I have been struggling to articulate the term Feminism in my native language (Arabic). The word itself does not exist in Arabic. Thus, the concept is commonly referred to as ‘Women’s rights’ (حقوق المرأة) and it is sometimes translated to ‘Womanism’ (النسوية) although the latter is used in academic context but not commonly used in spoken language. It is strange that such a rich and complex language does not have a term for a global historical concept like feminism. It is ironic, on the other hand that the term ‘masculinism’ (الذكورية) is a very well know term in Arabic. This made me wonder, is Arabic a sexist language?
This is a big question that needs more research and investigation (which I might try to explore in a bit more details in another post). Generally, gender-biased languages are common in many cultures around the world, not only Arabic. Research has shown some examples of the gender-biased use in English and Arabic.
How to identify a word in Arabic that captures the meaning of ‘feminism’ in English?
I have looked at the derivation of Feminism in English and tried to follow the same pattern in Arabic. Feminism is derived from feminine and femininity (مؤنث و أنوثة). Likewise, we can either say (أنوثية) or (أنثوية) for feminism.
I have also looked at the derivation of Masculism which actually exists in Arabic (الذكورية) and is derived from masculine (ذكر) and based on this we can see that ( Unoothiya = أنوثية) is derived in the same way.Looking at the literature I found that Kamal Abu Deep (1997) has coined the same term “Unoothiya” in translating ‘feminism’ which has been a remarkable departure from ‘womanism’ (النسوية).
Other similar terms that do not exist in Arabic:
- Activism (although ‘activist’ exists as ‘ناشط\ناشطة’ )
- Sexism (referred to as gender discrimination التمييز الجنسي أو العنصرية الجنسية)