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Saudi Feminism: Exploring Saudi Activists’ Agency Amidst Authoritarianism Open Access

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In the Arab World, women are portrayed as being trapped by religion and society on the one hand, or as being tools of legitimation for authoritarian states on the other hand. Such an understanding is even more prevalent of Saudi Arabia, where a lack of democracy and a perceived abundance of traditionalism have led to an assumed absence of feminist movements altogether, especially their positing women’s political agency. As such, the aim of this thesis will be to problematize this assumption of structural pervasiveness and showcase where and how Saudi female activists do, in fact, posit political agency. It will consider Saudi women as situated within a feminist activist framework, inspired by social movement theory, particularly Zakia Salime’s concept of “movement moments”. It will also show how the recent period of the Arab Spring and the rise of social media in Saudi Arabia meant that Saudi feminist activists and movements became highly visible. Not only this, but that Saudi women’s activism was mutually influenced by other political movements not commonly associated with such. In doing so, it will also challenge the dichotomies of Saudi women’s activism versus political activism, Saudi women activists versus Islamist activists and Saudi men. It will also be carried out in a way that problematizes the concept of ‘Saudi feminists’ or ‘Saudi women activists’ itself, by considering activists of broad ideological, geographic, and religious backgrounds in Saudi Arabia.

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