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The F word does not exist in Arabic


I have been struggling to articulate the term Feminism in my native language (Arabic). The word itself does not exist in Arabic. Thus, the concept is commonly referred to as ‘Women’s rights’ (حقوق المرأة) and it is sometimes translated to ‘Womanism’ (النسوية) although the latter is used in academic context but not commonly used in spoken language. It is strange that such a rich and complex language does not have a term for a global historical concept like feminism. It is ironic, on the other hand that the term ‘masculinism’ (الذكورية) is a very well know term in Arabic. This made me wonder, is Arabic a sexist language?

This is a big question that needs more research and investigation (which I might try to explore in a bit more details in another post). Generally, gender-biased languages are common in many cultures around the world, not only Arabic. Research has shown some examples of the gender-biased use in English and Arabic.

How to identify a word in Arabic that captures the meaning of ‘feminism’ in English? 

I have looked at the derivation of Feminism in English and tried to follow the same pattern in Arabic. Feminism is derived from  feminine and femininity (مؤنث و أنوثة). Likewise, we can either say (أنوثية) or (أنثوية) for feminism.

I have also looked at the derivation of Masculism which actually exists in Arabic (الذكورية) and is derived from masculine (ذكر) and based on this we can see that ( Unoothiya = أنوثية) is derived in the same way.Looking at the literature I found that Kamal Abu Deep (1997) has coined the same term “Unoothiya” in translating ‘feminism’ which has been a remarkable departure from ‘womanism’ (النسوية).

Other similar terms that do not exist in Arabic:

  • Activism (although ‘activist’ exists as ‘ناشط\ناشطة’ )
  • Sexism (referred to as gender discrimination التمييز الجنسي أو العنصرية الجنسية)
  • Ablism


I am Tag. A global citizen, lifelong learner and a free thinker. As a PhD student in HCI , my main interests fall in the intersection of cross cultural design and social change. Thus, my blog is focused on -but not limited to- this area. I have been writing in blogs, social media and newspapers for a while but that was in Arabic (my native language). However, being in the UK now and doing my PhD in English, made me consider starting to write and blog in English.

6 thoughts on “The F word does not exist in Arabic

  1. Words that do not exist in other languages, a fact so well-known to translators. For instance: “to compromise” does not exist in Spanish, and it is such a false friend of a similar word…
    Or take the case of the Japanese people during the mid-19th century. The Meiji era meant receiving a lot of Western concepts and ideas. Japanese law had no concept whatsoever for “rights” ! Imagine that. They had to invent rights, the word for rights, and the idea itself of rights.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love words that does not have translation to another language, like: saudade, wabi-sabi, duende, etc
    These words keep the magic, the essence of their culture,
    In this hyper globalized world we need more of them; words that show us in a
    good way our differences, or uniqueness.


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