We would like to signal this new book, “Women in the Mediterranean” (London, Routledge 2018), edited by Leila Simona Talani (King’s College, London) and Serena Giusti (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies Pisa), which confronts important issues related to women in the Mediterranean area, encompassing the northern and southern shores. It offers through a multidisciplinary perspective a wide gamut of inspiring insights so useful to understand and interpret the complexity of being women in the Mediterranean. Some of the findings are useful and usable beyond the region considered.
In the northern side in particular, social patterns have evolved and women are present on the labour market and have gradually become financially independent. Nevertheless, inequalities persist, as women’s employment rate is still lower than men’s. For young women it is even harder than for young men to enter the labour market and women are still paid on average less than men for the same job. They are more likely than men to take up part-time jobs or interrupt their careers altogether to care for children or a sick parent. This inequality is also carried on to women’s pensions, which are on average lower than men’s. The glass ceiling has not disappeared: there are still too few women in leadership positions both in private and public sectors as well as in politics.
While in the EU’s Mediterranean countries inequality is mostly linked to the social sphere, and in particular refers to labour market dynamics, in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) area the situation is more complicated as the social and private spheres overlap and cultural and religious factors have a great impact on women’s autonomy and opportunities beyond the family perimeter. The different challenges women are facing on the two sides of the Mediterranean have sometimes led to incomprehension and misperceptions. Western-supported policies devoted to closing the gap between men and women in the Southern Mediterranean area have overlooked those countries’ peculiarities, simply exporting models tailored for EU’s member states. The EU’s attempts to strengthen relations with the Mediterranean countries on a multilevel basis have not rescued women from marginalization. Nevertheless, during the 2011 awakening, women played an important role in activating civil society and they are still to play a role in the modernization of their countries. They are considered as a key part of the fight against terrorism and radicalization although in some countries their condition has worsened after secular regimes have been overturned. The number of migrant women has increased and, no differently from men, they are looking for opportunities and better conditions of life while Western media tend to present them in a stereotyped way either as traumatized victims and/or as caring mothers. There are other misleading commonplaces, which need to be better conceptualized and understood, such as the alleged incompatibility between Islam and women rights. Unfortunately, women’s rights are still under attack even in European countries where they are considered established.
All these timing and delicate issues are dealt with in the book with various and multidisciplinary contributions. Barbara Henry (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies Pisa) looks at the contemporary debate on Islamic feminism; Alessia Belli and Anna Loretoni (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies Pisa) emphasise that Western feminism is not immune from the effects of the use of stereotypes regarding Muslim women and suggest a deconstructive strategy and an intersectional approach that they apply to the case of some Italian and British Muslim women activists; Leila Simona Talani tackles the question of women’s access to technology and their position in the political economy of the countries of the MENA area; Serena Giusti examines the EU’s gender mainstreaming towards the discussing in particular the implications of the European Neighbourhood Policy that promotes gender equality through diffusion of norms; Heidrun Friese (Chemnitz University) discusses, on the basis of her experience in Lampedusa, the gendered way to represent migrants, as women are usually described as traumatized victims and/or as caring mothers; Mariangela Veikou’s (University of Twente) analyses how European societies are coping with the growing refugee crisis in tandem with the on-going economic crisis in recent years; finally, Miray Enric (King’s College, London), moving from the case of Turkey and through the U-shape hypothesis that correlates female labour force participation with level of educational attainment, shows that women are facing a variety of barriers in entering the labour making their skills underutilized.