Monday, December 12, 2011

Kristine Goulding's article "Tunisia: Feminist Fall?"

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, governments, activists, and scholars are negotiating the roles that women will play in the emerging political landscape. One such article considers some of the obstacles to women's effective participation in governance in the new Tunisia. In Kristine Goulding's "Tunisia: Feminist Fall?", she lists Islamism as an obvious barrier to women, but the article also proposes women's lack of qualifications as another barrier. For example, the author considers literacy to be a necessary political qualification. Gender-based parliamentary quotas, according to the author, threaten women's equality by undermining the role women might play. In other words, in order to fill gender quotas, there is a real possibility that unqualified women will win seats. However, the author does not define what is qualified and what is unqualified, other than to mention literacy and formal educational levels.

This is a sad norm among feminist writers. This particular article even concludes that if women are not represented, they are to blame for not being "ready or willing". The point is subtle, as the author craftily maintains gender-neutral grammar. However, it is certain that the author means women and not Tunisians. For example, in the paragraph that immediately precedes her statement about the readiness or willingness of the people, she is specifically speaking to women's qualifications, and especially rural women's lack of qualifications. And after she makes her point, she laments that only the Tunisian government and political elites really "get it" in terms of women's participation and equality for all. It is, sadly, a typical conclusion, but all the more frustrating coming from an otherwise excellent set of articles.

In the rest of the article, she makes some interesting and important points. It is just a shame that she falls in the same "illiterate equals obstacle" trap rampant among scholars and practitioners.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lessons from Libya: Syria and Yemen

Written in October 2011:

According to Voice of America (VOA), some Syrians expressed feelings of empowerment as a result of the death of Moammar Gaddafi. Former White House adviser Marc Ginsberg told VOA that one lesson learned from Libya could be that there will be increased pressure on the United States “to determine how and what to do about Syria”. So far the Syrian people continue to wait for external intervention. According to Chatham House’s Sir Richard Dalton, they may be waiting indefinitely. Dalton writes that Libya is probably not a precedent for foreign involvement in other Arab states. His justification is that Libya represented an unusual alignment of popular demand from the Libyan people, international willingness (except for a few of Gaddafi's former allies in Africa), an internationally legal intervention resulting from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and an affordable military task with a clear exit strategy for external participants.

According to Ted Piccone, the NATO operation expanded the interpretation of the UN mandate. Consequently this expansion of power solidified opposition from Russia, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa. The direct implication for Syria is that there is no consensus to act. For Libya, the consensus and the rhetoric were present. The United Nations is unlikely to act in Syria. Libya is an exceptional case, but could possibly be a precedent for future situations to bring United Nations and NATO together, though probably not in the case of Syria.

Al Arabiya reports that the Libyan victory shows other Arab Spring protesters such as those in Syria and Yemen that victory is possible. However, “the concept of civilian protection still competes with deeply held norms of sovereignty”. In the case of Syria, the leaders are in control of the state’s territory and the security forces have the backing of influential allies, according to Foreign Affairs magazine. These factors make humanitarian intervention unfeasible, according to the article.