Eurasian Female Ancestors: a feminist memory bank


Great Ancestors picThe inspiration for EFAP [1], with its editorial team of Eurasian academics/activists and members of IGS at LMH, comes from an international research project  [2] bringing together researchers from Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and China. Its purpose was to investigate and recommend policy changes surrounding issues about ‘Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Contexts’. Its methodology was predicated on a sense of genuine urgency, necessitating the revisiting of popular assumptions and misapprehensions concerning Muslim women’s agency and empowerment in the selected countries. A large-scale listening project was then designed to privilege local understanding and desires over universal, ethno-centric assumptions.

The listening project became the ‘Great Ancestors’ project, a two-volume publication that was the outcome of collaboration between academics and grassroots women in Pakistan. It inspired us to to adapt this influential project to our purpose: a digital memory bank of female ancestral narratives and interpretations which has also come to constitute an integral part of the WEF mentoring programme (‘Women’s Empowerment in Eurasian Contexts Feminist Mentoring Project’) of IGS at LMH.

Our joint aim is to facilitate urgently needed evidence-based research and find ways to produce new (gender-based) knowledge. This new knowledge comes from listening to representative women from within diverse contexts, who have not been previously given the opportunity to contribute their voices to Eurasian mainstream histories. The proposed Project serves multiple outcomes and involves the potential collaboration of academics, activists and ordinary women to find innovative ways to amplify stories that have been silenced because of marginalisation, so they can be heard. The project also recognises that the national identities of diverse countries within the Eurasian region are shaped within the intersections of dominant traditions and transnational modernity. In this tension over identity and legitimacy, feminist narrators play a vital role in shaping a national narrative that reflects a vibrant diversity. The proposed Projects offers itself as an opportunity for collaborative and transformative research with long-ranging implications and impact on policy makers.

We promise to safe-guard your precious narratives with skill and care. We also promise to share the stories with the widest possible audience, for uses as varied as education, evocative material for feminist consciousness-raising, and for popular reading matter. The untold stories of your female ancestors will appear on the Oxford Feminist E-press (OxFEP) Website under the auspices of the International Gender Studies Centre (IGS), University of Oxford. Annually, OxFEP will be reaching out to a growing number of feminist scholars, researchers and activists in Eurasia, in the UK and worldwide. The OxFEP website will be widely disseminated throughout women’s networks, research centres and institutions and through our partners and allies, both within the University as well as outside it. Also, we are happy to help you tell the story in whatever form you wish to tell it, adding to your words with the sounds and images you choose.

This feminist memory database is not simply to be a repository of artefacts or things: it is a powerful medium of communication that reaches back into the past and safeguards knowledge of this past for future generations.

[1] We acknowledge with gratitude the generosity of our funder, the Open Society Foundations network, which has made our various Eurasian-centred projects and programmes possible.
[2] Funded by DFID (UK Government), the international research consortium developed grassroots-based innovative theorising and methodologies (‘Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Contexts’, 2005-2011).

The image is one of the cover of Great Ancestors: Women Asserting Rights in Muslim Contexts. Edited by F. Shaheed. Published by Shirkat Gah, 2004. Lahore, Pakistan. This shows a drawing of merged black and white faces.
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