Mum's (in) the word: challenging a 'sexist' Arabic root

Mum's (in) the word: challenging a 'sexist' Arabic root
2 min read
26 Mar, 2018
A leading Middle Eastern brand has teamed up with linguists to introduce a more gender-balanced term for 'parenthood', away from its current paternal-root.
The Arabic word for 'parenthood' is 'al-obuwah', literally, 'fatherhood' [YouTube]
Mother's Day - celebrated in the Arab world on 21 March - normally comes and goes without major significance, beyond the usual celebratory wishes.

In fact, these calendar days are more often than not, mocked and dismissed. Last week, an image of a cake with cut-outs of detergents and gloves was shared on Mother’s Day, prompting outrage among Arabs on Twitter for the sexist connotation.

One leading Middle Eastern brand has decided to challenge the narrative. The Arabic language contains a number of paternal-centred roots, with the male term encompassing both genders in meaning, similar to the way the gender-neutral English word "mankind".

One such word is "parenthood". The Arabic counterpart for parenthood is "al-obuwah", which literally means "fatherhood". This comes from the root "ab" - which means "father" - and completely omits any mention of the "mother".

Babyshop, a leading Middle East brand that prides itself on celebrating parenthood, decided this Mother's Day to challenge this linguistic norm.

Working with a team of Arab linguists, the agency introduced a new Arabic word, "al-umobuwah", incorporating the root "um" for "mother" in order to give both parents equal representation in the word "parenthood".

Translation: Let us use the word al-umobuwah so that we can bring mother into parenthood. Great initiative by Babyshop.

With the introduction of "al-umobuwah", Babyshop hopes to recognise and celebrate mothers and the important role they play, not just for Mother's Day - but every day.

The campaign was launched with an online video to share the purpose, and over 30 social media influencers were signed on to adopt the word on their online platforms.

Babyshop has also released a new clothing line titled "al-umobuwah".

The campaign hopes to see the word introduced into the Arabic dictionary.