Civic and Political Participation
Summary of the Issue
Alexandria, Egypt. 2005. Woman voting in elections. Photo Credit: John Smock/AP Images.
In both historic and contemporary times Muslim women have taken on many roles in politics, leadership, and community advocacy. The Quran encourages involvement in social justice: "O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both."1
Muslim women have a strong history of political leadership. During the time of the Prophet, his wife Aisha bint Abu Bakr served as a religious and civic leader to both men and women and later led armed resistance against the Fourth Caliph, marking one of the first political interventions by a woman in early Islamic history.2 Today, in many Muslim-majority countries women are gaining greater positions in political office. For example, in Egypt, a recent law mandates that newly-created 64 seats in Parliament must go to women, marking a 1500% increase in women’s political representation.3 In countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Senegal, Kosovo, and Turkey, Muslim women have risen to president or prime minister.
Muslim women have raised and continue to raise their voices through collective action. In the 20th century, Muslim women participated in nationalist movements across the Muslim world, demonstrating against colonial powers. In 2011 during the Arab Spring, the string of democratic uprisings that has swept across the Middle East and North Africa, women across the social and cultural spectrum have united together to advance justice and human rights. In Cairo, women were vital in transforming Tahrir Square into the center of public protest by organizing food deliveries, blankets and medical assistance, and in Bahrain, women led initial demonstrations in Pearl Square.4 The Arab Spring also highlighted the impact of the Internet. Women are taking advantage of digital media to create new channels for political and civic involvement across the Arab world and beyond.
Ranging from poor access to education, health, or economic opportunities, Muslim women continue to face a diversity of challenges in exercising political power. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, 20 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries are Muslim-majority countries. The exclusion of Muslim women from political and civic participation in some countries is also influenced by patriarchal interpretations of Islamic text that favors women’s subordination to male authority. Greater demand for reinterpreting Islamic sources is important in expanding the participation of Muslim women in political and civic roles.
 [An-Nisa 4:35]
 Denise Spellberg, “Political Action and Public Example, “In Women in Middle Eastern history: shifting boundaries in sex and gender, ed. Nikki R. Keddie, Beth Baron, New York: Yale University Press, 1993.
 Evan Hill, “Women make leap in Egypt parliament,” Al-Jazeera November 29, 2010.
Related Current Issue
Organizations Active on this Issue
"Thanks to Facebook, Egyptian women take to political activism." The Daily Star 20 May 2009, ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 12 Jul. 2010.
"Clinton presents award to Jansila Majeed." Daily Mirror 12 Mar. 2010, ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 13 Jul. 2010.
Eltahawy, M. "Women Win in Kuwait." Afro - American Red Star 20 Jun 2009, ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 13 Jul. 2010.
“‘I am Arab and Muslim, I do not want to be perceived as Westerner. Proud of my culture,’-Moroccan MP.” Agence Maghred Arabe Presse 13 November 2009 ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 13 Jul. 2010.
The New York Times: A Revolution Just Beginning by Mozn Hassan
Ozyurt, Saba Senses, “Living Islam in Non-Muslim Spaces: How Religiosity of Muslim Immigrant Women Affect Their Cultural and Civic Integration in Western Host Societies,” Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UC San Diego, June 2009.
“Gender analysis of women’s political participation in 7 South-East Asian countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Vietnam,” Enjambra Contra La Exploitacion Sexual and Paz Y Desarrollo, 2008-2009.
Maumoon, Dunya. "Islamism and Gender Activism: Muslim Women's Quest for Autonomy." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 19.2 (1999): 269. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 12 July 2010
Foley, Rebecca. "Muslim Women's Challenges to Islamic Law." International Feminist Journal of Politics 6.1 (2004): 53-84. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 12 July 2010
Blaydes, L., and S. El Tarouty. "Women's Electoral Participation in Egypt: The Implications of Gender for Voter Recruitment and Mobilization." The Middle East Journal 63.3 (2009): 364-380. ABI/INFORM Global, ProQuest. Web. 12 Jul. 2010.
Amal Treacher, and Hala Shukrallah. "The realm of the possible: middle eastern women in political and social spaces." Feminist Review: Reflections on 25 Years: Issue 80 (2005): 152. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 12 Jul. 2010.
Helms, Elissa Lynelle. Gendered visions of the Bosnian future: Women's activism and representation in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. Diss. University of Pittsburgh, 2003. Dissertations & Theses: Full Text, ProQuest. Web. 12 Jul. 2010.
Suad, Joseph. (ed.) & Susan Slyomovics (ed.). “Women and Power in the Middle East.” University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.
Therese, Saliba. (ed), Carolyn, Allen. (ed), Judith, Howard. (ed). “Gender, Politics, and Islam.” University of Chicago Press Journals, 2002.
Elizabeth, Fernea. “In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey.” Anchor Book, 1998.
Amina, Wadud. “Qur’an and Women: Rereading Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective.” Oxford University Press, 1999.
Amina, Wadud. “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam.” One World Publications, 2006.
World Conference on Human Rights: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)
Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace, International Law