Can the world agree on a universal feminism? Picture: Bristol University Press


Feminism - a Western invention or fundamental rights

In Jordan, there is today a feminist struggle for greater equality. As in all countries, this struggle is met with more or less resistance from its surroundings. Some see feminism as a Western phenomenon while others believe that gender equality is about human rights.

"The sky is the limit" is the message that Erik Ullenhag, Sweden's ambassador to Israel, describes as the main instruction that all Swedish embassies received from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in connection with the establishment of Swedish feminist foreign policy in 2014. With this message, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by Margot Wallström, ensure that the embassies put an increased focus on gender issues. Between 2016 and In 2020, Ullenhag was on site as Sweden's ambassador to Jordan. He believes that this new step in Swedish foreign policy is more or less feasible in different countries, where he includes Jordan as a of the countries where inequality has led to other major challenges. 

I ask Ullenhag if he thinks it is an unfair image of women in the Middle East that is shown in the media today, where many may still see the event in 2018, when women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to drive, as representative of gender equality development throughout the region . To this, Ullenhag answers that the image that is portrayed is to some extent true as it is more difficult to grow up as a woman in the Middle East than in Sweden. However, he points out that this is a harsh picture of the region that is shown. He also warns against seeing women in the region as victims and thereby miss the strong force that exists. 

"Women's lives are more important are your positions of power." Photo: Joelle Hateman

 Amani Al-Serhan works at the organization Center for women's studies in Amman. She believes that the biggest challenge in the country regarding gender equality is the general view of feminism as a Western phenomenon that would be foreign to their society and culture.

- In the country, there are two opposites where traditionalists see feminism as a cultural colonization with the intention of directly attacking Arab and Islamic values. This while a more liberal phalanx sees feminism as a fair development. 

Erik Ullenhag also points to the idea of ​​feminism as a European invention as one of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of a Swedish feminist foreign policy in the country. Ullenhag believes that these issues must be pursued in such a way that it is not perceived as a Western trend but as human rights. 

- It is important not to brag about Sweden's leading position in feminism but to be sensitive to the good forces in Jordanian society that work towards the same goal. 

At the same time, he thinks it is important to have self-confidence in not buying claims that there are cultures that legitimize that women should not have the same rights as men.

- For me, it's about finding a way to communicate this without being patronizing, he says. 

When I ask Ullenhag about the reactions he has received when he called himself a feminist, he says that the vast majority have given a positive response. However, there are times when he says that "the audience put the coffee in my esophagus when I started talking about gender equality." However, Ullenhag does not seem to be worried about these reactions, but believes that there is a point in provoking reactions as a way to start the conversation. He also says that at one point he was told that he was violating Islam by talking about feminism. 

Yes, religion seems to be seen as a counterpoint to the feminist struggle in the country according to some. So how compatible is religion really with a growing feminism in the area? Jenny Berglund, professor of religion didactics at Stockholm University, has through her research investigated how feminism in religious Muslim circles is expressed.  

- As for feminism and Islam, it is as with other religions. All religions have been used to oppress women, but within all religions there is also the opportunity to pick out liberating stories and structures that are used for feminist struggle, Jenny Berglund explains.

She points out that issues of gender equality should be addressed through Islam and not against it. Erik Ullenhag also highlights intra-Muslim feminism as important. However, he believes that it is dangerous if he himself would seek support for his theses in religion as this can be questioned through evidence that shows opposite theories. 

When asked if there is an idealistic Western feminism, Al-Serhan answers yes. But Ullenhag does not agree. He believes that human rights are universal and should apply to everyone. However, both believe that the only way forward is to cooperate with actors from within. Ullenhag also believes that a crucial factor for a continued struggle for gender equality in the country is to change certain structures in everyday life. For example, a woman must be able to be seen as a good mother even though she works. I ask Al-Serhan about progress she wants to highlight a little extra in the development of gender equality. She mentions, among other things, that feminism is discussed more at universities around the country, which leads to women's issues being put in a more progressive light that dispels previous prejudices. 

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