Women's Electoral Participation in Muslim Majority and Non-Muslim Majority Countries

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper aims to look and discuss the association of Islam and women's electoral participation in Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority countries. The dataset that was used for the analysis, entitled "Party Variation in religiosity and women's leadership: A Cross National Perspective, 2008-2010", was taken from the Inter-University Consortium of Political and Social Research, University of Michigan who approved the use of their dataset. The unit of analysis targeted 329 political party lists in 26 countries. Women's political participation was operationalized as electoral quota for women, internal party quota, percent share of women in decision-making bodies, interaction of percent female leadership with female membership, and percentage of female nominees. Test statistics, such as t-test, Pearson's r, chi-square, and correlation were applied in analyzing the data in order to come up with empirical relationships. The results show that there is an association between Islam and women's political participation, as well as difference in women's electoral participation between Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority countries. However, the coefficient of determination was small which suggests that there are other factors that explain women's electoral participation in these countries. Also, this paper illustrates two opposing views regarding secularist feminism and Islamic feminism.

Key Words: Women's electoral participation, Islamic feminism, Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority countries, Secular feminism, electoral quota, women in parliament

Introduction: The two discourses on the effect of Islam on women's issues

Social scientists are divided on the issue of Islam being either a positive or negative influence on women who live in such a political and social landscape. Although this paper has empirically shown through interviews with political parties in 26 countries categorized as either Muslim majority and non-Muslim Majority that Islam has led to a low level of women's participation in certain countries, the discussion of both the positive and negative effects of Islam in the political arena may be of use for future research.

Liberalism is often perceived as opposing to Islam ideologies. However, Arat states the contrary, she mentions that liberalism and Islam coincide. Arat sees them as overlapping in some respects. The Turkish women interviewed by Arat contradict the notion that Islam gives restriction to women. Women say that they have expanded their political participation and social status "by returning to Islam." She states that it is through the Refah Party that women have become both politically active and religiously engrained. Arat explains that given the right approach, women can "shape their community." (Micallef 2005).

The "introduction" and "reintroduction" of Islamic laws in Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Iran have become one of the potent reasons why the Shariah law has become a mainstay in the countries' political atmosphere. Moreover, the presence of the Shariah law is increasing. According to Christiansen, women who have adopted this "Islamization" state that it has led to the enhancement and betterment of their skills, knowledge, and "sense of self" (Yirmibesoglu 2008).

On the contrary, other literatures and research findings show that Islam has restricted women's political participation. According to Yirmibes, the reason why women are not considered as important actors in the political sphere is that power is usually attributed to men. Women in the Middle East usually do not play a significant role in the political arena. Even though women's rights have been advocated in many Muslim-majority countries, there is little progress in women's political participation in Muslim-majority countries compared to "liberal" or "Western" countries. One may posit that the reason for this phenomenon is that Islamic ideologies have been engrained in the lives of Muslim men and women. …