The family and the making of women's rights activism in Lebanon

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2009-05

Authors

Stephan, Rita Toufic

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Abstract

This research explores how Lebanese women's rights activists use their kinship system to pursue citizenship rights and political recognition. Building on social movements, social capital, and feminist theories, I argue that Lebanese women's rights activists leverage support from their kin groups and adhere to the behavioral norms set by the kinship system in order to gain access, build capacity and advance their movement's goals and strategies. In investigating the impact of being embedded in--or autonomous from--kinship structure on activism, my research suggests that Lebanese women's rights activists interact with their kin groups at three levels. Firstly, at the level of becoming an activist, some women obtain direct support and encouragement from their nuclear and extended family, while others rise through alternative networks such as membership in a political party or a professional union. At the personal strategies level, some activists utilize their family support and kinship networks to establish their activist identities and facilitate their civic engagement, while others use collegial and professional networks. Finally, on the organizational level, women's rights organizations pursue women's empowerment in the context of their role in the family, dissolving the divide between women's rights in the sphere of legal equality and women's rights within the family. Women's relation to kinship is significant in explaining how they form their activist identity and construct their activism, regardless whether they use embedded or autonomous strategies. Activists receive empowerment and support from the family in advancing their goals and consider family members as important forces in shaping their journeys to activism. In the same vein, the kinship system contributes to determining actors' social status at the outset; its networks potentially grant activists access to the public sphere; and its name and ties endows activists with public trust and respect. Lebanese activists expand on the capabilities provided for them by their kin groups to enhance women’s status in their public as well as private roles.

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