Going beyond Conflict: Secular Feminists, Islamists, and Gender Policy Reform

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Going beyond Conflict: Secular Feminists, Islamists, and Gender Policy Reform

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Title: Going beyond Conflict: Secular Feminists, Islamists, and Gender Policy Reform
Author: Shehabuddin, Sarah Tasnim
Citation: Shehabuddin, Sarah Tasnim. 2012. Going beyond Conflict: Secular Feminists, Islamists, and Gender Policy Reform. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Today, most Muslim-majority countries must contend with two realities: Islamists’ increasing access to political participation on the one hand and domestic and international pressures for women’s rights on the other. This dissertation seeks to identify the conditions necessary for resolving tensions between Islamist demands for political inclusion and secular feminists’ demands for the institutionalization of women’s rights in Muslim-majority countries. Attempts at gender reform have not only been rare, but have also usually excluded either secular feminists or Islamists due to state actors’ inability or unwillingness to resolve conflict between them. In some contexts, however, power holders have initiated inclusive consultative arrangements, mechanisms (commissions, committees, and mediation) that enable both secular feminists and Islamists to participate in gender policy-making processes, in spite of divergent ideological preferences, and thereby generated more broadly supported reforms. This dissertation argues that attempts at conflict resolution between secular feminists and Islamists are more likely to arise in the context of an autonomous state where the power holder needs the support of both groups. Such a state has both the flexibility and willingness to include both Islamists and secular feminists in the policy-making process. In states that do not enjoy autonomy from non-state actors, the state is less likely to have the flexibility to adopt policy-making processes that do not serve the politicized interests of dominant actors. I build this argument by conducting a comparative historical analysis of state development and relations among power holders, secular feminists, and Islamists, as well as drawing on interviews with politicians, bureaucrats, scholars, and activists in Morocco and Bangladesh. In both of these countries, secular feminists and Islamists have had antagonistic relations and ideological differences, but both groups participated in gender policy reform in Morocco, whereas in Bangladesh, multiple attempts at gender policy-making have excluded one group or the other. I then assess the extent to which an argument based on state autonomy and political alliances explains variation in the inclusiveness of gender policy-making processes in four other Muslim-majority countries (Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Pakistan).
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10381394
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