Morocco has been held up as a brilliant example of progress for other MENA nations grappling with questions of gender equity and democracy, even before the Arab Spring Revolutions. Expanding a trend that was inaugurated by his father, King Hassan II, King Mohammad VI made it clear that in his Morocco, women’s concerns mattered. During the 12+ years of his reign, the King has taken concrete steps to demonstrate the ways in which women would be publicly visible, equal partners in the development of the country’s democratic institutions. Forgoing his legal right to 4 wives (under Islamic Shari’a law), he vowed that Salma Bennani, a computer engineer who he married in 2002, would be his only wife.  Breaking with tradition, he gave her a title, H.R.H Princess Lalla Salma, and made sure that she was publicly visible, not just to his Moroccan subjects, but to the entire world. In 2003, he gave his blessing to the reform of Morocco’s Moudawana, or Personal Status Laws, an impressive feat whose legwork was carried out by a coalition of secular feminists, religious authorities and Islamic organizations, human rights activists, and community leaders.  (After initially rejecting it, the Party of Justice and Development, PJD, accepted the new Moudawana in 2003).  Following the bombing of Casablanca in 2003 by a group believed to be affiliated with the Salafia Jihadia, he inaugurated a program to train women as religious leaders (murshidat) and install them in mosques in urban and rural towns across the country.  The stated goal of this program, profiled in the film “Class of 2006” by Charlotte Mangin (Producer) and Gini Reticker (Director), was...

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Where are the women leaders of the Arab Spring?

(Original post published April 22, 2012)

I’ve been speaking a lot with students in my Women in Islam and Gender andIslamic Activism classes about the ways in which women living in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle EastNorth Africa, and South Asia have become a lot more visible as social actors in the public sphere.  And I tell them that this is not a new phenomenon: women have been important social actors in the MENA, Africa and Asia for a long time.  There are a lot more women judges, activists, politicians and religious leaders out there today who are recognized — within their own communities and nations and beyond — as leaders in their respective fields than perhaps at any other time in history.  But for every Shirin Ebadi, Zainah Anwar,Benazir Bhutto or Su’ad Saleh, there are a lot more women out there that are largely unknown by the wider world, and largely ignored by the mainstream Western media.

With all of the media attention focused on the transformations in the MENA since the Arab spring began in 2011, I have to wonder why so little of it has focused on the role that women have played in bringing about these changes.  And this goes to the heart of the question that is most on my mind these days: where are all the women leaders of the Arab Spring?

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