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Sonia Nettnin: Arab Women’s Movement in US - IV

Arab Women’s Movement in US

By Sonia Nettnin

Arab and Arab-American Women will be having a national gathering June 9-11, 2006 in Chicago.

AMWAJ's proposed logo

Arab Movement of Women Arising for Justice (AMWAJ) will be a gathering of Arab and Arab American women that includes women who are Amazigh, Assyrian, Chaldean, Copts, and Kurds. In e-mail I asked one of the organizers questions about this historic event to find out more about the AMWAJ Gathering.

SONIA NETTNIN: Why did all of you decide to have the conference?

There is a growing population of Arab/Arab American women in the United States who are organizing in their communities and in coalition with other people of color. During the 2002 INCITE! Conference, a group of
women set up an impromptu meeting to exchange contact information and talk about the needs of our communities. It really highlighted how Arab/Arab American women are often on the margins in women of color spaces, how we seek each other out at these larger conferences to have these discussions but that is usually the extent of it. One of the women (who is currently on the AMWAJ organizing collective) wrote an initial grant proposal to INCITE with the encouragement of one of their members and input from other Arab women activists in the San Francisco Bay Area community. INCITE approved some seed money to start the
process of gathering women from across the U.S. to organize the gathering.

It is essential that we become active and visible in our communities and in the larger people of color movements and we are envisioning that this gathering will work toward establishing a national Arab/Arab American women’s agenda.

SONIA NETTNIN: What kinds of topics will be covered at the conference?

We like to see this as a gathering rather than a conference in the traditional sense; somewhat because of the format we see necessary for the goals of the gathering and also because we want to stay true to our
cultures’ ways of gathering to celebrate, struggle, build and maintain community. So, rather than having traditional panels, where participants read papers, we will have a variety of workshops in which participants will come together to share strategies, build skills, and develop a foundation for a larger movement of Arab and Arab
American women in the U.S.

SONIA NETTNIN: Does the gathering have a theme?

There isn’t a central theme for the gathering other than envisioning what a national movement might look like and setting the foundation for that to grow. The gathering will comprise mostly of workshops, panels,
skills-building teach-ins, etc, that will cover a wide spectrum of topics.

SONIA NETTNIN: Will the conference focus on Arab-American women and/or Arab women outside of the U.S?

The gathering focuses on Arab and Arab American women living in the US, including indigenous non-Arab groups in the Arab world such as Copts, Chaldeans, Amazigh, etc. However, it is a reality for many of us living in the US that our lives are still very much connected to our homelands, many have family back home, many are exploring what it means to be transnational. Many are interested in making the connections between our experiences coming over, once we are here and those
experiences of Arab women and girls living in the Arab world and the Diaspora.

SONIA NETTNIN: Does the gathering have specific goals?

One of our biggest goals is connecting people on a national level who are working on social justice issues locally in their communities. We want to see a national agenda grow out of this gathering that has some
infrastructure to support it.

SONIA NETTNIN: How many women would you like to see attend?

We are aiming for between 200 and 250 women and girls. Since this is the first effort we are working to establish it and hope that it will increase visibility for our efforts, so we can raise more money and have a larger gathering next time.

SONIA NETTNIN: What is the organization hoping will happen as a result of the gathering?

Again, start conversations and actions toward building a movement and an opportunity for women to network in an environment where they are not on the periphery. Traditionally, small groups of Arab and Arab American women would seek each other out at a much larger conference focused on broader issues to have these conversations. We are hoping to make those fringe conversations the focus of this gathering.

SONIA NETTNIN: Will you have keynote speakers at the gathering?

The agenda is not set yet but we do not foresee ˜keynote” speakers because we are all sharing individual expertise with one another, rather than bringing in one "expert". Instead, we want to draw from the diversity and talents of our communities to speak, teach, perform, etc.

SONIA NETTNIN: Will media be allowed at the gathering?

Media will be invited into certain parts of the gathering in order to keep the space safe and to respect people’s wishes that they not be filmed. Sessions will be closed to Arab/Arab American women and girls. However, we are working on organizing some ways in which media can be included, such as press conferences, etc.

SONIA NETTNIN: Have you made invitations to communities of women or are you posting the information publicly?

We have not done a lot of targeted outreach because of limited resources but we are disseminating the information as widely as possible via email, mailings and individual contacts. We also have a website( which we are hoping will reach a wider audience as well. We are completely grassroots, taking no corporate funds and very limited in our institutional support. We are relying on our communities to support this effort, which means individual support is vital for this gathering. Please visit our website to find out how you can support the AMWAJ gathering financially and in other ways.


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