Historically, agency of women is egregiously reduced in a time of war. Even in stable countries like Tunisia and Egypt, women pursuing the advancement and codification of their political, social and economic rights are hindered by deeply conservative societies and dominant Islamist political parties. Unless these realities change, will women eventually hit a ceiling in their pursuit of equality?
FEMINISM IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
Today, discourse on feminism in the Muslim-world has largely revolved around whether or not women’s rights are compatible with Islam. Can women achieve equal rights under an Islamic government? To what extent can they campaign for women’s rights in a conservative society?
Deniz Kandiyoti argues that there are only two trajectories feminist discourse can take: either deny that Islamic practices are oppressive, or claim that oppressive practices are not Islamic.
Both trajectories fail to address the limitations and shortcomings of feminism that operates within an Islamic framework. For one, any form of Islamic governance or jurisprudence is incompatible with pluralism, because the imposition of any religion will inherently restrict individual choice. It is difficult to deny that women’s rights are best progressed in environments that promote pluralism, such as a secular democracy.
However, publicly criticizing Islam or promoting secularism could be more problematic than beneficial for women’s-rights activists. For one, it could delegitimize these campaigns, especially if they are operating in conservative societies. Government authorities themselves could accuse them of being funded by the West, and outright ban them. Inversely, these new governments also realize they cannot belittle women’s-rights movements, especially after the role they played in the Arab Spring.
Islam can not only define the work of some women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), but can also help enable them to become agents of change in their communities. This is especially helpful for women in conservative societies that require time to open up and undergo an organic process so that rights codified in law also become norms on the ground.
(Fascinating essay. Read it all.)