Rula Quawas – Jordanian pioneer


The fact that such a harmless video could cause such ramifications is disappointing.


Munir Atalla
13 November 2012

About a month ago, Rula Quawas, former Dean of the faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Jordan was removed from her post.  The announcement of her dismissal came directly after a video made by her Feminist Theory class was uploaded to Youtube.

The fact that such a harmless video could cause such ramifications is disappointing.  Featuring women holding up signs of phrases they had heard said to them walking around campus, the video only scrapes the surface of the reality that many females endure on a daily basis in many parts of Amman.

“Can I take you home?” reads one sign, concealing the face of a young co-ed.  The format of the video tells all—when harassed, women feel faceless.  It implies that they have been reduced to the comments so carelessly slung at them.  A sorrowful piano accompanies the images, but this is a sadness that may well turn to anger, given the range of forces women who are liberating themselves have to face in the Arab world.  However, any western observers who are waiting for a bra-burning shouldn’t hold their breath - the women’s revolution in the Middle East will not necessarily take the same form as its western counterpart.

Recently, the University of Jordan announced its intentions to reach the list of the top 500 Universities in the world.  One cannot help but see the similarities between the University’s administrative choices and those of the country at large: on the surface, promises of glory.  In practice, the voices calling for change are moved aside.  Culture is used as a scapegoat; “don’t be so Americanized,” people are told.

Quawas is a pioneer in that she brought women’s issues some recognition in the world of Jordanian academia.  Still, her classes were confined to English.  She helped with the founding of the women’s centre there, yet one year ago she gave a highly critical interview to the feminist magazine, Broad Recognition.  It is clear from her commentary on the University that she is not one to sugarcoat the pill.  “I do not think that we teach women’s studies or gender studies as a discipline here at UJ. The teachers are not equipped to teach it. We do not currently have a professor with a PhD in women’s studies!” she stated.  She added that the Women’s Center at the University was a cosmetic implantation designed to cater to the demands of a royal.

Although met with top-down censorship, Quawas’ sacking has sparked heated online discussion on a variety of news sources from Jadaliyya to the New York Times.  So where are the battle lines for feminists in Jordan? Several backwards laws discriminate against females, but most have campaigns rallying citizens against them. Currently, a campaign has surfaced to make Jordanian nationality transferrable from mother to son (as it is between father and son), but as with every struggle, there is a mound of bureaucracy blocking any reform. 

Although Quawas’ firing was a violation of academic freedom, the solidarity it sparked from students, institutions, and foreign sympathizers alike points to a new era in people’s increasing awareness.  

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