Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa

By Bates, Aryana | Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa


Bates, Aryana, Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources


Ruth Margolies Beitler & Angelica R. Martinez, WOMEN'S ROLES IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood, 2010. (Women's roles through history.) 225p. notes. bibl. index. $55.00, ISBN 978-0313362408; e-book (call publisher for pricing), ISBN 978-0313362415.

Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa locates women squarely at the center of the original schism between Shiites and Sunnis in Islam (p. 105). For this claim as well as for all others in this text, authors Beitler and Martinez give factually grounded and nuanced explanations in a straightforward, easy-to-absorb style. Readers learn about major players, female and male, in early Muslim communities and see how women influenced the core and competing principles of religious and political legitimacy in the development of Islam.

The book's six chapters focus on work, family, religion, the law, politics, and culture, respectively, and each provides an overview scaffolded around multiple examples. Each chapter includes a series of chronological and/or topic-specific subsections, followed by a set of discussions about specific countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Not every chapter addresses every country, but together they offer insights into women's participation in society across twenty-one different countries, from Algeria to Yemen.

Chapter 1, the most comprehensive in terms of regional coverage, touches on women's work as it has evolved from the late eighteenth century through the present, and in fifteen countries across the region. Like Chapter 1, Chapters 2 and 5 comprehensively cover specific periods in history, including the Islamic Period, the Golden Age of Islam, the Turkish and Mongol Period, the Ottoman Period, and WWI and its aftermath. The remaining chapters, although they do refer to historical periods, focus on select topics, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance (Ch. 4), literature, regional customs, rites of passage (Ch. 6), and perceptions of women in religious texts and practices (Ch. 3). Chapter 6 focuses on women's perpetuation of culture through oral tradition and written media, varying in means and intensity depending on time period, country, and genre of cultural creation. Every chapter ends with notes and a list of suggested further readings.

This reference work provides an enticing overview of complex lives, cultures, and social patterns and will leave interested readers wanting more. Chapter 3, for example, illustrates the varied patterns of women's involvement in religion and participation in unorthodox versus orthodox communities, suggesting several explanations for women's historically active role in Sufism (p. …

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