The Continuing Importance of 'Secular' Women's Associations

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This is an exciting and productive moment in the scholarship on women’s agency and organizing among Muslim communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as scholars increasingly address these topics among various categories commonly referred to as “Islamists”, “Islamic feminists”, and “Islamist feminists”. Seminal works and important recent conferences in the MENA region, Europe, and the U.S., have produced a great deal of quality work on women who were previously too easily dismissed as oppressed, having no agency, or prioritizing religious belief and family life over a concern with women’s rights, human rights, empowerment, and so on. These latter concerns were assumed to be the purview of so-called secular women and women’s organizations, the topic of study in a previous wave of scholarship looking, again, for women’s agency and organizing in the region. Both waves have enlarged our understanding of the lives, perspectives, and actions of groups of women, both formally and informally organized. Unfortunately, this second wave has been accompanied by a tendency to compare and contrast “Islamist” and “secular” women’s associations in ways that suggest the former are more authentic, autonomous, democratic, or ready to critique modernity, the neoliberal economic model, or U.S. imperialism than are the latter. [excerpt]


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://amews.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Issue-8-2014-August-.pdf