Islamism: Poison or Antidote for Women’s Rights?

(post originally published May 30, 2012)

Are women’s rights and Islamism (here, “political Islam”) diametrically opposed?  That is the common consensus, at least among policymakers and pundits in the West.  But all over the world, women are embracing Islamism as the source – not the antithesis—of their power and authority.  Why would women support Islamist movements that have historically opposed women’s political participation and public visibility and have only recently, sometimes reluctantly, embraced the idea of women’s mobilization?  Explanations of women’s attraction to Islamism have ranged from seeing women as victims of “false consciousness” to enumerating the ways in which they benefit from such “patriarchal bargains” (to borrow Deniz Kandiyoti’s well-known phrase), to seeing women’s activism through Islamist channels as a way for them to claim their rights as women through more widely acceptable paradigms, while simultaneously avoiding the charge of being “Western style-feminists.”

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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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