Elevate Difference

Family, Gender, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia

Family, Gender, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia makes available twelve essays that were presented, in earlier forms, at the 2004 symposium of the same title, which took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The essays, edited by Kenneth M. Cuno and Manisha Desai, include analysis of eleven nation-states from Morocco to Bangladesh. With thirty-one pages of works cited, this is a valuable reference on an increasingly critical topic. Major themes include the impact of colonialism and postcolonial struggles with national identity; religious politics, and in particular religion’s impact on family law; and international standards, as outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and related conventions, versus nationalist efforts for self-determination without perceived pressures from outside.

The issues dealt with in these essays are complex, and I am wary of oversimplifying any of them. In the discussion of the role of colonialism, one idea that emerges is that colonial patriarchies interact with local patriarchies, creating hybrid forms that become sites of negotiation and contestation. Another idea that recurs is the interplay of religion, local custom, and the state, three venues for regulating behavior and establishing social mores. In practice, as contributor Shelley Feldman points out in her discussion of Bangladesh, this means that constitutional reform alone is insufficient to create change, because it will not (necessarily, or sufficiently) impact local customs and religious laws.

Taken together, the analyses shed light on one another. The reader can see commonalities among the nations in these interrelated regions, as well as critical differences that make each locality’s challenges unique. It becomes apparent that, as the editors point out in the introduction, “neither nationalism nor elite women’s feminism guarantees the ‘liberation’ of women.” Thankfully, these discussions also highlight many ways in which women are actors, participating in many ways, from liberatory habits of daily life to transnational feminist organizations.

Written by: Lisa Rand, May 11th 2010