As Hillary Clinton stirs up controversy in her bid for the presidency, another wife of a former president has made her mark in the history books as Argentina’s first elected female president – Cristina Kirchner. But beyond the Americas, many women are rising to leadership in traditional, conservative, and, most surprisingly, Islamic societies around the world.

While the United States has never had a viable female presidential candidate until now, women have served as presidents and prime ministers of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Turkey. And in Iran, one of the dreaded corners in the “axis of evil,” women serve as deputy cabinet ministers and even judges.

How can this be? Traditional Islamic cultures are hardly progressive in their attitudes toward women. News of the recent Saudi ruling of 200 lashes as punishment for a victim of a gang rape reminds us that honor killings, female genital mutilation, polygamy and wife-beatings continue to be popularly justified by Islamic culture, and must continue to be fought against.

But ironically, these restrictive and repressive environments have generated a very different kind of feminism – one that has never fully developed in the United States. That is, a feminism that appeals to traditional religious values while advocating female empowerment. Some American feminists might argue that traditional religion is not compatible with women’s rights, but they might rethink this position in light of a growing women’s movement among reform-minded Islamists.

Islamic “feminists,” whom sociologist Christina Hoff Summers describes as “faith-based, family-centered and well-disposed towards men,” are challenging what it means to fight gender inequality by appealing to Islamic notions of a healthy society. Their strategy is relatively simple: If you can’t beat patriarchy, join it. In the meantime, pick your battles, such as pushing for more education and better careers. This has naturally created a scenario where women are as qualified if not more qualified for some jobs than men. (MORE)


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