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Muslim Women and Political Leadership

Event Recap

September 24, 2020 - 10:00am to 11:00am
Shahla Haeri
Event Sponsor: 
Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies
Photo of Shahla Haeri

"Political mobility and freedom to choose are the quintessential mandate of women in the second decade of the 21st century. From Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia, and anywhere in-between Muslim women are mobilizing, joining their voices and marshalling their resources, determined to have a seat at their society’s political table. Increasingly educated and well informed, women have challenged the rigid patriarchal constructions of gender (in)justice, political/legal inequalities, and gender hierarchy in the Muslim world. Not wishing to feed the tired universalized colonial narrative of victimized and passive ‘Muslim women,’ nor willing to suffer the intolerant ‘fundamentalist’ and essentialist discourse of Islamists in their own home countries, women activists and scholars of all backgrounds have shown considerable awareness of and reflexivity to local and global political dynamics. They have questioned the male domination of political authority and monopoly of sacred knowledge and have challenged patriarchal institutions of power on both fronts. Unwilling to subordinate their piety to misogynist ‘orthodoxies,’ women scholars of Islam have pursued a two-pronged strategy: to contribute to religious knowledge, and to develop a ‘feminist theology’ based on modernist and interpretive reading of the scripture: one that is egalitarian, tolerant, and inclusive. Women’s political authority, however, has received less systematic attention; it is highly contested and fraught with tensions and contradictions, and has faced a much tougher patriarchal backlash from within the Muslim world. Women’s political participation and leadership is indispensable for meaningful national development, and women’s empowerment must be on the political, legal and social reform agendas."

Shahla Haeri is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and a former director of the Women's Studies Program at Boston University, one of the pioneers of Iranian Anthropology, and has produced cutting-edge ethnographies of Iran, Pakistan and the Muslim world. Her landmark books include her classic ethnography, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi’i Iran (1989/2014), translated into Arabic and reprinted frequently, highlighting the tenacious but secretive custom of temporary marriage in Iran; No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women (2002/2004) widens the ethnographic scope to make visible lives of educated and professional Muslim women. Her latest book, The Unforgettable Queens of Islam: Succession, Authority, Gender (Cambridge University Press), is a pioneering book on the extraordinary lives and legacies of a few remarkable Muslim women sovereigns from across the Muslim world. Dr. Haeri’s academic and creative oeuvre includes her video documentary, “Mrs. President: Women and Political Leadership in Iran” (2002, 46 min.) focusing on six women presidential contenders during the Iranian presidential election of 2001. She is the recipient of many fellowships, grants, and postdoctoral fellowships.

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