Jordan loses leading intellectual and women's right champion, Rula Quawas

Jordan loses leading intellectual and women's right champion, Rula Quawas
3 min read
26 July, 2017
A well-known champion of women's rights in Jordan and adored by her many students, Rula Quawas' death has touched the many people who knew her.
Quawas was an inspiration for her students [Facebook]
One of Jordan's leading thinkers passed away on Tuesday, with tributes mentioning the many roles Rula Quawas played as an academic, teacher and women's rights activist.

Quawas was probably best known for advancing women's rights in Jordan, but her role as an educator was no less important. She taught English literature at the University of Jordan and was the founder of the country's first women's studies centre.

Her willingness to incorporate revolutionary methods into teaching and controversial theorists to the classroom - such as French philosopher Michel Foucault - saw her inspire a generation of young Jordanian literature students.

For them, it was an education unlike any other.

"I will never forget those words she engraved in our minds: 'Be inspired, be empowered, and be blessed'. You could feel the passion in every single word that came from her mouth," said Farah Saad, a former student of Quawas.

"Her continuous encouragement - in a magical way - made each and every student not only think. but believe, that he or she can be anything they wish to become."

Quawas spoke of empowerment and encouraged students to find their own voices, despite studying the words of others. She once told SBS in Australia that her students preferred the stories of Arab women rather than "white Americans" as they were more relatable.

Her dedication to developing young Jordanians and ensuring they had access to the same methods taught in foreign universities saw countless students follow in her footsteps into academia. 

"She was a deconstructionist and insisted on teaching some of the most revolutionary theories at the university despite being warned against it," said Alia Nusseibeh, a former MA student who interviewed Quawas.

She was also determined to stay in Jordan despite attempts from other colleges to lure her abroad. Her students never forgot this loyalty.

"She had a huge network of academics and feminists and was friends with some of my own professors at SOAS [in London] but she never took that as an opportunity to leave, you know, which is a big deal in my opinion," said Nusseibeh.

"She was approached by many universities and gender research centres abroad - in the UK and US - but she told me that she would rather stay at Jordan University because she owed it to her country and students to give back."

Quawas was also one of the pioneering feminist voices in Jordan, arguing that women's rights were simply human rights and believed empowerment came from within.

"You have to be the one to arm yourself with the skills, the training and the knowledge to be able to protect yourself," she told a crowd at the 1,000 Voices forum in Amman.

"You have to believe in yourself no matter what happens... so don't dare say that you need to be protected because you can do it. Look at you, young vibrant women, can't you take care of yourselves? You can, every single day. You wake up in the morning and say 'you know what, today is going to be a new day.'"