Women in Muslim States and Politics

• Women have gained basic political right, the right to vote and to stand for office in almost all Muslim-majority states, with the last major holdouts, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, on the verge of joining the others. Despite having such rights, Muslim women, like women worldwide, are underrepresented in high office and legislatures. However, a number of Muslim countries outside of MENA have seen women in high office in numbers that exceed world averages. Such cases of above-average office holding generally reflect quota systems and/or the power of family ties in politics.

• Although Muslim women are underrepresented in formal politics, their activism within Muslim states for the advancement of women’s rights and interests is widespread and growing. Advocacy and activist groups have proliferated, exhibiting great variety in their political complexion, in their avowal of religious commitment, and in the radicalism of their demands for change. • In the 1990s, secular feminists and so-called Islamic feminists, formerly at odds, achieved some rapprochement. Secular feminists now recognize value in the other camp’s preoccupation with providing woman-friendly “rereading” of Islam’s sacred texts.

Justifying feminist activism in Islamic terms shields feminist demands from the charge that they are alien Western impositions. Islamic feminists increasingly see Islamic precepts and universal (e. g. , United Nations) articulations of human/women’s rights as compatible. • A significant development for Muslim women’s rights activists in the past decade has been the growth of transnational networks, such as Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Sisters in Islam. Exploiting the revolution in communications, these networks advocate legal reform and organize resistance to Islamist threats to women’s progress.