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Stephan, Rita - Creating Solidarity in Cyberspace - The Case of Arab Women's Solidarity Association United

Stephan, Rita - Creating Solidarity in Cyberspace - The Case of Arab Women's Solidarity Association United

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Published by Caitlin
Stephan, Rita - Creating Solidarity in Cyberspace - The Case of Arab Women's Solidarity Association United
Stephan, Rita - Creating Solidarity in Cyberspace - The Case of Arab Women's Solidarity Association United

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Published by: Caitlin on Sep 22, 2013
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09/22/2013

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Creating Solidarity in Cyberspace: The Case of Arab Women’sSolidarity Association United
Rita Stephan
Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, Volume 9, Number 1, Winter2013, pp. 81-109 (Article)
Published by Indiana University Press
For additional information about this article
Access provided by University of North Carolina at Greensboro (18 Sep 2013 20:24 GMT)
 
Rita Stephan
 
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81
JouRnal of Middle eaSt WoMen’S StudieS
Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter 2013) © 2013
81
CREATING SOLIDARITY IN CYBERSPACE
THE CASE OF ARAB WOMEN’S SOLIDARITYASSOCIATION UNITED
Rita Stephan
mn
abStRact
Te Arab Women’s Solidarity Association United (AWSA United) is a pluralistic, transnational, and scholastic women’s advocacy group that emerged in cyberspace in 1999. Arab women in the diaspora sought cyberspace as a safe space to connect with one another in their activ-ism for women’s rights in the Arab world. Using an online survey and analysis of printed and electronic documents, this case study investi- gates Arab women’s cyberfeminism. It explores how activists utilized  AWSA United to foster collective identity, strengthen solidarity, and enrich activism.
intRoduction
he Arab Women Solidarity Association United (AWSA United) wasborn as an outlet or Arab women in the diaspora to express solidar-ity and support or women in the Arab world. It pioneered transnationalArab women’s groups that connect Arab women on all six continents,despite having the majority o its members in the United States. Withits membership spanning the world, AWSA United’s activists, who eltrestricted by cultural apathy and ideological irrelevance in the West andby unavorable governmental policies, oppressive patriarchal systems,and rigid religious doctrines in the Arab world, used cyberspace to ex-press dissatisaction with their sociocultural etters without directly conronting them.
 
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JouRnal of Middle eaSt WoMen’S StudieS
 
9:1
As a member o AWSA United, I was intrigued by the phenomenon,noted by Alia Malek, that the group has permitted a cadre o highly educated and motivated women to nd their own voices. Malek (2004)claims that “A vibrant Arab-American eminist movement is emergingin the US,” and that Arab-American women have ound their own space“outside both the mainstream eminist movement and mainstream Arab-American organizations, because neither has been responsive to theirneeds.” But what has AWSA United provided or this ideologically andpolitically marginalized group o women activists? My ndings suggestthat Arab women use AWSA United to oster their collective identity,strengthen their connectivity, and increase their activism.In light o my analysis o printed and electronic archival documents,and based on responses I collected in an online survey, I examine in thispaper the construction o collective identity, connectivity, and activismusing the case o AWSA United. I rst explore theoretical perspectives oncyberactivism and cybereminism within the social movement literature.I then provide a historical overview o the development o AWSA romits birthplace in Egypt in 1982 through its migration to cyberspace in1999. I then discuss the sociocultural obstacles that Arab women activistshave had to overcome in both the diaspora and the Arab world. Finally, Iinvestigate how Arab women activists use AWSA United to participate incollective action, solidiy their individual and collective activist identities,and establish relations with each other.
cybeRactiviSM and cybeRfeMiniSM
Social movement scholars emphasize the signicance o social con-texts and physical space in the construction o collective identity. Tey generally agree that the collectivization o identity is an essential parto activism (Laraña, Johnston, and Guseld 1994, Polletta and Jasper2001). Collective identity emerges among participants who share similarcultural characteristics (Gamson 1992, Platt and Fraser 1998). Yet, mostimportantly, it is constructed within an appropriate, ree, and sae space(Evans and Boyte 1992, Polletta 1999). As this study shows, individualscannot always take action within their social structures; at other timesthe identities and relations they encode cannot possibly be embedded intheir social rameworks.

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