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Western Feminism and Islamic Feminism KiLAW Spring 2014 LLM Dr Myra Williamson COMPARATIVE LEGAL SYSTEMS: WESTERN AND ISLAMIC FEMINIST THEORY.

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Presentation on theme: "Western Feminism and Islamic Feminism KiLAW Spring 2014 LLM Dr Myra Williamson COMPARATIVE LEGAL SYSTEMS: WESTERN AND ISLAMIC FEMINIST THEORY."— Presentation transcript:

1 Western Feminism and Islamic Feminism KiLAW Spring 2014 LLM Dr Myra Williamson COMPARATIVE LEGAL SYSTEMS: WESTERN AND ISLAMIC FEMINIST THEORY

2 Overview In the next three lectures we will look at some aspects of comparative legal and social theory In this class, I will introduce the idea of feminism and feminist legal theory In Wednesday’s class we will discuss feminism in Arab countries but especially in Kuwait On Monday next week (7 April) we have a guest from Princeton University coming to talk about her research in this area Dr Alessandra Gonzalez wrote her PhD on ‘Islamic Feminism in Kuwait’ See readings

3 Feminism and Feminist Legal Theory What is ‘feminism’? Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic and social rights for women A feminist is a person who supports equal rights for women Question: do you have to be a woman to believe in equal rights for women?

4 Does the law deny women their rights? Feminist Legal Theory looks at whether the law denies women their ‘rights’. Does the law do this in any country? Does the law do this in Arab countries? In Kuwait? Examples

5 Feminism – a brief history Feminism has a long history – but women who fought for women’s rights didn’t always use the term ‘feminist’. Some say that the early activists were not ‘feminists’ – that this term only applies to the modern movement First wave feminist: 19 th and 20 th centuries – Focus on gaining the right to vote – women’s suffrage movements mainly in UK, US and similar countries E.g.. New Zealand gave women the right to vote in 1893; South Africa in; in the UK, women over 30 who owned property got the vote in 1918; this was extended to all women over 21 in 1928; in the US, women got the right to vote in 1916 via the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution Second wave feminism: 1960s-present Focus on gaining legal and social equality for women – ending discrimination Third wave feminism: 1990s –present Responding to the failures of the second wave

6 Feminism – what’s it all about? “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the truth” Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex as reproduced in Margaret Davie Asking the Law Question at p213 What does this mean to you? “Men have made the legal world in their own image, confusing it, as de Beauvoir says, with the absolute truth” – Davies, p215

7 Feminism(or, more accurately, feminisms) There isn’t ONE feminism, but many – white, middle-class women from developed countries have a different perspective than other women (e.g. women from other ethnic groups, from developing countries, from a religious minority, etc.) The aim of feminism, generally, is transformation Feminism is a political as well as a legal agenda Feminists use a strategy of raising awareness of women’s issues to effect change – this is sometimes called consciousness raising Some general points about feminism:

8 Definitions Margaret Davies: Feminism aims for a social and political environment in which women and men of all ethnicities, class backgrounds, sexualities and abilities are equally valued – Davies, p220 Barbara Smith: “Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of colour, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, lesbians, old women – as well as white, economically privileged, heterosexual women…” in Davies at pp220-21

9 Different types of feminism Feminist jurisprudence has many schools of thought within it (here are some): Liberal feminism: the central goal is the formal equality of women Difference feminism: emphasizes that ‘equality’ forces women to aim to be like men; it therefore emphasizes the differences between men and women; women deserve special treatment because they are different from men Radical feminism: views women as a class (not as individuals, as in liberal feminism) and it says that women as a class have been dominated by another class, i.e., men. Post-modern feminism: it rejects the idea that there is “a woman’s point of view”, or a single theory of equality for all women’. ‘Woman’ has many manifestations; it focuses on the situated realities of women – practical solutions to concrete situations

10 Liberal feminism “Liberal feminism” says women’s rights and opportunities should mirror men’s rights and opportunities Women should be free to enter professions of their choice, should be involved in political life, should participate in educational institutions, own property etc just as men do The goal is usually law reform to allow women’s full participation and to remove discrimination Equal status and equal rights for women are the goal - because women have as much capacity for reasoning as men Mary Wollstonecraft put forward these ideas in the late 18 th century – she argued that the “rights of man” should be extended to include women (see Wollstonecraft Vindication of the Rights of Women)

11 Criticism of “Liberal feminism ” The law reform that has been achieved has not resulted in substantive equality Concentrating on the “public” role of women does nothing to alleviate the problems women suffer in the home (e.g. domestic violence) It doesn’t challenge the overall system - the legal system itself is run by men and is based on male values (individualism, adversarial dispute resolution, independence) – the system ‘speaks’ to me If women have to be like men to be treated equally, then equality itself is repressive

12 Radical feminism The question is not whether men and women are the same or different; sex is a hierarchy – men have power and women do not – it will always be this way Gender (whether one is male or female) is a question of power Main thinker in this area is Catherine MacKinnon (see analysis and extracts in Davis at pp240-52) She has some ‘radical’ views - you can read more about her if you wish Criticism 1: seeing women as a class overlooks the different experiences of different women Criticism 2: seeing women as a class that is dominated by men leaves little room for hope – these differences will always exist

13 Connection between ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist legal theory’ Feminism is a social, political and legal movement The legal side of it is called “feminist legal theory” It explores issues around the use of the law to deny women equal rights

14 Example: Morocco Morocco: in January 2014, the Moroccan Parliament amended a law (after more than 2 years of activism) which had allowed a rapist to go free if he convinced his victim to marry him! Under Art 475 of the penal code, a rapist could not be prosecuted if he married his victim Why? The honour thing One 16 year old committed suicide in 2012 after being forced to marry her rapist A lot of lobbying by NGOS for law change See this article for more information on the 2014 law change: rape-marriage-law html rape-marriage-law html Click here to read how NGOs helped change the law in Morocco matters/2014/feb/07/ngo-change-morocco-rape-law matters/2014/feb/07/ngo-change-morocco-rape-law

15 Women and social change One activist in Morocco who helped convince the government to change the rape law said this: “The amendment to the rape law is not just a victory for us in Morocco but for women throughout the region. A legacy of the Arab spring and globalisation is that we are sharing experiences and learning how to make our voices heard at the highest level. This success will encourage women in other Arab countries to fight for change…. There is still room for improvement. One in four women in Morocco is a victim of violence. Many articles in the penal code need to be reformed because they contain provisions that allow women to be discriminated against and fail to protect them from violence.” Fadoua Bakhadda, as cited in The Guardian at matters/2014/feb/07/ngo-change-morocco-rape-law matters/2014/feb/07/ngo-change-morocco-rape-law

16 Other areas of interest for FLT Child marriage laws: if laws don’t protect young girls from marriage, they are vulnerable to forced marriages often to much older men Sexual harassment laws: criminal laws must make it a punishment for women to be sexually harassed Honour killing: laws can help to prevent this Equality in the workplace: laws can protect or inhibit workplace equality Jobs: can women do any job she chooses? Rape: laws around the definition of rape and the evidence needed to prove it can protect or inhibit women’s rights – Domestic violence: how does the law protect women from this? In the US, 3 women everyday are killed by their partners (husbands, boyfriends), mostly from guns: sight html sight html Maternity leave entitlements Driving! Nationality and citizenship laws EVERY COUNTRY HAS ITS OWN ISSUES AND PROBLEMS

17 Feminism, Islam and Arabs Does feminism exist in Arab countries? IS THERE SOMETHING CALLED ISLAMIC FEMINISM? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM WESTERN FEMINISM? IS THERE ANY NEED FOR FEMINISM IN MUSLIM-MAJORITY COUNTRIES? Guest speaker: Alessandra Gonzalez, Monday 7 April at 4.30 Questions: Do Muslim women claim to be feminists? Is there such a thing? What does it mean ‘ Muslim’ and ‘feminist’? What is different about Muslim women’s experiences that set them apart from Western women? Does Western feminism have anything to offer non-Western women? Are the social and political environments so different that Western values cannot be imposed on non-Western cultures? Further reading: see Davies at See Gonzalez’ book on Islamic Feminism in Kuwait

18 Conclusion I will give a handout with some information about the lecture on Monday It has some focus questions for you to answer – these will help you to prepare for the guest lecture I am also handing out a copy of an interview with Alessandra Gonzalez which was published in the Arab Times Online There is a copy for everyone - please read it before Monday 7 th April so you can be familiar with the topic Please be ready to ask and answer questions There will be an essay option in the final exam on this material so if you are interested in the different ways that women rights are protected in different countries, this might be an area for your to read up about


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