The Institute of Women’s Studies holds its 9th annual conference “Confronting Feminist Co-optation and Backlash: colonial legacies, imperial neoliberalism and anti-feminisms”
June 17-18, 2023
Birzeit University’s Institute of Women’s Studies organized its ninth annual conference under the title “Confronting Feminist Co-optation and Backlash: colonial legacies, imperial neoliberalism and anti-feminisms.” Held in hybrid format, the conference took place June 17-18, 2023, and examined the ways in which feminist struggles in the Arab world and the global south confront various contemporary forms of colonialism, neoliberalism and anti-feminism. It explored how feminism has been co-opted, serving projects that contradict the basic principles of liberatory feminisms that strive to overturn racial, class and colonial domination.
In his opening speech, Dr. Abdullatif Husseini, Vice President for Community Affairs, commended the Institute for raising issues of concern to Palestinian society that affect our capabilities in confronting the oppressions against us all.
After welcoming the attendees, Dr. Rania Jawad, director of the Institute of Women’s Studies, remarked that, in part, what brought participants and audience together for the conference was the understanding that feminism is not limited to addressing issues strictly defined as relevant to gender and thus we are engaging with how feminist struggles are also concretely struggles against political, social, and economic violence.
Dr. Kalpana Wilson, opening keynote speaker at the conference and lecturer in critical international development at Birkbeck, University of London, UK, delivered a talk titled “Resisting Neoliberal Feminism, building anti-imperial feminist solidarities.” 
Dr. Wilson elaborated on how neoliberal gender interventions that construct women from low-income households in the Global South as hyperindustrious and resilient potential entrepreneurs, render invisible and actively undermine collective and transformative feminist struggles located outside and against the imperialist framework of development. She argued that “increasingly, anti-gender forces weaponise notions of authenticity and even decoloniality, while in many cases themselves being inextricably linked to corporate capital.”
The first panel session “Globalized Feminist Frames: liberal rights and neoliberal freedom” was moderated by Dr. Rema Hammami, associate professor of anthropology based in the Institute of Women’s Studies and director of the Ph.D. program in social sciences at Birzeit University. Dr. Souad Eddouda, associate professor of gender and cultural studies at the Ibn Tofail University, Morocco, presented on “Feminism and Neoliberalism: Women Farmers Rewriting a Gendered Land Tenure Reform in Sidi Kacem.” Dr. Vickie Langohr, associate professor and director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies program at the College of the Holy Cross, US, shared her research “The Brave Woman and the Protective State: Egyptian TV Narratives on Sexual Harassment.” Dr. Maryam Al Haitami, assistant professor at the Ibn Tofail University, presented her research “(Re)doing Feminism: Digital Activism and the Mudawana Debate in Morocco.” And Dareen Sayyad and Reema Shebeitah, researchers and members of the Financial Inclusion Group in Palestine, presented the beginnings of their research on “Gender-based financial inclusion in Palestine.”
The second panel session “Strategies of Feminist Mobilization: navigating limits, challenging constraints” was moderated by Dr. Lena Meari, associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University. Janan Abdu, lawyer and human rights feminist researcher presented “From al-Fanar and al-Badil in the 1990s to Tal’aat: Revolutionary Movements and Revolutionary Mobilization.” Dr. Amal Nazzal, assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration at Birzeit University, elaborated on the findings of her paper “Webs of Oppression: An Intersectional Analysis of Inequalities Facing Women Activists in Palestine.” Dr. Islah Jad, associate professor in the Cultural Studies Department and the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University, presented her research “The Unfortunate Encounter between CEDAW and Colonialism.” And Dr. Areen Hawari, director of the "Gender Studies Program” at Mada Al-Carmel, expanded on her paper “Feminist Politics under Colonialism: Struggling for Equality in Personal Status Laws.”
The conference also featured Dr. Veronica Gago, professor of sociology in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the National University of San Martín, Argentina, as a closing keynote speaker on day one of the conference. Dr. Gago presented “The Afterlife of Pandemic: Debt, Housing and Crisis” noting that the point of her departure were reflections on her experience in the feminist movement in Argentina during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing its radical achievements. Dr. Gago maintained, “I am interested in understanding why there is a change in the relations of production that takes the sphere of social reproduction as a site of attack. When social reproduction is made ‘unsafe,’ it becomes a very important site of struggle. There is no social change that does not involve the reproduction of life. The reproduction of life is the starting point for our interpretations of the world and the creation of our strategies.”
The second day of the conference comprised two virtual panel sessions. The first panel session “Feminist Challenges in Neoliberal Universities” was moderated by Dr. Rana Barakat, associate professor of history and director of the Birzeit University Museum. Dr. Sarah Farag, researcher in the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, presented on “Spaces of in-between: Locating Feminist Trajectories in Decolonial Critique in Contemporary Egypt.” Dr. Isaura Castelao-Huerta, postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Research and Gender Studies, Mexico, discussed her research “The Crossroads of Care Practices in the Neoliberalized Academia: a Feminist Analysis of Two Public Universities in Columbia and Mexico.” And Dr. Hanna Al-Taher, lecturer in political theory at Dresden University, Germany, delivered her paper “Space Invaders and the Expulsion of the Revolutionary Subject: Exploring Feminism between Betrayal and Errant Path to Liberation.”
The second panel session “Theorizing Feminisms and Contemporary Formations of Power” was moderated by Dr. Amira Silmi, assistant professor in the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University. Dr. Frances S Hasso, professor in the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University, UK, presented on “A Double Helix: Feminist Theory and Imperialism.” Dr. Anna Krylova, associate professor in the Department of History with a joint appointment in the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University, addressed the topic “Western Feminism and its Analytics.” And Dr. Chloe Skinner, research fellow in the Power and Popular Politics Cluster at the Institute of Development Studies, UK, presented the paper “Patriarchal (Dis)orders: Backlash as ‘Crisis Management’ by Spatial Fixes.”
All the presentations over the two days were followed by open discussions, and the Institute of Women’s Studies will be publishing interventions from the conference in the upcoming edition of its open-access journal The Review.
You can now watch the first day sessions of 9th annual conference of IWS, please visit the following you tube link:
 A link to the 1st session of the 2nd day:
 A link to the 2nd session of the 2nd day: