Not-So-Secret Weapons: Lebanese Women’s Rights Activists and Extended Family Networks

Stephan, Rita. 2019.  “Not-So-Secret Weapons: Lebanese Women’s Rights Activists and Extended Family Networks.” Social Problems, Volume 66, Issue 4: 609–625 This study asks one crucial question: How do Lebanese women apply available social capital and informal social networks to engage in political activism for women’s rights? Building on social- and women’s-movement theories, I argue that Lebanese feminists do not exclusively operate in the public sphere in their fight for political goals, nor do they privilege only the extra-family space. On the contrary, they engage in political activities by using extended family networks as a form of weak social ties. I construct this argument on the basis of interviews, observations, and analysis of Lebanese feminists’ writings. This paper introduces the concept of mahsoubieh as a form of weak social ties generated within connective family networks. Specifically, I examine how elite, intellectual, and middle-class Lebanese women activists use the positive social capital generated by mahsoubieh to gain credibility, diffuse their political stances, and develop countervailing power. Aspects such as the size, reputation, and respectability of their kinship networks aided the Lebanese women in their fight to change the legal structure concerning women’s rights and political representation.

Women Rising: In and Beyond the Arab Spring

Stephan, Rita and Mounira M. Charrad, eds., 2020. Women Rising: In and Beyond the Arab Spring, New York: New York University Press.
Women Rising
Women Rising brings together groundbreaking essays by female activists and scholars documenting women’s resistance before, during, and after the Arab Spring. In this timely volume, Stephan and Charrad paint a picture of women’s first-hand experiences in sixteen countries. Contributors provide insight into a diverse range of perspectives across the entire movement, focusing on often marginalized voices, including rural women, housewives, students, and artists. Women Rising offers an in-depth understanding of an important twenty-first century movement, telling the story of Arab women’s activism.  See also: Charrad, Mounira M.& Amina Zarrugh. 2020. “Women are Complete, not Complements: Terminology in a New Constitution in Tunisia.” in Women Rising: In and Beyond the Arab Spring,  R. Stephan & M. M. Charrad, eds., New York: New York University Press.

The Power of Presence: Professional Women Leaders and Family Law Reform in Morocco

Charrad, Mounira M. &  Rita Stephan. 2020.  “The Power of Presence: Professional Women Leaders and Family Law Reform in Morocco.” Social Politics, Volume 27, Issue 2: 337–360, doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxz013. The 2004 reforms of Islamic family law in Morocco brought about a long-awaited expansion of women’s rights. The Moroccan women’s movement was a key player in the promulgation of the reforms. We highlight the role of professional women leaders in the movement and show how they developed political capital and the “power of presence” by combining (i) professional attainment, (ii) leadership in women’s organizations, and (iii) active participation or positions in politics and civil society. We suggest that more needs to be understood about the implications of women’s education and professional attainment for legal change, especially in the Middle East.

Local Solidarities: How the Arab Spring Protests Started

Charrad, Mounira M. & Nicholas Reith. 2019. “Local Solidarities: How the Arab Spring Protests Started.” Mounira M. Charrad & Nicholas Reith. Sociological Forum.34: 1174-1196.  doi:10.1111/socf.12543 Coming as a surprise to most observers and following the self‐immolation of a street vendor in a remote town of central Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution of 2010–2011, the first uprising of the Arab Spring, has often been seen as a success story for digital communication through widespread use of social media. We suggest that this applied to the later phase of the protests in Tunisia but not to the initial phase, which occurred in local areas in impoverished and marginalized regions with highly limited access to the Internet. The initial phase lasted a full 10 days before the protests reached major cities where social media operated. Building on Tilly’s concept of trust network, we offer the concept of local solidarities as key to the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings and as encompassing spatial proximity, shared marginalized status, and kinship, all of which combined to serve as a basis for trust and collective action.

American Fault Lines and a Silver Lining

by Jonathan J.B. Mijs, Harvard University

The pandemic has had an uneven impact across the U.S. — exacerbating existing inequalities and creating new political challenges. The following are three American fault lines laid bare by the coronavirus, and one silver lining. 1. For millions of Americans, staying at home is a luxury they cannot afford. The comfort and well-being of all Americans depends on grocery clerks, delivery drivers and factory workers putting their own safety second. While the upper middle classes take their work with them, working and middle class Americans are tethered to their jobs: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) show that 52 percent of college-educated people can work from home, as compared to just 12 percent of workers with a high school degree, and 4 percent of those without. The same line cuts across race. White Americans are twice as likely as African Americans or Latinos to have the option to work remotely. The coronavirus highlights just one dimension of the increasingly polarized U.S. labor market that offers high compensation and autonomy to a lucky few, and precarious employment for the rest, marked by low-wages, little to no benefits, and a lack of control or security. 2. The government’s slow response to the coronavirus almost certainly cost lives, but arguably the most consequential government action dates back more than half a century. Since 1942, health care in the U.S. has been tied to employment. Across the developed world, losing your job means relying on unemployment benefits, subsidized housing, food banks. In America, it may mean losing your right to health care. As is, a fifth of Americans without a high school degree do not have health insurance, compared to just 3 percent of college graduates (US Census Bureau 2018). Lack of access to mental health care and addiction treatment are part of why those without a college degree are four times as likely to die a “death of despair,” by suicide, alcoholism or drug abuse (Case & Deaton 2020).

While awaiting the final death count of this pandemic, epidemiologists report that past flu and tuberculosis epidemics especially hurt low-income communities that lacked access to health care. In low-income communities, rates of preexisting conditions are higher, the uninsured may delay or forgo care, and medical services, already stretched thin, may be unable to provide treatment. These are neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens, which account for almost triple the rate of cases as nearby Manhattan. Economic deprivation leads to higher mortality and exacerbates rates of transmission, jeopardizing all members of society. 3. While the President blames the coronavirus on China, the Surgeon General hones in on communities of color, urging them to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Their words reveal a tendency to blame people instead of circumstances. Scapegoats help maintain Americans’ belief in a just world, where successful people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and poor people face hardship because of bad decisions. My research shows a growing number of Americans believe that hard work is all that stands between failure and success (Mijs 2019). The daily discrimination experienced by Asian Americans, sometimes singled out as culprits of the pandemic, is a reminder of the “probational nature” of immigrants’ existence. In normal times they face stereotypes, but in times of crisis they are to blame. As Mia Tuan (1999) puts it, it is a hard fall from model minority to “forever foreign” — one that American history shows is never too far away.