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Dr Mulki Al Sharmani from the Middle East Hub attended the 106th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC from 28 to 30 November 2007. Her paper was part of a panel entitled ‘Negotiating Conceptions of Family, Intimacy, and Marriage’. The panel was reviewed by the Association for Feminist Anthropology. There were five presentations in the panel. The papers drew on ethnographic research conducted in various geographical areas such as the USA, Taiwan, Dominica, Belize, and Egypt. The first paper investigated how a rapidly-growing evangelical mega-church preaches a “complementarian” view of men and women as created “equal yet different”. The paper then examined how the notion of “equality”, which shapes current efforts in the USA to legalise same-sex marriages, relates to, as well as diverges from, the notion of “complementarity” of gender roles.

The second paper contributed to a greater understanding of gendered relationships in Dominica. It described rural female household heads’ ideas regarding men failing in their roles as providers and fathers. The paper also highlighted men’s reactions to these roles.

The third paper examined how educated working wives and mothers in Taiwan were seeking and finding agency and empowerment in their families through local and individualised practices and strategies that negotiated rather than challenged traditional norms governing gender roles and relations within the family.

The fourth paper showed how the increasingly significant economic roles that women were playing in the tourism industry in Belize has enabled them to make choices about forming different kinds of families: some opted not to get married; others did not want to have children or had fewer children; and some were able to support their children on their own and thus ended undesirable marriages.

Lastly, Mulki’s paper examined the dynamic process of reforming certain aspects of Egyptian family laws; the enactments and (sometimes) subversions of these new laws in the gender politics of court rooms; and the impact of these legal changes on women.

Through a multiplicity of theoretical approaches that included discursive, institutional, and political economy analyses, the papers in this panel shed light on the gendering of marriage and marital roles. Also, the papers highlighted transformations that are taking place in conceptions and practices of marriage and family life due to new economic roles and relations between couples, shifting discourses of marriage and family, and changes in legal and religious institutions that structure and regulate marriage and family relations.

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