Press release: Ibn Rushd Prize 2000

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Press Release: Woman’s Emancipation in the Arabic World – Wishful Thinking or a Realistic Perspective? This Year’s Ibn-Rushd-Prize for Freedom of Thought is Presented to Palestinian Women’s Rights Activist

The Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought will be presented for the second time on December 9, 2000. In the spirit of its namegiver, the philosopher and scientist Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198, also known as Averroes), the non-governmental organization Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought dedicates itself to supporting the right to free speech and democracy in the Arab World. This Year, the prize is awarded to a person who has rendered outstanding services to women’s rights in the Arab World. An independent jury, consisting of five prominent Arab intellectuals, chose the Palestinian women’s rights activist Issam Abdulhadi to receive this year’s award.

What with all the pictures in the press and on TV showing only more or less deeply veiled women portraying the oppression of women for Western eyes, the struggle of those women for sovereignty is all too often ignored. A special case is represented by the Palestinian women, who do not only fight for sovereignty over their own life but also for sovereignty of their people. For them, both the women’s question and the national question are tied together so closely that these two cannot be regarded separately. How much so is shown by the seemingly hopeless situation between Palestine and Israel.

This situation influences, like so often, especially the lives of women, whose way into a self-determined life is, if not barred by traditional doctrines, finally barred by the politically caused limitation of freedom of movement.

An emancipation modelled on the Western example, as the women of the upper classes in the Arab World from Iraq to Morocco lived it, seems incompatible with one’s own conservatively interpreted religious tradition, and customs and demands made by society.

Consequently, there is a great number of women’s groups that try to win influence over life in society today and in the future.

As opposed to Western feminism, the struggle for the individual striving for self-realization does not come first on the list of demands made by Palestinian women’s rights activists. The life of the woman in her family and their well-being is always also very important. This mirrors the life of the Palestinian woman as it is, and as it must be improved here and now: a feminism of small steps that does not give priority to maximum demands.

One of those “realistic feminists” is  Issam Abdulhadi, born in Nablus in 1928. She first took care of local social problems, and wanted to change the current living conditions of Palestinian women. As for all Palestinian women, the demand for national independence always comes first in her struggle for equal rights. And so there they appear, the maximum demands, since what is more obvious than demanding the establishment of equal rights for women in the constitution of the future Palestinian state?

Abdulhadi presented these demands in 1988 as president of the General Union of Palestinian Women.

Abdulhadi always fought for changes to take place here and now – she organized countless demonstrations and sit-ins, wrote letters of protest and made speeches. All of these actions protested against the situation of Palestinian women under Israeli occupation. Such consistency was bound to have serious consequences: After being imprisoned for several months, she was expelled by Israel in 1969. Since then, she has been living in Jordan.

An independent jury, consisting of five renowned Arab intellectuals (Hisham Sharabi, University Georgetown, Washington; Farida an-Naqqash, journalist and literary critic, Cairo; Ali Ahmed Attiga, secretary general of the Arab Thought Forum, Amman; Sahar Khalifa, author, Amman; Nabeeha Loutfy, director and film critic, Cairo) chose Issam Abdulhadi to receive this year’s Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought. Abdulhadi has known for decades how to move on the minefield of demands of society and religious rules and how to unite the various fractions of Palestinian women’s rights groups, and to always achieve the most possible for women. She will accept the award personally on December 9, 2000 at 11:00 a.m. in the Literaturhaus Fasanenstrasse in Berlin.

Further information on the prize winner or  jury will be sent to you on request.

Short CVs of the individual members of the jury, as well as further information on the Ibn Rushd Fund can also be obtained.

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