• Fruma Zachs, Yuval Ben-Bassat
  • International Journal Middle East Studies, October 2015, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s0020743815000975

What is it about?

This article focuses on petitions by Ottoman women from Greater Syria during the late Ottoman era. After offering a general overview of women’s petitions in the Ottoman Empire, it explores changes in women’s petitions between 1865 and 1919 through several case studies. The article then discusses women’s “double-voiced” petitions following the empire’s defeat in World War I, particularly those submitted to the King-Crane Commission. The concept of “double-voiced” petitions, or speaking in a voice that reflects both a dominant and a muted discourse, is extended here from the genre of literary fiction to Ottoman women’s petitions. We argue that in Greater Syria double-voiced petitions only began to appear with the empire’s collapse, when women both participated in national struggles and strove to protect their rights as women in their own societies.

Why is it important?

Compared to men, Ottoman women do not seem to have submitted many petitions to Istanbul during the Ottoman era. Not surprisingly, petitioning largely remained a male domain. The limited number of women’s petitions found in the archives are nonetheless significant, for they indicate a general tendency by women to avoid using the mechanism of petitioning the imperial center. Those women who did petition the imperial center did so as a last resort, when all other avenues for obtaining concessions or compromises had failed. At times petitioning could lead to the review of a legal issue based on principles less dogmatic and strict than those based on sharia limitations. Most women’s petitions had to do with issues such as inheritance, property, marriage, and divorce. Changes in women’s petitions occurred only gradually, though they were particularly noticeable after the 1908 revolution and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

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