major and link it to the issues of our Arab societies.”
Moushira Elgeziri, associate director of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences, in Beirut, considers the establishment of a women’s studies unit in Kuwait an important step. “The endorsement and approval of a public university for such a step grants great legitimacy to gender studies as an interdisciplinary major,” she wrote in an e-mail to Al-Fanar Media.
Elgeziri noted that gender studies “has been marginalised for a long time in Arab universities before it gained recognition as an academic discipline over the past two decades.”
She added: “Gender dynamics are responsible for the inequalities women face in political, economic and social life,” including the lack of women in the workplace, some scientific disciplines, and public leadership roles.
Elgeziri said all universal goals, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, include gender equality and empowering women and girls as objectives that nations should strive to reach.
She called for more understanding of how gender dynamics work in different regions.
Attack and Suspicion
“As conscious Kuwaiti academic feminists, we review the problems of this society where we were born and live. We deal with women’s issues critically and in-depth, rather than the superficial political way of addressing women’s issues.”Dalal Alfares A member of the gender studies unit at Kuwait University
When Alrudainy established the unit at Kuwait University, Dalal Alfares, an assistant professor of women’s literature, was the only academic who joined her in designing the research unit’s programmes.
Alfares told Al-Fanar Media that talking about gender studies was rare in the Gulf countries, and attracted criticism and ridicule.
Alfares said the Kuwait University unit had faced attack campaigns from public figures and lawmakers since it started. They seek to cast doubt on the reasons for the unit and make some female students and teaching staff members hesitant to join, she said.
Describing the unit’s work, she said: “As conscious Kuwaiti academic feminists, we review the problems of this society where we were born and live. We deal with women’s issues critically and in-depth, rather than the superficial political way of addressing women’s issues.”
Alfares’ involvement in women’s and gender studies started in the United States, where she obtained advanced degrees in the discipline: a master’s degree from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Alrudainy said the political campaigns against the unit made her realise that she was on the right track. “On the research level, I’m grateful and proud,” she said. “I’m going to continue till the last breath.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
Alfares agreed, saying she had never regretted her work with the unit. “This is the dream of my life,” she said. “The attacks hurt me personally, but have increased my confidence and my research abilities, and made me realise that what we are doing is a great victory, even if its impact is limited.”