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Department of Politics, History and International
The Middle East, Women’s Rights
and Secularisation
Does increa...
The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation
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  1. 1. Department of Politics, History and International Relations The Middle East, Women’s Rights and Secularisation Does increasing women’s rights in the Middle East lead to secularisation? Samantha Hill Dissertation Loughborough University
  2. 2. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 2 Table of Contents Abstract ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….3 Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….4 Chapter 1: Secularism and Islam ……………………………………………………………………….11 Chapter 2: Women’s rights, a Secular and Islamic Feminist approach………………17 Chapter 3: The Turkish Case Study……………………………………………………………………..21 Chapter 4: Iran …………………………………………………………………………………………………….31 Chapter 5: Discussion ………………………………………………………………………………………….41 Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..46 Glossary…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………48 Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….49
  3. 3. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 3 Abstract This dissertation has been used to examine whether or not increasing women’s rights has led to secularisation taking place in the Middle East. It does this by analysing two case studies; Turkey and Iran. By focusing on universal human rights such as education and suffrage, it analyses the influence that the majority religious denomination has on each state’s policies. It begins by examining what the theory of secularisation is, its relevance to Islam and its two main religious sects; Sunni and Shia Islam. Throughout, I use secular and Islamic feminist arguments to understand how each policy on the rights of women has been construed by different women at the time. The reasons behind these policies are also examined in relation to religious and secular aspirations. This paper argues that increasing women’s rights has not led to secularisation taking place because women’s rights are not truly a religious or non-religious matter. Religion has simply been used as a tool to enforce state policies and patriarchy to achieve the aims of the state. It has done this in the Middle East by being the main interpreters of Islamic texts since the Prophet Muhammad in 622CE. Due to this reason, as women’s rights have advanced they have been able to use religion to their advantage. By reinterpreting sacred texts, women have been able to combat the patriarchal order of society, and campaign for increased rights in both the secular and the Islamic sphere.
  4. 4. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 4 Introduction According to the United Nations Human Development Reports ‘Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development’ (Gender Inequality Index 2014). Despite great advances in women’s rights since the late nineteenth century, women are still treated unequally to men. Many women throughout the globe face discrimination on a day-to-day basis on issues which should be their human right to pursue; education, political representation, and freedom of religion (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Religion has frequently featured in many debates concerning women’s rights due to it historically intertwining with politics. Some scholars argue that religion has been systematically used to legitimise female oppression by justifying patriarchal demands in religious texts. Others argue that it is religion that will liberate women from their oppression. The aim of this dissertation is to analyse whether or not increasing women’s rights is compatible with religion or if it will ultimately lead to secularisation. The focus will be on two case studies in the Middle East: Turkey and Iran. These two case studies have been chosen because until the early twentieth-century, Islam featured heavily in their state governance (Sunni Islam in Turkey, Shia Islam in Iran). Throughout the past century, both states have undergone secular and religious changes which can be seen in their policies concerning the rights of women. Research questions: 1). Must Islam and secularisation be in constant conflict? 2). Do all women in the Middle East want the same rights?
  5. 5. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 5 3). Does Sunni or Shia state dominance effect women’s rights? Methodology: Two terms are being used throughout this dissertation which need clarification. The first is the ‘Middle East’. The Middle East has been used to described the region of land between the Far East (India and Asia), and the base (Britain) during the British colonial era. This area is also frequently known as the Arab world or the Islamic arena. The second is ‘women’s rights’. As has been noted in the research question, what is a women’s right needs clarification and this will be examined as part of the main body of this dissertation. There has been a lot of literature composed around this research question however much research on women’s rights has been conducted from a western perspective and has been written and published in the West. To overcome this problem I have sought out both primary and secondary sources which are specific to each case study, for example, I have used an article written by a women’s magazine in Turkey on education in Turkey as well as an American journal discussing the same issue. I have also used historical and contemporary sources to see if opinions and facts have evolved over time. Quantitative data has also been used to identify how women’s rights have evolved over a predetermined time frame using statistics to support or disprove claims. Chapter Structure Chapter 1: The first chapter aims to set the foundation of this dissertation by explaining the theory of secularisation and how it relates to the Middle East and Islam. It also seeks to explain the vital differences between Sunni and Shia Islam.
  6. 6. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 6 Chapter 2: The second chapter aims to address the divide over what are and are not women rights’. It does this by drawing on both secular and Islamic feminist arguments. Chapter 3: The third chapter is the Turkish case study. Here, women’s rights in a Sunni Muslim majority state under a secular government will be examined. Chapter 4: The fourth chapter is the Iranian case study. Here, women’s rights will be analysed pre and post–Iranian Revolution, where the Shia Muslim majority state transitioned from a secularising government to an Islamic one. Chapter 5: The final chapter will serve as a discussion to the points raised throughout the Dissertation. Conclusion: The conclusion will answer the research questions and bring this dissertation to a close. Literature review: The subject of women’s rights and Islam is not a new area of study and as a result there is much literature available. However, the underlying theme of my dissertation focuses on the different interpretation of women’s rights by secular and Islamic feminists. There have been five authors that I have found extremely useful as a reference point throughout my research. Margot Badran’s article ‘Between Secular and Islamic Feminism/s: Reflection of the Middle East and Beyond’ provided me with clear definitions and examples of the differences and similarities between secular and Islamic feminists. This article helped me to understand the importance of relativity; what may appear as ‘Islamic feminism’ from a western perspective may appear secular to a more religious person. Ahmed-Ghosh’s journal ‘Dilemmas of Islamic and Secular Feminists and
  7. 7. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 7 Feminism’ is complementary to Badran’s article but expands on collaborative and hybrid feminisms in both Islamic and non-Islamic countries. Unlike Badran, Ahmed-Gosh does not see secular and Islamic feminists as static but rather in a constant state of evolution in accordance with their environment. As Islamic theology is predominantly written in Arabic I have had to rely on interpretations and translations of the literature. Three pieces of literature have greatly enabled me to understand Islamic feminism which uses Islamic theology to promote women’s rights. Isabelle Coleman’s book Paradise beneath her feet was a great gateway for me to understand the Islamic feminist perspective. Coleman uses case studies to show how Islamic verses can be used to promote economic, political and educational opportunities for women. Both Fatima Mernissi’s Women and Islam: A Historical and Theoretical enquiry and Amina Wadud’s Inside the Gender Jihad provide examples as to how the Qur’an can be used to address Islamic feminists concerns. However Wadud’s work highlights the fact that Islamic theology; the Qur’an and subsequent hadiths for example, have all historically been interpreted by men. Therefore if women have the opportunity to interpret these texts for themselves, they may find the answers they seek for their own liberation. Mernissi argues that the history of misogyny stems from interpretations of hadiths being used to combat female influence. For example, she explains that the hadith “those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity” has been frequently cited to justify male dominance. The origin of this hadith has become sceptical; it was recalled by Abu Bakr over a quarter of a century after the death of the Prophet and has been used to contest the influence A’isha (the Prophet Muhammad’s third wife) was showing in regards to
  8. 8. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 8 the Battle of the Camel (Mernissi 1991). Less than two centuries after the Prophets death, Al-Bukhari (a Persian Muslim scholar) set about methodically calculating which hadiths could be falsified, and found that there were ‘already 596,725 false Hadith in circulation’ (Mernissi 1991: 44). A second main theme for research in my dissertation has been what the theory of secularisation entails. The term ‘secularisation’ gained momentum in the 1950s and 60s when it was used to describe religious decline produced by modernity. For many intellectuals at the time this was taken as the assumed natural course pursued by states. Although this theory was ultimately disproved by the Iranian Revolution and evidence of religious resurgence particularly in the Middle East, the works conducted in the mid- twentieth century by Peter Berger, Bryan Wilson and David Martin have provided a great base for working on an argument against their theories. Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart’s book Sacred and Secular: Religion and World Politics Worldwide explains how the theory of secularisation did not materialise as was predicted, “This thesis of the slow and steady death of religion has come under growing criticism; indeed secularization theory is currently experiencing the most sustained challenge in its long history” (Norris and Inglehart 2004: 1). According to Norris and Inglehart, secularisation has been taking place in pockets throughout the world such as; China, France and the United States. Although states have evidence of secularisation, Norris and Inglehart challenge whether or not ‘secular states’ can ever be truly secular when there are frequently religious movements such as the Christianity and Protestantism in the United States.
  9. 9. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 9 Throughout my research I have found that there has been much less research conducted on Turkey in regards to Islam and gender. Authors such as Coleman, Badran and Mernissi have tended to miss-out completely or only briefly touch upon gender and Islam issues in Turkey. Instead their focus has historically been drawn towards Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is understandable, due to the broad nature of Islamic states, that not every country can be targeted for analysis in every piece of research; however, it is of my opinion that Turkey has been systematically forgotten due to its apparent status of a secular state. To overcome this lack of Islamic feminist literature on Turkey, I have found one book in particular that focuses on Turkish women specifically to be particularly helpful; Zehra Arats’ Deconstructing Images of ‘The Turkish Woman’. This text is a compilation of various scholars’ work and has been systematically used by Arat to provide an understanding of how women in Turkey’s lives and beliefs have evolved since the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In contradiction to the Turkish case, there is a wide expanse of literature concerning Islam and gender in Iran. I found Shirin Ebadi’s biography Iran Awakening extremely powerful to read because it displaced a presumption that I had when approaching the subject of Iran and women’s rights; that the motive of the majority of women participating in the Iranian Revolution was for Islamic resurgence. After reading Islamic feminists such as Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s work on Islam and Gender, the Islamic element of the Iranian Revolution appeared almost unavoidable and even necessary. In contradiction, Ebadi describes the Iranian revolution as slightly anarchic; Iranians participated in the Iranian revolution not to bring a new government to power or to increase the power of the religious elite, but to simply dissolve the existing system of governance.
  10. 10. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 10 Throughout this dissertation I have used various governmental and non- governmental research results. When approaching this I have been sceptical of some of the results due to possible biases and have tried, when possible, to source my information from non-partisan groups such as the Pew Research Centre. The statistics by some of the government websites in both Iran and Turkey (although this is most likely the case with all national governments) have shown obvious biases to benefiting the current regime. Limitations to this dissertation This dissertation has been limited to analysing only a few aspects of women’s rights; education and suffrage. Although it aims to cover the majority of factors which affect these rights, it has been clear from the start that of this research project that this would be improbable to do within the allocated word count so some factors have been made systematically absent. The time frame for examining women’s rights in relation to secularisation has also been restricted from the 1920’s until 2009. This time frame has been chosen because the early twentieth century marked two historical events in both Turkey and Iran (the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the Pahlavi era respectively), and a cut-off point was needed to provide a complete investigation.
  11. 11. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 11 Chapter 1: Secularisation and Islam The theory of secularisation Secularisation is the “process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols” (Berger 1967). From the beginning of the Enlightenment period in seventeenth-century Europe, many social scientists and assorted western intellectuals have claimed that a process of secularisation in modernising societies would be inevitable. Intellectuals such as; Thomas Woolston in the eighteenth-century; Thomas Jefferson and Friedrich Engels in the nineteenth-century; and Marx Weber and Sigmund Freud in the twentieth-century have claimed that modernity will triumph over faith because ‘the rise of modern science, pluralism, and consumerism is sure to usher in the decline of religion’ (Coffey 2011). Following the end of World War Two, many social scientists argued that developing societies would shift culturally to post-traditional values as a way of modernisation. Inglehart and Baker claimed that “The world is changing in ways that erode traditional values. Economic development almost inevitably brings the decline of religion, parochism and cultural differences” (Inglehart and Baker 2000). Rodney Stark explored this further when he stated that “modernisation is the casual engine dragging the God’s into retirement” (Stark and Finke 2000). Secularisation was therefore the assumed natural progression adopted by states, replacing religious authority with reason, and has thus become the normative standard. The religious resurgence towards the end of the 20th Century, most notably in the Middle East, was a largely unpredicted phenomenon by many social
  12. 12. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 12 scientists. The Iranian revolution of 1979 forced many intellectuals to re- evaluate their previous stance on the inevitability of secularization. Peter Berger told the New York Times that by “the 21st Century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist worldwide secular culture”. However, in 1999 he re-evaluated his argument due to the obvious religious resurgence that was taking place and stated that the assumption that we live in a secularised world is false, “The world today, with some exceptions… is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever” (Berger 1999). Secularisation, Islam and the Middle East Islam originated in 622CE in the Arabia Peninsula when Muhammad received the call to be God’s messenger during laylat al-qadar (the Night of Power). Islam is the now world’s second-largest religion, with around 23% of the global population identifying as Muslim (1.6 billion). The Middle East-North Africa Region has the highest concentration of Muslims of any region in the world: 93% of its approximately 341 million inhabitants follow Islam (Desilver 2013). Although Islam is a monolithic religion, it is not simply a set of concepts and practices related to its followers and God, it is also a political system. The Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an and the subsequent hadiths, dictate a whole set of ‘social, economic, and moral policies according to which the Islamic community is to be governed’ (Tabari 1982: 20). Halim Barakat, a sociologist, stated in the mid 1990’s that “secularism continues to be one of the most controversial and sensitive notions in the Arab world, particularly in terms of Islamic resurgence” (Baraka 1993: 138). The marriage of politics and religion in Islam makes secularisation extremely difficult because
  13. 13. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 13 “opinion is almost unanimous that Islam is opposed to secularism by its very nature” (Baraka 1993: 138). The Lebanese Council of Ulama declared in 1976 that ‘Secularism has no place in the life of a Muslim; either Islam is to exist without secularism or secularism is to exist without Islam’. Secularisation would explicitly challenge the first of the five pillars of Islam; the Shahadah. The Shahadah constitutes the core principle of Islam which declares that there is no god but God (Allah). All Muslims must follow the message of Allah as was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Qur’an and subsequent hadiths. Conflict can arise between Islamic followers and the state when the state tries to impose secular laws on its citizens because “legislation belongs to Allah and not to human mortals” (Tabari 1982: 20). In countries where the state claims allegiance to Islam, its Islamic political order cannot be ignored, following secular laws over Islamic laws would be seen as blasphemous and in direct opposition to the will of Allah (Tabari 1982: 20). If this situation arises, it is a Muslim’s religious duty to follow Sharia and reject the state. Ernest Gellner has written that “no secularization has taken place in the world of Islam” (Geller 1991: 2) and in a recent Pew report published in 2013, a series of face- to-face interviews were conducted with over 38,000 Muslims in 39 countries and found that in the Middle East-North Africa region, 74% of those asked were in favour of enshrining Sharia as official law (Desilver 2013). Islam and Secularisation Like all religions, Islam is very diverse and consists of many different sects which follow their own religious interpretations. All followers of Islam maintain that Allah is the only God and that Muhammad was his Prophet however, there are the two dominant sects within Islam; Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunnis and
  14. 14. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 14 Shiites share ‘most basic religious tenets however their differences sometimes have been the basis for religious intolerance, political infighting, and violent confrontations’ (Blanchard 2005). Not only are Sunni and Shia beliefs engaged with on the individual, personal level, but they can also be seen at state level in the government policies of Sunni and Shia majority countries. These different approaches will be analysed in the following case studies using Turkey as the Sunni Muslim example and Iran as the Shia Muslim example. The Sunni and Shiite Muslim divide occurred after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 AD without proclaiming his successor. Muslims were divided over whether or not the next leader of Islam should be awarded to ‘a qualified and pious individual who would lead by following the customs of the Prophet or to preserve the leadership exclusively through the Prophet’s bloodline’ (Blanchard 2005). Sunni Muslims held that Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s close friend and advisor (who was eventually declared as Caliph), was the rightful successor. Shiites in contrast maintained that Ali ibn Abi Talib - the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, husband of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima- should have succeeded Muhammad. This divide is important when looking into the policies and beliefs of each sect. Sunnism The majority of Muslims today are Sunni’s making up 87-90% of the Muslim population compared to the estimated 10-13% of the world’s Muslim population which associates with Shiism (Pew Forum 2009). Sunnism originated from the meritocratic system which elected Abu Bakr as the first of four Caliphs to succeed the Prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr was chosen due to his position in society and his previous experience. Sunni’s do not bestow upon human beings a divine power which entitles them to lead, such as the Prophets in the Qur’an,
  15. 15. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 15 and instead focus more on credentials that they have earned throughout their lives, and whether or not this makes them equipped to lead. As a result of this, many Sunni religious teachers have historically been under the control of the state. In theory, Sunnis believe that the leader (imam) of the Muslim community should be selected on the basis of communal consensus, on the existing political order, and on a leader’s individual merits. It would be expected, therefore, that Sunni’s do not have a strong religious hierarchical system and tend to be more flexible in allowing lay persons to serve as prayer leaders and preachers. This flexible approach can be seen in Sunni majority countries which have allowed women to actively participate in religious activities such as leading prayer service and also leading Muslims on the hajj. Shiism In contrast to Sunni’s, Shiites believe in a spiritual association that is passed down between religious leaders. Shiite’s maintain that the Prophet’s rightful successor should have been Ali ibn Abi Talib. According to Shiism and Twelver Shiism- which is the dominant thesis within Shiisms – the twelve Imams who preceded Ali ibn Abi Talib had been chosen by Allah through Muhammad as they were blood line descendants. As a result, Shia’s believe that the imams were sinless and free from error so should be revered. Since the first imam, each religious leader has chosen a successor and, according to Shiite beliefs, has passed down a type of spiritual knowledge. Due to this spiritual association imams have previously served as both spiritual and political leaders in the Middle East. However, as Sunni Muslim rulers began to win the political battles of the region, imams focused on developing a spirituality that would be at the core of Shiite religious practices and beliefs. When the line of imams directly descended
  16. 16. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 16 from Ali ibn Abi Talib ended (the twelfth imam), mujtahids (religious leaders) gained the right to interpret Islamic theology and distribute the religious and legal ramifications to the wider Shia community. The most learned and superior of the mujtahids became known as ayatollahs (‘signs of God’); there is a divine association with those proclaimed as Ayatollah or Grand Ayatollah that is specific to Shia Muslims. Sunni, Shia and Secularisation Within both Shiism and Sunniism there are further divides however it is the differences between, rather that within these sects that is most relevant to this study. The importance of analysing the difference between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam is extremely important when looking into the relationship between Islam and the state. It is clear that Sunni Islam has taken a more democratic approach as it maintains that religious leaders must earn their places, as such, it does not enforce a predetermined, divine right to lead, as does the Shiite sect. This separation can also be seen in the inclusive demeanour of Sunni Islam. Sunniism is the majority Islamic religion in the Middle East and a reason for this could be because it has the ability to grow alongside more western principles such as democracy and gender equality. Due to the meritocratic and non-divine association Sunnism has with it leaders, the western principles described here would be easier to consolidate. In contrast to this, Shia Islam can be seen as more conservative and traditional. Its focus on the divine right of imam’s to lead leaves little room for interpretation and movement to embrace the wider strands of society. Shiisms belief in the sinless nature of its divine leaders can almost be seen as unwavering devotion to its religious elite which was evidenced in Iran after the Iranian Revolution.
  17. 17. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 17 Chapter 2: Women’s rights, a Secular and Islamic Feminist approach Women’s rights and feminism The term ‘feminism’ originates from the late 1880s in France when Hubertine Auclert used it to ‘criticise male pre-dominance (domination) and to make claims for women’s rights and emancipation promised by the French revolution’ in her journal, La Citoyenne (Badran 2009: 242). Since, feminism has been used to put a name to the ‘set of beliefs and ideas that belong to the broad social and political movement to achieve greater equality for women’ (Owen 1994: 413). Although the term feminism has remained the same over the past century, its significance and meaning has been constantly adapted and challenged. There are many different aspects to consider when looking at women’s rights and therefore different types of feminisms have been produced in particular places and articulated in local terms (Badran 2009: 243). Women’s rights, feminism and Islam Similar to Islam and secularisation in the previous chapter, Islam and feminism are sometimes seen as an oxymoron. The Qur’an is quite explicit at times about the rights of men over women, “Men are managers of the affairs of women, for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient” (Qur’an, ‘Women’ verse 38) While many Muslim women agree with the fundamental aspects of feminism; seeking legal, political, and social equality, fighting discrimination, and awareness of the feminine identity, they typically depart from the larger feminist
  18. 18. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 18 movement on issues of family and sexuality (Caha 2014). As a result of this, two feminisms have become dominant in the Middle East; secular and Islam feminisms. Both seek to advance women’s rights but the rights they campaign for and the tactics that they use are different. Secular feminism Secular feminism in the Middle East originated after new national identities were created during western colonisation of the region in the early twentieth-century. These new identities were created based on culture and history rather than religion. Secular feminists have argued that to have a strong and prosperous nation state, all aspects of society need to be developed. Capitalising on the arrival of the printing press and the spread of literacy among women at this time, secular feminists were able to pair ‘their own liberation and advance with that of the nation’ (Badran 2005 and 2009). Together these phenomena gave rise to a new female writing and reading public who now had the means to explore their own oppression and show how women’s oppression was a barrier to societal progress; various United Nations Development Programmes (2002 and 2005) have cited that one of the reasons for the lack of economic and technological prosperity among some Arab states is because of the “lack of freedom, lack of knowledge and the lack of women empowerment” (Coleman 2010: 29). Secular feminists argue that state decisions should be made on economic and political levels, irrespective of religion. Although some secular feminists argue that religion should be confined to the private sphere, other secular feminists, such as Leila Ahmed, Erica Friedl, and Fatima Mernissi have concluded that Islam and feminism are unconditionally incompatible. Moghadam states that
  19. 19. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 19 “Women’s rights and human rights are best promoted and protected in an environment of secular thought and secular institutions”(Ahmed-Ghosh 2008). They maintain that Islam and all religions have been used to exploit certain cultural aspects of societies to propagate patriarchy. In combination with the human rights discourse, secular feminists maintain that to achieve full equality in both the public and private sphere, there needs to be a complete separation of state and religion (Badran 1998). Islamic feminism Islamic feminists, in contrast, have used religion to seek their emancipation from ‘the rubrics of Islamic patriarchy’ within the global umma (Ahmed-Ghosh 2008). By the end of the twentieth-century ‘education had reached more women than ever before…women were also gaining access to education in the highest levels in the religious sciences’(Badran 2009: 303). Increased literacy rates enabled a wider portion of the population to read and interpret religious texts themselves, rather than having interpretations dictated and recited. “In the Arab world traditional patriarchal culture never promoted the reading of the Qur’an, even after it became widely available following the introduction of printing in the nineteenth century. To this day it is still recited, chanted, and repeated by heart but not, or rarely, read. Interpretation has remained the monopoly of specialists or religious officials, whose exegesis, moreover, derives less from the sacred text than traditional commentaries on it” (Sharabi 1988: 87) (Bouroujderi). Islamic Feminists argue that the Prophet Muhammad advocated gender equality and social justice rather than the patriarchal structure women are subjected to now. They seek their emancipation through Islam and not western or secular
  20. 20. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 20 feminism. By engaging with Islamic theology, Islamic feminists have ground their arguments in new interpretations of the religious teachings and are able to highlight the way that, previously, the Qur’an has been ‘impeded or subverted by patriarchal ideas and practices’ by males who had historically been the sole interpreters (Badran 2009: 247). Secular and Islamic Feminism Secular and Islamic feminists represent at least two different types of women in the Middles East so it is important to understand the similarities that unite them, as well as the differences which divide them. In Morocco in 2004, secular and Islamic feminists worked together to collect over one million signatures from Moroccans all over the country to campaign for the reformation of the family code (mudawana); raising the marriage age to 18, restricting polygamy and settling divorces in court (Coleman 2013). Although this campaign ran fairly smoothly and was determined as a success, many similar feminist movements such as ‘The One Million Signature Campaign’ in Iran have been met with hostility and sometimes violence. The main divide between secular and Islamic feminism occurs over religion, whereas Islamic feminism views Islam as a way to end their oppression, secular feminists see religion as yet another layer which stands in the way of female freedom. This difference in view point is significant because what may be seen as liberation by one group of women may be seen as oppression by the other thus, creating more opposition towards, as well as within the women’s rights movement.
  21. 21. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 21 Chapter 3: The Turkish case study Until the creation of an independent Turkish Republic in 1923, after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Islamic policies had been present in almost all aspects of Turkish life; both private and public. Although Islam had been used as a uniting feature under the Ottoman Empire, it had also created barriers which proved detrimental to the Turkish economy, the ‘superstitions, dogmas and ignorance’ propagated by religion prevented the Turkish people from ‘becoming modern and prosperous’(Daver). In the newly formed Turkish Republic, General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, looked to ‘strong and prosperous western states’ for inspiration and was strongly influenced by the French idea of laïcité, which demands that religion be kept separate from state affairs. ‘The Turkish intelligentsia led by Atatürk sought secularism as a modernizing principle’ and, post-independence, nationalism, rather than class, religion or ideologies became the ruling principle of the newly formed Republic. This case study aims to examine whether secularisation has been maintained in Turkey and how women’s rights movementshave evolved in accordance to this. The Turkish Republic In 1922 Ataturk’s government began a process of nationalism and state secularisation in Turkey by placing religion under state control. Unlike the Euro- Pacific states that Ataturk modelled his policies on; France, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, secularisation was not created by a popular movement by the people but was state administered and enforced by military forces. The Sultanate was abolished and the Ottoman Caliphate became merely a historic symbol in 1924 when its powers were transferred to the Grand National Assembly (Turkish Cultural Foundation). The Directorate of Religious
  22. 22. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 22 Affairs was also established in 1924 to administer mosques and religious schools, as well as to supervise all religious leaders. The Turkish language was exalted into all aspects of Turkish society, and in 1932, the Adhan (Muslim call to prayer) was rewritten from Arabic to Turkish. With the ‘modernizing reforms that were initiated in the early years of the Republic, the constitution was stripped of all religious references in 1928, and in 1937, secularism was introduced as a constitutional principle’ (Erdogan 1999: 378). Typical Islamic dress such as the fez, turban and hijab were banned and instead Turkish citizens were encouraged to adopt western style clothing (Baran 2010: 94). The Turkish calendar was also changed from Islamic, based on the hijrah, to the Georgian calendar. These changes mentioned here are only a few enforced by the Turkish state throughout the 1920’s and 1930s in a bid to create a stronger, more economically stable Turkey, by removing Islam from the public sphere. As was mentioned previously, the secularisation in Turkey was part of Turkish nationalism and Islamic views concerning women’s fitrat (nature) was another barrier to national progression, as it stopped women from actively engaging in the public domain as equal citizens. “If a society does not wage a common struggle to attain a common goal with its women and men, scientifically there is no way for it to get civilised or developed” (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) and there has been strong correlation of countries with gender equality being the most economically competitive. One way Ataturk wanted to do this was by increasing Turkish access to education and improving rates of literacy.
  23. 23. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 23 Women’s Education ‘Literacy is one of the principal goals of education around the world. The ability to read and write is considered almost a basic human right’ (King and Hill 1997:2). Education is essential to economic and social development and is therefore frequently a priority issue for many developing states. In 1922 Ataturk overhauled the educational system by making education; free, secular and co- educational. Primary school education was made compulsory for all school children aged between six and fourteen and Ataturk encouraged women to actively pursue higher education for the good of the nation “Win for us the battle of education and you will do yet more for your country than we have been able to do” (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk). The larger and more educated the workforce, the faster and more efficiently the national economycould develop, “… Circumstances today require the advancement of our women in all respects. Therefore, our women, too, will be enlightened and learned, and like all men, will go through all educational stages. Then, women and men, walking side by side, will be each other’s help and support in social life” (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk)(Arat 1999: 160). Increasing and encouraging women’s access to education at the start of the republic worked in correlation with the secularisation of the education process. Women who were previously blocked from education due to patriarchal opposition evident in all societies, coupled with Islamic views on women’s fitrat, were liberated as the newly formed Turkish Republic recognised the benefits of educating the entire nation. However, although equality of education has been ratified in the constitution since 1928, it is clear from various studies that equality has not been completely enforced. The focus on girl’s education has
  24. 24. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 24 been systematically different to the education that boys received. In the 1940’s the goals of primary schooleducation included “taking measures according to the characteristics of each sex”, this included “training village girls to acquire the knowledge and habits that would make the family life more hygienic, better and happier” and a report on the village institutes said that the laundry was done by female students so they tended to “miss their classes and lag behind” (Arat 1999). This gender specific curriculum helped propagate the patriarchal systems whereby women were being educated, but for the purpose of learning how to better serve their husband or family and not being allowed an education in their own right, so although women’s rights to education have increased, they were not being taught or treated the same as their male counterparts. Although the prevalence of gender specific education has greatly decreased, according to UNICEF, in 2003, the literacy and enrolment rate for males was still noticeably higher than females in Turkey (93.9% and 80.6%, and 100% and 91.8% respectively). Compared to some other countries, these literacy and enrolment rates seem high however they highlight that women are being held back by social constraints, after being declared equal before the law almost a century earlier. These social constraints will be analysed later in this case study. Article 42 in the Turkish constitution states that, “Education shall be conducted along the lines of the principles and reforms of Atatürk, based on contemporary scientific and educational principles, under the supervision and control of the State. Educational institutions contravening these principles shall not be established” (The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey). As part of Ataturk’s secularisation of education, public secular schools were created and Madrasas were closed, and were replaced in 1924 by regulated
  25. 25. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 25 Islamic schools – Iman Hatip (used to train Sunni religious prayers leaders (Imams) and preachers (Hatips))( Baran 2010: 94)(Ozgur 2012). Although the Turkish constitution states that the focus of education should be on a secular curriculum, in recent years there has been a call for an increase in religious education and to create a ‘pious generation’ sought by Prime Minister Erdogan. Islam is still prominent in many parts of Turkish society, most notably rural villages, and as women’s access to education has increased, there appears to be a reversion to more religious education, by both government policies and student preference. Buket Turkmen, a sociologist at Istanbul's Galatasaray University who has studied the role of women in Turkish Islam, says that ‘for many women who come from traditional homes where they would normally be limited in what they are allowed to do, religious education becomes a path to a certain kind of independence’. “It's very paradoxical, but by choosing Islam, they can gain their individuality and their emancipation” (Schleifer 2005). In this context, Islam means liberation. In 1976 female students gained the right to attend Imam Hatip schools which opened up access to education for more conservative female Muslims. These schools allow girls to be veiled, a right they do not have in other public schools and therefore overcomes one barrier which can be used to stop girls attending school- the ‘harem’ act of unveiling seen by some conservative Muslims (Wilson 2006). 60% of the curriculum in these schools now comprises of non-religious studies which enables both boys and girls who would not have previously attended a public, secular school, to learn about secular and religious education side by side. It is clear that the popularity of these more religiously oriented schools is growing as their number has increased by 90% since 2010 (Wilson 2006).
  26. 26. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 26 Turkish women and girls are increasingly engaging with religious education “attending Qur’an courses over holidays….has become a tradition for Turkish girls. Female participation in the Qur’an courses far exceeds that of males and has steadily increased since 1980” (Wilson 2006) and as a result, women in Turkey have gained more religious authority. In Istanbul, the mufti’s office has 583 women teaching courses on the Qur’an to women across the city, in 2003 two women were appointed for the first time to lead a group of Turks making their pilgrimage to Mecca, and in 2004 150 women were added to the Diyanet which brought the number of female preachers in the country up to 400. Women now also make up the majority of students in the theology departments of several Turkish universities (Tapper 1991:145–70). In contradiction to the above, the reintroduction of religious studies into education may be seen by secular feminists as a tool to repress women (and one-half of Turkish citizens) once more as a way for the ruling party to re- establish its dominance. As women in Turkey became more educated they began to question the parts of Turkish life that were still oppressing them. Fatima Mernissi argues that ‘the increase in urbanization and women’s education means Muslim women are coming to diagnose their problems as being political – a disturbing claim for those in power’(Mernissi 1987). As women realise that it is not Islam that is the cause of their problems, they have begun to look to the state. Historically ‘the vanguard of feminist activism in Turkey were educated, mostly professional middle-class women who had personal links to feminists abroad and were exposed to feminist literature through friends or connections’ and are therefore in a good position to challenge the patriarchal system which still oppresses them (Arat 1998:191). It is clear from the reforms introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2000 that they advocate a recall
  27. 27. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 27 to more Islamic policies and a highly educated female population would be extremely troublesome against a patriarchal government. Universal suffrage Turkey was one of the first countries in Europe to expand the role of women in politics from spectators to active participants. Two Kemalist reforms were particularly important in this. Firstly, the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code in 1926 (replacing the Majalla) which recognised women as individuals within the polity; forbade polygamy; instituted civil marriage; allowed the initiation of divorce proceedings by either partner; and guaranteed equality of women before the law. Secondly, the Amendment to the Electoral Law in 1935 granted universal suffrage which finally gave women the chance to lawfully engage in politics. Although the first free election in Turkey was not held until 1950, the introduction of universal suffrage enabled women to participate politically. However, since 1935 women’s participation in politics has not been as wide as secular feminists expected. Although 18 female MPs were elected to Parliament in 1935, this number sharply decreased immediately afterwards. There have been six female political party leaders in the history of the Turkish Republic; the first was Behice Boton who led the Workers Party of Turkey in 1970. As well as, one female Prime Minister, Tansur Ciller. Tansur Ciller was the leader of the True Path Party from 1993-1996 and then the Turkish Prime Minister from 1993 – 2002. Under Tansur Ciller’s government, the number of female MPs rose (from 13MPs in 1995 to 78MPs in 2011) and has continued to do so ever since. Although the number of female MPs is now on the rise, there have been many invisible barriers which have stopped women from fully exercising their political
  28. 28. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 28 powers. In a study conducted by Tekaki in the 1940’s, there is evidence that married couples have tended to vote the same way (83%), with wives generally following their husbands (Kandiyoti 1948: 40)(Keskin 1997). In another study conducted two decades later, Ozankaya found that in the four Turkish villages that he researched, 75.4% of husbands said that they told their wives who to vote for, with only 18.5% leaving them a free choice (Keskin 1997). At least until the 1980’s there is evidence that although Turkish women were legally politically independent, they were still controlled by the patriarchal systems in the private sphere. From the 1990s onwards women have been become increasingly involved in the political system. This may be due to powerful female figures such as Cillers who was not only praised by Libya’s leader Muammar Qadhafi as a ‘model for all Islamic Women’ but was also described by some European newspapers as “The symbol of Modern Turkey”(Reinart 1999). Figures such as Ciller were examples of how increasing women’s rights and engaging with women as political equals did not signify the end of religion in its entirety. In fact, as women’s rights have increased in Turkey there seems to have been an increased advocating for the introduction of more religious rule. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been described as ‘arguably the most successful Islamic-inspired democratic party in the world’ has been democratically elected since 2002. As women now make up almost half of the Turkish electorate, it is clear that women have voted for an increasingly religious government. In contradiction to what may have been expected, increasing women’s rights along secular lines does not mean a more secular party will be elected into government. The AKP opposes many of the secular Kemalist policies; has reintroduced mandatory religious education, has called for ending the banning of the veil (which had
  29. 29. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 29 been enforced under Ataturk as a modernising policy) and has won the support of the Turkish public. Conclusion To conclude, it can be seen in the Turkish case study that although women’s rights have increased since the 1920’s, secularisation has only been successful when it has been enforced by the state. Increasing women’s rights in Turkey have so far only been pursued when the state is able to benefit. Under Ataturk, “The underlying aim of these reforms was to position women securely in the public sphere, to make them active and competitive in education, employment, and all aspects of social life. In consequence, many women in Turkey were able to get educated, have careers and jobs, become economically independent and participate in politics” (Turkish Culture Foundation). Until the late twentieth-century, there had been an overwhelming focus on women’s rights from a secular perspective; as a result Islamic feminists may have had their rights limited. With the free elections from 1950, and most notably in the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of votes that the more religiously orientated political parties have received. Since the AKP won its first general election in 2002 and Erdogan became the Prime Minister in 2003, Turkey has fallen 20 spots in the Global Gender Report; falling from 105 in 2006 to 125 in 2012, and is ranked 135 on the UN Equality Index. Although Erdogan’s controversial policies such a lifting the headscarf ban in state institutions in 2013 may be seen by some as attempting to Islamize the country, it is also affords more religiously conservative women the opportunity to participate more actively in society. Increasing women’s access to education and suffrage throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries has
  30. 30. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 30 resulted in the most religiously motivated government since the Ottoman Caliphate, being democratically elected. This may increase the rights for the Islamic feminist movement in Turkey whilst restricting secular feminists.
  31. 31. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 31 Chapter 4: The Iranian Case Study Shia Islam has been the official state religion of Iran since the 16th Century. Under the Safavid dynasty, Shah Isma’il described himself as a descendent, on his father’s side, of the Prophet Muhammad, and embarked on a process of proselytization in a predominately Sunni Islam part of the world. Like all states and religions, the prominence of Shiism (Twelver) in Iran has ebbed and flowed over the past century. Under the Pahlavi era (1925-79)there was evidence that Iran was modernising in lines with more secular and western policies. However, the resurgence of religion in Iran has been witnessed growing alongside the revolutionary movements of the 1970’s, culminating in the Iranian revolution in 1979. Post- revolution, Iran has since become the Islamic Republic of Iran, governed by the Imam and the Ulama, religion has been embedded into every aspect of society. This case study aims to analyse whether or not women’s rights have been increased in Iran and if so, if this has led to secularisation, or aided in the Islamic resurgence. Women’s rights under the Shah During the Pahlavi era (1925-79) women’s rights gradually increased in accordance with secular feminist values. In the late 1920s and early 1930’s, the Reza Shah began to secularise the educational system by ending the monopoly of all mullahs over education and created the Ministry of Education to regulate all public and private schools (Paidar 1995: 313). Public schools, which had taught a secular curriculum based upon the French model since the late 1920’s, became free for both boys and girls to attend. The Reza Shah saw increasing literacy as a way to promote nationalism as well as educating the population. The women’s movement at this time also used nationalism to call for revisions
  32. 32. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 32 on; education, veiling, enfranchisement and the seclusion of women, arguing that ‘education would make Iranian women aware of their legitimate rights and give them additional strength for a more vigorous national struggle’ (Yeganeh 1982: 30). Women’s rights at this time not only increased alongside nationalism, but also celebrated more western values. The first Iranian university was created in 1936, admitting both men and women; women’s hejab was banned in 1938; and universal suffrage was introduced in 1963. These policies and those that were similar were seen as a great success in the eyes of secular feminists in the region but the banning of hijab was also seen as a political statement. The veil, to many westerners, was seen as a tool to repress women, and the removing of the hijab was linked with modernisation, no longer would it be used to ‘legitimate physical borders of women’s existence in society’ (Tabari 1982: 22). In 1932, Iran held the Congress of Women and invited a great number of women without hijab from other countries ‘during the congress, which was headed by Reza Shah’s daughter, Shams Pahlavi, the lack of hijab was mentioned as a sign of civilization and huge propaganda hype was launched around it’ (Mirrazavi 2013). As has been mentioned the ‘liberation’ and advancement of women’s rights under the Pahlavi era was a great success for women who associated with more secular feminist discourse. In contradiction, traditional and religious women were restrained as they were often torn between accepted family norms and pressure to adapt to the new environment. As young women from more traditional and conservative families “began to go to universities or work in hospitals or government offices, all these traditional values and concepts came under daily
  33. 33. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 33 attack from ‘alien’ surroundings, where women mixed with men” (Tabari 1982: 10). The liberation and subsequent banning of hijab created a cultural crisis for some Islamic women as “they could not be veiled at work nor could they leave home unveiled” (Tabari 1982: 10). Women’s role in the revolution Although the Iranian Revolution is frequently known as the Islamic Revolution, religion was not the only reason why Iranians, including women revolted in 1979. Opposition against the Shah included ‘secular nationalists, socialists, and Marxists, among its ranks’, many Iranians joined the revolution because they were dissatisfied with the Shah, not necessarily for the creation of an Islamic Republic (Ebadi 2006: 34). Due to the nationalist reforms introduced by the Shah, women were able to participate in the political movements as Iranians, and not simply as women. By 1978, women were active in politics (333 women served on elected local councils, 22 women sat in parliament), one-third of university students were female and two million women were in the work force, more than 146,000 of them in the civil service (Esfandiari). Women’s integration into society meant that ‘women did not participate in the revolution as ‘women’ but as members of different political and social forces’ and therefore their reasons for joining the revolution were just as varied. Although some women’s rights were increased under the Shah, some still felt that as human beings they were being repressed (Ebadi 2006: 34) Shiria Ebadi, a pro- revolutionary judge embodies this when she explained her reason for joining the revolution, “I would rather be a free Iranian than an enslaved attornet” (Ebadi 2006: 34).
  34. 34. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 34 A great source of dissatisfaction featured around the Shah’s ‘western’ policies. The Shah’s white revolution in 1963 was seen by some as ‘an American-inspired package of measures designed to give his regime a liberal and progressive façade’ (Iran Chamber Society). Women had been at the forefront on the Shah’s westernisation attempts; unveiling, encouragement of western fashion, universal suffrage, and a reformed educational system. However, not all women saw these policies as liberating, “As often happens under such circumstances of imposed rapid change, two reactions developed. There are those that resolve their dilemma in the direction of modifying their traditional concepts, and those who fall back on their traditional concepts as a defensive mechanism” (Tabari 1982: 10). Islam was used as a mobilising tool for some, among the opposition groups ‘the mullahs voices were the loudest; it was the clergy, whose network of mosques spread out across the country, who had standing centres from which to raise their voices and organise’ (Tabari 1982:10). However, when women in the Revolution wore a scarf or chador, “It was purely a sign of opposition to the Shah. It did not signify to them or to any political force within the movement an acceptance of Islam in total, because Islam in totality did not exist then” (Ebadi 2006: 37). Instead, it was the Shah’s rule, not secularisation that was being rejected in the revolution. It did ‘not seem alarming that the Mullah’s would take the lead’ (Ebadi 2006:34). Although it was not the case for all women during the Iranian revolution, many women did support resurgence in religion. The reforms introduced by the Shah
  35. 35. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 35 increased the rights of women in secular and westerns terms but they hindered women’s rights under the Islamic sphere, as will be discussed later in this chapter. Women after the revolution “It took scarcely a month for me to realise that in fact, I had willingly and enthusiastically participated in my own demise. I was a woman, and this revolutions victory demanded my defeat” (Ebadi 2006: 38). The Islamic Republic of Iran was created soon after the Shah fled to Egypt on January 16, 1979. Although religion may not have been the only factor in the Iranian revolution, it was the one that took hold the country after 1979.Less than a month later, Ayatollah Khomeini became “the undisputed leader of the clerical establishment that ultimately came to rule Iran” (Voirst, 1995: 68). Women’s active, political role in the Iranian revolution has since been praised by Shia clergy as similar to the political role played by Zeynab (the daughter of the first Shia imam Ali Ali ibn Abi Talib and the Prophet Muhammad's daughter, Fatima) and her response to the Kabala battle. Although this may seem as praise by some Islamic feminists, secular feminists saw this as undermining women’s role in the revolution. Instead of women participating as Iranians, they were once again thought of as a gender (Paidar 1995: 219). Within a month of Khomeini’s return to Iran from exile he began to Islamize women’s position in society by declaring that women should wear hejab in accordance with Islamic tradition (Yeganeh 1982:26). Women had become increasingly politically active in the lead up to the Iranian revolution and protested some of the Khomeini’s more oppressive and undemocratic policies during a protest rally on International Women’s Day 1979.
  36. 36. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 36 The demonstration was not merely to protest the veil, but the ‘beginning of a whole series of measures that would lead logically to the seclusion of women from social, political and economic activity’ (Ebadi 2006: 14). This demonstration attracted over 20,000 female participants and signified the political strength that women had in Iran, post-revolution (Winter 1999). The government attempted to appease the situation by claiming that Khomeini had been misunderstood. Khomeini’s rapid Islamization was halted; however, the government merely adopted a gradual process and established much tighter control over street demonstrations. Although the hejab was not originally enforced, it was expected to be observed, “The head-scarf ‘invitation’ was the first warning that this revolution might eat its sisters” (Ebadi 2006: 39). Whereas during the revolution, the veil was seen as an act of defiance against the Shah, under Khomeini, the veil became a symbol of ‘not Western, not Eastern, but Islamic’ and by 1981 hijab became compulsory for all women in Iran (Tabari 1982: 6). The new theocracy, according to secular feminists ‘systematically rolled back five decades of progress in women’s rights’ (Tabari 1982: 14). Women were encouraged to forget about ‘Western’ concepts of equality and seek their emancipation through Islam. Although the Islamic revolution instituted repressive measures for women, it did also liberate women too (Tabari 1982). Whereas women had previously struggled to marry their traditionalism with the more modern, secular part of society, the enforcement of hejab allowed women to participate more actively in the public sphere by making “public space morally correct in the eyes of traditionalist families, it legitimised women’s public presence”(Mir-Hosseini 2000: 7).
  37. 37. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 37 Women’s right to education was also altered by the Islamic Republic. The ‘cultural revolution’ in 1979 brought the mainstream education system under Islamic control, ‘universities were closed down in order to eradicate un-Islamic influences and sexual segregation was enforced’ (Paidar 1995: 313). Co- education became banned and girls were forced to attend all-girl high schools which were ultimately of a lower educational standard than their male counterparts ‘the shortage of teachers and school premises meant that more often than not segregation led to the dismissal of girl pupils from mixed schools in the absence of allocation of additional resources to girl’s schools’ (Paidar 1995: 315). Although the Prophet Muhammad said “education is an obligation for every man and women”, under the Islamic Republic, women’s education was adapted to the requirements of the Islamic family (Paidar 1995: 314). ‘One of the contrasts between the Islamic and Western schooling systems is that the latter trains boys and girls in the same way, but the Islamic system is conscious of male-female differences while considering them equal in creation’ (Zan Ruz, 37) (Paidar 1995: 316). The education system was restructured in such a way to train men and women in accordance with their ‘different natures and capabilities’ and the distinct roles which they were supposed to play in society (Paidar 1995). As a result, women were encouraged to pursue traditionally female professions such as teaching and nursing, and were banned from the more masculine professions, such as judges. However, since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), women’s education and suffrage have been increasing. Sexual segregation at universities was abandoned as impractical and now women outnumber men at University in Iran. The rise of
  38. 38. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 38 sharia law also enabled women to become active in some fields of work which were previously closed to them, for example, the medical profession. The focus on preserving women’s modesty in Islam prioritises women treating women medically. This demand for female medical personal increased the number of women in the profession and now one-third of medical students are women. Although in the early years of the Islamic Republic most women in decision- making roles were dismissed, given early retirement or demoted, women have remained politically active. Since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) women have voted in substantial numbers for Presidential candidates who were more pragmatic on women’s issues; President Rafsanjani and President Khatami. Under their Presidencies women have benefited from many changes; female- positive reform of the personal status law, reintroduction of female representation in international sports competitions, and the number of girls in schools and universities also greatly increased. Women have also been appointed to posts within the government; Masoumeh Ebtekar (Vice President for the environment) and Zahra Rahnavard (the first woman chancellor of an Iranian university). Under the Presidency of Ahmadinejad, women’s more liberal rights have been restricted; the government closed down Zanan (the country’s leading feminist magazine), police enforced more stringent penalties on women for dress code violations, and fewer women were elected to political positions of authority; local councillors or ministers. However, women’s rights movements have continued to combat the more restrictive policies by using campaigns such as; protesting gender inequality at the Tehran University in 2005 and the One Million Signatures Campaign in 2006. Both activities sought to highlight the gender
  39. 39. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 39 inequalities which are seen as the norm in Iran, and ‘to transform the societal and cultural norms which have kept discriminatory laws in place’ (Tavaana 2015). In the 2009 Presidential elections all four candidates developed positions on women’s issues and for the first time, candidates had women advising and campaigning for them in public (Esfandiari). This inclusivity of women in the political system shows how sensitive the issues of gender equality and the roles of women are. Conclusion It is clear from this case study that although women’s rights have increased over the past century in Iran, religion has remained a constant feature in Iranian politics. Secular and Islamic feminist rights have been stressed under different governments. Under the Pahlavi era, women’s rights increased in relation to more secular, liberal policies, however, they oppressed women in the Islamic sphere. In accordance to Shia Islam, women are, “presumed different, biologically, psychologically, and intellectually from men, it would be unfair to ask for the equality of basically unequal beings” (Tabari 1982: 14). With this in mind it is comprehendible why Shia Muslims maintain that men and women have different rights and responsibilities which should be respected as they are deemed to be have been created by Allah (in accordance with the Qur’an). During the Islamic republic, under the leadership of the imam and clergy, women’s rights were liberated under the Islamic sphere from secular and western oppression, “all partial changes towards secularization of the state achieved since the Constitutional Revolution, have been attributed to colonial plots for enslavement
  40. 40. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 40 of Muslims, and steps have been taken to reverse this trend and to rebuild a sectarian state according to Islamic precepts” (Tabari 1982: 20-21).
  41. 41. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 41 Chapter 5: Discussion It is clear from the previous chapters that a lot of different factors effect women’s rights in the Middle East, and the extent of which these have led to secularisation. This chapter will serve as a discussion to examine the different factors which have been raised within the two case studies. The path to women’s liberation and the reasons for their emancipation will also be analysed in regards to the case studies. This discussion chapter will then provide an explanation as to how the religious denomination of the states examined continues to affect women’s rights within the secular and Islamic feminist discourses. The reasons behind women’s liberation There are many underlying reasons that affect which women’s rights issues have been pursued and targeted for change by states at specific moments in time. In both case studies it is clear that processes of secularisation have taken place throughout the past century as part of modernisation and nationalism. The post- world war one era (post-1918) saw an increase in women’s rights across the western hemisphere during the spread of neo-liberalism and nation-building. The effects of neo-liberalism on the Middle East can be seen in the more secular policies introduced under Ataturk and the creation of the Turkish Republic (1923) and the rule of the Shah’s throughout the Pahlavi era (1925-79). There was a great focus on increasing national prosperity via economic policies. As has been previously noted, increasing women’s rights goes hand-in-hand with national prosperity as it can almost double the workforce; six of the top ten performing countries in this year’s Global Competitive Index also feature in the top twenty of the Global Gender Gap Index.
  42. 42. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 42 Due to the increase in women’s rights, coupled with the arrival of modern technology such as the printing press and the internet, women have been able to share their ideas on a national and global scale and therefore have been able to increase their influence. As women’s education increased in Turkey and Iran, their understanding of other cultures also developed as did their ideological aspirations. This can be seen in the One Million Signatures campaign in Iran Islamic being influenced by the One Million Signatures Campaign in Morocco. Women were able to share tactics and information across national borders. Concurrently, Islamic feminists were able to witness secular policies which they were not supportive of such as, not observing hejab in France. Due to these reasons women have actively participated in their own emancipatory efforts by protesting government decisions that they do not accept or agree with; the Iranian women’s protest on International Women’s Day and women’s role in the Turkish government since the 1990’s are great examples of this. As has been noted, in Iran, women’s rights were increased by policies of secularisation pursued by the Shah in a process of nationalism; however, this rapid enforcement of secular and western measures was met by hostility from the majority of the Iranian population. Women were able to use what rights and knowledge they had acquired under the Pahlavi era to take part in the revolution as citizens and not just part of a segregated gender. It is argued by Islamic feminists that women’s Islamic rights were oppressed under the Shah’s more secular policies and that they were liberated under the Islamic Republic.
  43. 43. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 43 Barriers to women’s rights From the case studies it is clear that one problem secularisation and women’s rights has faced is the constant linkage between secularisation and westernisation. There is a fear amongst the anti-western in the Middle east, that secularisation is merely a plot to enforce western colonisation on a large and legal scale. “Woman, the pillar of the family, is the perfect target for conspirators” and therefore they must be ‘protected’ and the western export of ‘freedom, ethic, technique, culture, art and pornography’ must be stopped (Al Shariati) (Yeganeh 1982). By secularising societies, it dissolves one of the last layers that states have as a unifying bond against western colonialism. In this dissertation, inadvertently, secularisation has been discussed in two different spheres. Turkey has been discussed in the western sphere, whereby economic prosperity takes precedence. The importance the Turkish state places on nationalism takes priority of state decisions and the state has used advancing women’s rights for the national interest. In contradiction to this, Iran has been discussed in the Islamic sphere due to its apparent rejection of the west and the inclusive nature of Shia Islam which is attaches to the Islamic Republic. Iran is no longer a nation state in the Westphalian sense of the word as its policies and reforms have become focused on raising the prominence of Islam, rather than Iran. Iran’s apparent lack of interest in liberalism and western states, compared to that of Turkey, has been mirrored in women’s rights reforms since the Iranian Revolution. It has been argued that when the Islamic Republic restricted women’s access to education in the 1970’s it was to enable women and girls to focus on their natural and Islamic rights- the right to be mothers and wives- as increasing women’s rights along more secular lines- as
  44. 44. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 44 evidenced by the Pahlavi era- had led to discrepancies over what the role of women should be. As has been seen in the Iranian case study, in the mid-1980s, women were encouraged to pursue education, as long as it was religiously dominant and would enabled them to become better mothers and wives. For Ali Shariati - a prominent Shia theologian who has been described as the ‘hero of Iranian religious opposition to the Shah’ - the role of women within Shiism should be modelled on Fatima Zahra (daughter of Muhammad, wife of Ali and mother of Hasan and Husayn). Fatima was “a ‘woman’ as true Islam conceives her… ideal as a daughter; ideal as a wife; ideal as a mother; ideal as a responsible and militant women for her society” (Al Shariati) (Yeganeh 1982: 51). Women’s rights: Islamic and secular feminisms From analysing the case studies, it is clear that the states of Iran and Turkey have both approached the issue of women’s rights in different ways over the last century. Turkey has increased women’s rights in accordance with more secular policies such as education and suffrage, as the country itself went through a process of secularisation. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, nationalism has taken precedence over religion in Turkey and the state has become more secular as a result. Although Ataturk was said to be inspired by the French principle of Laïcité, secularism in Turkey was progressively enforced on the Turkish population by the state and military forces. Secularisation was not initiated on the demand of the Turkish public via a revolution, as was the case in France. As a result of this top-down approach, although religion was removed from the public sphere, Sunni Islam is still widely practised by many people in Turkey in the private sphere. Due to these reasons, Turkey could be seen as being more
  45. 45. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 45 accepting of secular feminist values which advocate the removal of religion out of the public sphere but understand its importance in the private sphere. In Iran, more liberal policies on women’s rights were also increased by the secularisation process encouraged under the Shah. The reasons for doing so and the tactics that he used were ultimately complimentary to Ataturk’s in Turkey; to create a stronger, more prosperous nation state, by using the military to enforce the new laws. However, when secularisation was enforced in Iran by the state, Iranians revolted in rejection of this enforcement and oppression. Sacralisation was used as a uniting tool to over throw an unwanted ruler (the Shah) by the majority of the Iranian population. Although ultimately in Iran, Islam has been enforced by the state and the police, it was called for by the majority of the population.
  46. 46. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 46 Conclusion To conclude this dissertation, it is clear that religion still plays a large part in politics in both Iran and Turkey. Their religious denomination, although both Islamic, is a determining factor as to how the government is run. It is also a determining feature as to which women’s rights are prioritised. Whether or not the women themselves believe more secular or Islamic rights benefit them the most is also an important factor in how the state approaches women’s rights and religion. As can be seen in Turkey, women predominately wanted more secular rights and have historically rejected the state when it has tried to Islamatize them, in contradiction to this, women in Iran actively took part in the Iranian Revolution when the Shah tried to secularize as well as westernise them. It is clear from this study that women’s rights have historically been used as a tool by national governments to enforce their policies. Women have been liberated at times when it is in the best interest of the state, and then repressed when they are no longer of any value. Using religion has been a great way to validate government abuses of power because until the mass increase in literacy in the mid-1950, the national and religious elites were rarely challenged. Islamic feminists have proven that women’s oppression by Islam has merely been due to the misogynistic interpretation used to enforce patriarchy. Secular feminists have also proven that secularism has also been used to enforce the patriarchal system when it has been used to advance male dominance over women. As has been seen in the case studies; a government has the ability to take away a women’s right to attend school but it cannot take away her quest for
  47. 47. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 47 knowledge; it may be able to enforce her to wear Islamic dress and attend prayer service every day, but it cannot change her belief.
  48. 48. The Middle East, Women’sRightsandSecularisation Page 48 Glossary Diyanet: The Turkish state body that oversees the Islamic faith; the appointment of imams and writing of sermons. Hadith: The collection of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Hajj: An annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which is mandatory for all Muslims to be carried out at least once in their lifetime. Qur’an: The central religious text of Islam. It is believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic Mullah: A title of respect for a person who is learned in, teaches, or expounds the sacred law. Ulama: The group of Muslim scholars who are recognised as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology. Word count: 11,638
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