The Bedouin woman

In today’s globalised world, the Bedouin woman balances between her aspirations and the challenges she faces within a patriarchal, male-dominated society, and as part of a discriminated ethnic (Arab) minority group.

This online exhibition is dedicated to her.

The Bedouin woman

In today’s globalised world, the Bedouin woman balances between her aspirations and the challenges she faces within a patriarchal, male-dominated society, and as part of a discriminated ethnic (Arab) minority group.

This online exhibition is dedicated to her.

The particular topic has been a deliberate choice, as in this cultural heritage project, she was the first to respond to us, contribute and collaborate. She is the one who shared a vision for continuity of the Bedouin identity and the one who carries and transmits the history of her tribe to her children.

During this project we met Bedouin mothers, wives, women farmers, cooks and small business owners; we discussed with elder women and young girls; we sang, laughed and shared our thoughts, worries and dreams.

Focussing on women forces us to look at human relationships from a different perspective and thus understand the socioeconomic and cultural hierarchies of rule (like those of gender, race, tribe and sexuality), their interconnectedness, and their effects on their everyday lives.

With this online exhibition we aim to present the Bedouin woman in her own words and as someone who does not imagine herself as a victim or dependent of governing structures of her patriarchal society, but as an agent of her own life and the life of her children.

The role of the woman in the past and now

“The woman was hand in hand with the man in everything and sometimes she used to help with the animals’ grazing. There was too much to carry on her shoulders.

In the Abou Eid tribe, the woman welcomes and honours the guest if the man is not present, she slaughters the animal… it becomes her duty to slaughter, cook, and welcome the guest when the man is not there. This means that she was playing all roles. Unlike the man who only sat at the gatherings to talk, laugh and drink coffee, before becoming sedentary and embrace modernity, the woman had a greater role in the Bedouin life.”

“In the Abou Eid tribe, the woman welcomes and honours the guest if the man is not present, she slaughters the animal… it becomes her duty to slaughter, cook, and welcome the guest when the man is not there. This means that she was playing all roles. Unlike the man who only sat at the gatherings to talk, laugh and drink coffee, before becoming sedentary and embrace modernity, the woman had a greater role in the Bedouin life.”

“Nowadays, in Jordan, there are empowerment programmes, but a long time ago the Bedouin woman used to have an empowered position in her society… she used to welcome the guest, travel from Jordan to Syria though Hauran, when there were no borders. She had full freedom as she used to bring the firewood, take the camels and the livestock for grazing. But in late 70s and early 80s, and excuse me for saying this, Islam interfered. For example, in the Badia in the past the tattoo existed, but under what is “haram” bearing in mind that it is part of our identity. Our outfit changed completely, and the woman is not independent in her words.”

“The girls’ hair was not fully covered; it was either braided or straight. Although she used to put the osba (veil) like Em Ezz Eldine here, her hair was still visible… it wasn’t considered a shame or haram.”

Integrity and honour

“We have a famous story of Em Ezz Eldine’s aunt. She was in love with a guy, she travelled on the camels with him from Hauran to Lebanon she swore that they never been in close contact with each other and that he never touched her although they were in love for 25-30 years. There was integrity, there was purity in life… and that came from the purity of the desert and the air that was in Bat Al Shaar.”

Marriage

“Married couples should be compared to two souls in the same body. The relationship should be exemplary, and this is what is needed. A man should not be married to a woman or a woman should not be with a man if she is not feeling that they are two souls in the same body.”

“Marriage is sacred, it needs to be sacred for the woman and the man.”

Polygamy

“If we talk about this masculine world… the women really don’t have the choice to refuse polygamy. I do not think that any women want that for themselves.”

“In our Bedouin society we still have a lot of polygamy. But it comes from the prism of applying Sharia law and through religion. Men only remember religion when it comes to polygamy.”