Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences

Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences

Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences

Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences

Synopsis

History has shown that periods of political transition can be perilous, even when change is directed towards more open systems. While new or reformed regimes often promise greater respect for human and civil rights, an examination of women's experiences in such contexts reveals a deterioration in political/civil status, reductions in the number of female legislators, increasing restrictions on reproductive rights and other legislative manifestations of an increasing emphasis on women's role as wife and mother. Using the experiences of Eastern Europe and Latin America as a reference point, this book examines similar processes of change in the Middle East and North Africa.

Excerpt

By late 1987, a wave of potentially deep-reaching political changes appeared to be underway in the Middle East and North Africa. First, Tunisia’s president-for-life, Habib Bourguiba, was ousted after more than thirty years in power. Then even more dramatically, in December 1987 the long-standing episodic civil resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza crystallized into sustained, and escalating, opposition. Shortly thereafter a number of Arab regimes, manifestly incapable of coping with growing problems of debt, unemployment, and corruption, appeared to begin to give way to successors that promised more political freedoms. Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and Morocco all witnessed political openings of various types, some more apparently significant than others, but all promising changes that would lessen repression and open the way for greater political participation.

As I watched the unfolding of the political liberalizations in the Arab world, I also began to follow with great interest the “liberalizing” impact of the much more profound economic/cum political transformations that began to sweep Eastern Europe. While each country has had its own experience, several trends emerged. Conservative forces, whether those aligned with the Church or those that were simply reactionary nationalist, began to espouse programs for women that involved a renewed emphasis on motherhood (with restricted if any access to abortion as a corollary) and a woman’s “primary duties” in the home. At the same time, the safety . . .

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