Photo by Madeline Offerman
For doctoral candidate, educator, and Palestinian activist Rana Sharif, feminism goes beyond merely fighting for gender equality. “I think it’s about everything,” she states, going on to assert that feminism is about “solidarity and allyship, regardless of one’s gender, sex, sexual orientation, social or physical location.” Rana sees feminism as something that is constantly influencing our lives on various levels, and because of this, “We should be taking up arms every day advocating for equal access and rights for all people… I think feminism is the right for all of us to have access to health care, education, living wages, and the right to feel safe. It is about dignity, security, and [living] without fear.”
This passion and urgency can be seen in her work on behalf of the Palestinian community. Rana’s upbringing was influenced by Palestinian activism from a young age, and she maintained and strengthened her connection to the community as she got older. With both Palestinian activism and feminism being central to who she is, naturally they impact each other. “My Palestinian identity is very much implicated in my identity as a feminist. They only exist [in intersection]. I learned about them at the same time and that is the only way that I see and understand the world,” Rana explains. These influences later led her to work with women in Palestine that were active during the first and second uprisings upon receiving a grant during her undergraduate years. Rana went on to become involved in the Palestinian Women’s Association, serving on the board and the executive board for ten years, beginning in 2005.
The intersection between her gender and Palestinian identity is what prompted Rana to pursue a graduate degree in gender studies at UCLA and conduct research regarding Palestine. “My Palestinian activism is very much informed by the role of Palestinian women in the struggle, not just in the national struggle but also having their own feminist political agenda.” Rana published a research paper in 2014 detailing how gender and occupation can impact access to healthcare, as she observed during her time in Palestine.
Broadly, Rana’s research examines the role of digital culture in and about Palestine. She studies Palestine-created cultural repositories, such as the “visual storytelling” of Visualizing Palestine, which creates data-based visual tools to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict. Her dissertation focuses on the Palestinian media outlet, the Shehab News Agency, relying heavily on digital tools to convey the realities of life under military occupation. She is especially interested in how Palestinians engage with such content to foster resistance. In her thesis, Rana argues that “Palestinian created media sources enable an ethos of revolution… that moves beyond certain taken for granted or assumed practices in Palestine.” In her analysis of the Palestinian produced Shehab News Agency, she has found that this type of media has the capacity to suggest a temporally unbound Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation, produce community in the face of a fractured material existence, and enable feminist knowledge production that undermines the use of women as revolutionary icons.
An example of how these sites of digital culture function is Shehab News Agency’s discussion of intifada. She explores the #falastine_tantafidh, which means “Palestine is uprising,” and suggests rather than fixing Palestinian resistance into moments of resistance, the media outlet enables a new way of understanding Palestinian resistance that is both temporally unbound and unspectacular. In addition, her analysis of the news agency’s use of feminist iconography asserts that it makes problematic masculinist and nationalist attempts at using women’s bodies. She suggests that it is in the public commentary that a sense of Palestinian community is being fortified in response to the iconography that undermines fixing women to the limiting roles of “mothers” and “sisters” of a struggle.
Rana supports the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement as a powerful tool of activism. BDS works to hold organizations accountable for where their money is going in order to put nonviolent pressure on Israel to comply with international law regarding human rights. Rana believes that, “Boycott, divestment, and sanctions is an ethical strategy to challenge and undermine structures of power.” She further connects it to the feminist movement, asserting that, “Being able to hold power accountable is an inherently feminist project.”
Rana’s work with Palestinian social movements has influenced her passion for teaching. “There is an urgency to be able to tell these stories,” she explains. “Using these kind of examples and stories to help me become a better educator has been the most powerful and profound experience here at UCLA.”
Rana has taught as a Teacher Assistant for gender studies, sociocultural anthropology, and the General Education (GE) cluster Sex: From Biology to Gendered Society. Through teaching, she strives to influence students to think critically about the world they live in. “If I can be part of undermining or challenging things that we think we know, and planting a seed or an iota of wanting to ask more questions … I think that’s a revolutionary act.”
One major goal of Rana’s teaching is to instill the value of intersectional analysis in her students. Many students come into the GE cluster will little understanding of how gender, race, class, sexuality, and other social categories function together within our society. Throughout the year, Rana works to show her students the importance of intersectionality in the discussion of a wide variety of issues. “They come to appreciate the complexity of an intersectional analysis because we can take certain facts to be true but it’s not until they operate in the social world that we have to make sense of and produce meaning out of these facts.,” Rana explains. While intersectionality is generally used in the social sciences and humanities, Rana believes it is just as important for students studying the sciences and the pre-med track. Intersectionality allows them to look at those fields more critically and comprehensively, thus setting them apart from other students as they continue to pursue their field of study.
Rana has found teaching “extremely eye opening and humbling,” and plans to pursue it after she finishes her degree. “I realized over time how much I enjoy working with students, and interacting with them. I feel it is a privilege to support students’ intellectual and professional journey. The classroom is a revolutionary space where I think we build community, forge solidarity and inspire one another to grow and challenge ourselves.”