About F.I. • We started Femin Ijtihad in 2008 to provide Muslim women activists and NGOs accessible scholarship on Muslim women’s agency and rights. Our vision was to take lengthy academic and activist books and articles from legal, anthropological, sociological, theological, and religious disciplines and reconfigure the literature such that the information presentation could be immediately and directly used by activists in their work. In short, we take abstract ideas and theories in scholarship and make them practical and directly relatable to activists. This is done through easy-to-read summaries, utility analyses, reflective questions, podcasts, and free consultations with the F.I. team. • More Specifically: • Through sensitive deconstruction of scholarly work, we also identify the ways in which each piece of academic scholarship (book, article, report) can act as a tool for activist engagement, program and strategy design, and the development of content for their training, lobbying and awareness activities, that is premised on the privileging of women’s local contexts and realities and fully appreciative of the different manifestations that Muslim women’s agency can take.
Bridging the Gap Between Scholarship and Activism • Throughout the history of women’s rights activism, organizations, NGOs, and activist initiatives have tried to better the situation for women in local communities (whether on the humanitarian, medical, economic, social, or political level), but: • Some have used narrow and inflexible definitions of women’s rights and in the process, and perhaps unintentionally so, • Have alienated the very women they were trying to help, or • Ended up promoting an unsustainable model for change and progress, one that is based on modernization theory and that reads the position of the woman as wholly that of a victim , not as someone who, even within a system of gender subordination, finds power, strength, agency, and makes decisions for herself and because of her own desires.
Consequences of these Approaches • Some organizations have promoted a victim-oriented approach to dealing with the challenges and daily realities that women face. • They have cast men as the problem and have not called for their crucial engagement. • Programs end up glorifying the efforts of donor and donor participants rather than the agency of women themselves. • There is a blind eye turned to manifestations of Muslim women’s agency that do not correspond to Western definitions of agency, even though these forms of agency have built women’s independence, influence, and social networks. • Activists end up delivering awareness-raising programs on women’s rights that do not utilize the full breadth of Islamic textual interpretations that are gender-equitable because they are automatically dismissed as antithetical to women’s rights. • Activists deliver awareness-raising programs on women’s rights in ways/approaches/languages that marginalize the concerns of men, or the concerns of the community that their ways of life are being attacked/diluted, or that their social systems are being eroded.
Forms of Inaccessibility • Some activist organizations that are based in places like Afghanistan simply do not have the physical access to scholarship produced on women’s rights and gender equitable interpretations of Islam. • Those organizations that do have access to scholarship perceive it to be linguistically inaccessible and too much to navigate, especially given the pressing deadlines and tasks that they are faced with. The density of the material itself makes it difficult for someone who is not trained in an academic setting to navigate through the major points and detailed points of an article or a book. • A piece of scholarship that looks at what on the surface might seem to be an obscure topic, does not often make the case for why a knowledge of this topic is useful for improving the social good: • Ethnographic pieces, in particular • Historical pieces that look at what might seem to be obscure practices/realities during a particular historical moment • Women and carpet-weaving in a small village some time during the Ottoman Empire
How is F.I. Addressing this Gap and Why? • F.I. believes that the divide between academic scholarship and activist philosophies and programs/strategies has been historically challenging to bridge, but that the divide MUST be bridged. • The nuanced work of scholarship on: • Discourses of gender within Islamic law, Shari‘a • Qur’anic exegesis • Patriarchal systems of power in Muslim-majority contexts and surrounding areas and even in Western European and American contexts • Social constructions of masculinity and femininity, • Conflict areas, and human rights in the context of developing, post-conflict, and post-colonial societies can and should be recognized as valuable information to activists who are directly interacting with Muslim -majority societies that have to grapple with all of these issues. • F.I. seeks to, therefore, show: • How the theory of an article’s argument could inspire new and creative ways of thinking about what “women’s rights,” “human rights,” and “gender equality” mean for organizations and • How organizations can use these arguments to develop strategies that more productively facilitate and help women claim agency within, and not necessarily always against, patriarchal systems of power and within local cultural, religious, and environmental structures.
Brief History of Femin Ijtihad • Femin Ijtihad (FI) was founded by Natasha Latiff in 2008. At the age of 17 as a law student at the University of Warwick, Natasha Latiff was interested in understanding the rape laws in Afghanistan for her thesis work, and decided to travel to the country alone. After visiting schools and interviewing Afghan activists and other women on notions of women's rights, she realized that many NGOs in the country did not have the same access to information she had at her own school on issues related to gender. • This information included scholarly texts focusing on the dynamic history of Islamic law, folktales about powerful Muslim women, and NGO and U.N. reports on women's successful strategies for lobbying for social advancement.
Brief History (Cont’d) • Since then, the organization has grown to expand to three chapters internationally (New York, Singapore, and the U.K.), with twenty-four permanent members. • F.I. has thus far, built an archive of over 250 pieces of academic and activist scholarship • F.I. is a pro-bono initiative consisting of volunteers who work to develop the organization and its products alongside full-time job or school commitments. Yet, F.I. has achieved a great deal thus far: • A collection of over 250 scholarly, NGO, and UN articles and reports that explore a variety of topics related to women’s rights • Personnel consisting of 60+ PhD, M.A., and undergraduate researchers • Pro Bono Service Awards (most recently by the Attorney General of the U.K.) • Participation and representation in several activist and academic conferences (i.e. Clinton Global Initiative Annual Conference, Women’s Learning Partnership Vision 2020 Conference of March 2010, Musawah Conference) • Development of a preliminary expertise on how scholarship can be channeled within activist work
Gender in Islamic textual exegesis; classical and contemporary, gender-equitable interpretations of Islamic law and traditions from sources of Islamic law: Qur’an, Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet) and Fiqh (jurisprudence) • Why this research topic: • Understanding scholarly deconstructions of religious texts can enable activists to see the plethora of ways in which religious texts can be interpreted, which at times, evoke other disciplinary methods (beyond simply the hermeneutical) to derive alternative understandings and justifications for gender equity—some scholars evoke historical readings in conjunction with exegesis of the raw text, while other evoke other texts and argue for more holistic readings of the Qur’an or Hadith. • The main point is: A more well-rounded understanding of the textual interpretation can show activist initiatives/organizations the possibility for creative and legitimate understanding of sacred texts that are in line with basic moral standards and that are used to argue for women’s agency. • It might enable them to develop a sensitivity to other interpretations that are not interested in subverting certain notions of femininity or certain structures of male-female interaction and the participation of each in society. F.I. Research Areas
Contemporary legal reforms of Islamic family and criminal law, legal opinions and case law • Why this research topic: • An understanding of how civil and personal status laws have changed and continue to change in Muslim-majority contexts can give activists a better sense of the political and social contexts in which some of their activism may be taking place. As much scholarship on contemporary law often evokes history of a particular country’s legal system, these articles can also show activists the changing nature of women’s social roles, conceptions of their legal status, and the ways in which divorce, marriage, and other social institutions are understood from a legal point of view. • This kind of scholarship can also help activists see how women have received and responded to contemporary legal reforms and the extent to which seemingly “progressive” legal reforms have alienated many moreso than having opened new doors for others. F.I. Research areas (cont’d)
Innovative, subtle, and local forms and strategies of Muslim women’s agency and resistance within and against local hierarchical and patriarchal structures of power Why this research topic? This is one of the most important areas of research for F.I. These kinds of articles (which tend to be historical and anthropological (ethnographic)), will be critical in showing, on a microcosmic level, how women manage to find power and agency within systems of gender hierarchy, and patriarchy. It can better illustrate the exercise of women’s agency is not always defined by explicit acts of social subversion, but that some women may find more comfort and even freedom in the act of locating spaces to find power and do certain things on their own rather than breaking down and creating completely new and alien avenues of power and choice. Though F.I. also seeks to look at scholarship that shows resistance against prevailing systems, we believe that in some contexts, sustainable movements for gender equity can only begin through appreciating and working with systems of agency-location and practice that women have already set in place for themselves. F.I. Research areas (cont’d)
Muslim women in literature: biographies, folklore and literature within the Islamic religious tradition or within the cultural traditions of present-day Muslim communities that depict women as important social members and independent thinkers OR scholarship that looks at how Muslim women in literature have been represented throughout history Why this research topic? Oftentimes, literature (from poetry to stories to autobiographies to biographies, to media literature) can be used a useful lens through which to understand the way that women are perceived and perceive themselves at particular historical moments. Some of these articles are designed to look at how certain exalted Muslim female figures in history have served as models for independent thinking and the practice of agency in certain contexts, and thus could provide activists with examples of exalted female leaders that might be helpful examples the women they are trying to help can use in their conversations and interactions with family The other portion of these articles are mostly analyses of literature that has been produced on Muslim women and what that literature can tell us about women’s social progress at a particular historical moment, how women have used different kinds of print literature as a way of telling their stories and what we can learn about notions of femininity and masculinity in different kinds of stories and biographies. F.I. Research areas (cont’d)
Notions and manifestations of masculinity in society and how gender-related programs are deconstructing these notions to integrate males within women’s rights efforts and help them to position themselves as partners in gender-equitable relationships Why this research topic? The conversation about women’s rights and social progress cannot be had without understanding men’s realities and challenges in different local contexts. Much of the explicit and gentle violence imposed on women today cannot directly be linked simply to men’s actions, but must be understood in the context of what it means to be a man in different contexts. These articles explore constructions of masculinity in different historical moments and today, and how different activist efforts are being used to slowly change these understandings through different educational initiatives for young boys. F.I. research areas (cont’d)
Past Projects • Reviewing the Inaugural Afghan Family Code • In December 2009, Rights and Democracy, a non-profit organization supporting reform of Afghan family law, requested F.I.’s assistance in reviewing the inaugural Afghan Family Code on behalf of the Afghan Family Law Drafting Committee. • The draft law was reviewed for potential implications on women and children’s rights, comportment with Islamic family law, and consistency with legal language and phraseology. • We also invited feedback from various scholars of Islamic and family law to critique the draft.
Projects (Cont’d) • F.I. Research Cycles • Every 3 months, F.I. organizes what is called a research cycle, during which we gather students from PhD, graduate, and undergraduate programs in the U.S. and abroad to participate in research efforts and in the development of Content and Utility Analyses (CUAs) on a number of scholarly articles that fall within the 5 previously mentioned research topics. • Researchers spend three months rigorously deconstructing journal articles, book chapters, and excerpts of NGO reports and articulate how the information in these pieces can be useful on a discursive and practical level to activist initiatives and organizations that work with women in Muslim-majority countries. • These CUAs are also developed for uploading on to F.I.’s developing electronic database, which seeks to serve as a go-to site for organizations interested in getting information and analyses of issues related to gender, women’s agency, and other topics related to our research from numerous disciplinary angles.
F.I. Products • Literary Write-Ups: Written compilations that will contain selected inspiring stories/poetry which promote gender solidarity; biographies of spiritually and intellectually exalted women in Islamic history; will be taken from Islamic literature and literature that comes from Muslim-majority societies. • A Series of Dossiers on 5 Research Themes: Collection of article/chapter summaries and reflective questions aimed to give activists a sense of what information on women’s rights and activist efforts are available to them and how they can use this information in developing content for their awareness raising and training programs or strategies for women’s advancement. We hope to couple these dossiers with one-on-one consulting sessions with activist groups, aimed to demonstrate how to best link academic scholarship to women’s social and legal activism
F.I. Products (Cont’d) • An Online Portal: This will serve as an informational go-to-site and navigation system for activists, lawyers, students, and researchers. It will contain a series of Content and Utility Analyses (CUAs). • An Online Help-Line: Will provide prompt advice and research assistance ton scholarship relating to our 5 research themes. A research team that delivers information to assist in content development of existing education, campaigning, training, and legislative drafting activities • Dossiers and Educational Materials: This material will consist of scholarly and legal opinion on specific issues concerning women’s status in Islamic law.
F.I. Products (Cont’d) • Research Papers: These papers will explore recent developments in gender laws in Muslim-majority societies and new interpretations that are emerging of women’s rights in Islamic law, innovative forms of women’s social and legal activism, and how academic scholarship can be used to inform activist work. • Working Group Discussions: These discussions are designed to promote open dialogue on discourses of women’s rights and activism, and the changing meanings of women’s rights and advancement in different local contexts.
A Content and Utility Analysis (hereby referred to as CUA) is designed to: • Show how the points within a scholarly article/book chapter/report can be used to make a tangible argument for women seeking reform in legal systems, in societal gender roles, or in emphasizing a woman's agency. • Demonstrate how and where the content can be incorporated into practical existing projects that protect and promote women's rights through campaigning, training and education programs. • In the compilation of CUAs, researcher goals should center on: • Communicating how recognizing and acknowledging the argument in an article or the facts presented within it can enable women’s organizations to more effectively and innovatively help Muslim women to make a case for increased agency and lobbying for their interpretations of human rights • Through showing how the theory of the article’s argument could inspire new and creative ways of thinking about what “women’s rights,” “human rights,” and “gender equality” • Can, in turn, help organizations develop strategies that more productively empower women within, and not necessarily always against patriarchal systems of power and within local cultural, religious, and environmental structures. Content and Utility Analysis (CUA)
Parts of a CUA: Classification of Article -Title and formal citation, Primary methodology/discipline of article, source link, audience, nature of article, author description, year of publication, key subject terms Abstract -One paragraph summarizing main points Utility Paragraph (most important) -How can the shed new light on the understanding of interpretations of Islamic law on a historical, anthropological, or sociological level; how women go about asserting their agency; how women resist within and against patriarchal structures; and how new interpretations of Islamic sacred texts come into being, among a few ideas. Questions for Reflection -Some questions that NGOs/activists can ask themselves after reading a utility paragraph related to the realities of women in the contexts in which they are working Reference Table -A utility rating for the sub-topics discussed in each piece of literature (marriage, divorce, child custody laws, etc.) Synopsis -A more expanded summary of the article, reflecting the flow of points and logical reasoning within the article Extracts -Excerpts from the literature itself designed to provide reader supporting detail and evidence to the author’s main points and more concrete examples not necessarily captured in the synopsis CUAs Cont’d
Examples of Items 1-3 Classification of Article: Mary Elaine Hegland. “Shi'a Women's Rituals in Northwest Pakistan: The Shortcomings and Significance of Resistance.”Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 3 (Summer, 2003), http://www.jstor.org/stable/3318183.1. Audience: Activists, n.g.o’s and researchers who want to understand the potential impact of low-key and subtle women’s activism and resistance in gender-strict and controlled Muslim societies; and how they can be garnered to influence more substantial alterations in gender and power configurations. 2. Nature of Article: Scholarly article3. Discipline: Historical and socio-anthropological4. About the Author:Mary Elaine Hegland's field work has been…5. Jurisdiction: Peshawar Pakistan with some references to Iran.6. Date of Publication: 20037. Subject terms: Muslim women’s resistance, subtle resistance, strategies and forms of women’s activism, gendered spaces, using rituals to subvert patriarchy. 8. Link to Text:http://www.jstor.org/stable/3318183. ABSTRACT FOLLOWS
Abstract • In this article, Hegland discusses how Shi’a women in Peshawar, Pakistan, are subtly and innovatively protesting against strict gender rules, through their participation in mourning rituals for Imam Hussein. She asserts that Shi’a women in Peshawar, Pakistan are subverting male-centered religious symbolisms through counter-narratives of their presumed identities during the mourning rituals. Yet, the author clearly states that the participants never verbally align their actions with any feminist agenda and discourse. Rather the author proposes that the women engage in a subtle form of resistance. By organizing and hosting majles’, forming a community around it, competing in performances, serving as spiritual beacons such as preachers, and participating in self-flagellation, the women showcase their competence, spiritual and religious excellence, organizing skills, and influence in an otherwise gender oppressive society. The author contends that we should not overlook these unconscious, subtle, and covert forms of resistance. These pre-political activities may transform women’s concept of their self and world-view and allow them to do so within a protected, albeit patriarchal framework. Eventually these experiences could launch these women into more substantial alterations in power configurations. As she puts it ‘The practice of resistance, however low-key or subtle, preserves the potential for change, although the degree to which this potential will eventually be realized can be known only in retrospect.’ The author’s main theme of women’s resistance needing to be contextualized by societal and cultural constraints is easily comprehensible. An exercise in anthropological research, the author’s style is clear, and crisp. In addition, the author is careful to be respectful of her subjects, and discusses her own background so that the reader can understand any biases she may in-overtly hold. In comparison with “Women’s Agency and Household Diplomacy-Negotiating Fundamentalism,” both authors discuss the process of navigating, co-opting and/or manipulating societal patriarchal networks in Pakistan and Iran. Othman in “Strategies of Southeast Asian Women” also discusses the strategies women employ when facing a fundamentalist, conservative social community.
Utility Paragraph • Although the main author specifically discusses one region Peshawar, Pakistan, and the Shi’a women therein, her writings have universal appeal because they tackle the question of negotiating women’s agency and power in prohibiting and segregated environments where women are heavily reliant on men. The Shi’a women’s resistance may appear minimal to some scholars and activists, but the author claims that such minimalism is the seed for future productions, and outcomes for gender equality. This article best suits activists who are dealing with communities that have entrenched gender inequalities and whose communities might erupt in gender violence if any radical gender challenges are introduced. The author contends that these moments during the majles of gender resistance may never form into a full-fledged feminist movement but they at least provide women with an alternative space for political, cultural, and religious empowerment. This slow progressive approach will allow activists to help women garner additional power without having the participant sacrifice her societal standing within her respective community.
Questions for Reflection • What avenues and activities have been traditionally recognized as legitimate activities for female participation in my community? • Are these activities necessarily gendered? Can women overtly occupy them? • What kind of power structures or gender hierarchy exist in those activities? • How may I have devalued its potential impact by denying them its political and economic value, however subtle they are? • How can I further utilize these activities to inspire women to identify with each other and construct their own self-identity? • How can I further utilize these activities to inspire female leadership and competence over the tasks in those activities? • Do these activities run into possible spaces for community and political decision-making? • Is providing a platform within these activities for women to enter community or state politics necessary or beneficial for the community?
F.I.’s Relationship with Client Organizations • Through consultations, organizations can share with us the following information: • The philosophy and approach of their work • Their strategies and programs • The resources they use to design or deliver their programs • Their perceived obstacles • What resources/literature they would like from us. • F.I. can provide an organization: • Original scholarship, selected on the basis of a consensus between organization and F.I. • CUAs that will help them navigate through the scholarship and articulate significance to their work • Toolkits that will guide them through process of “How to use the materials” • Consultations with executive board in potential options for integration into org’s existing programs
F.I. and Women’s Participation in Civil Society • F.I. offers the following avenues through which Muslim women’s participation in civil society might be realized: • F.I. Itself offers: • Research internship program open to all PhD, graduate, and undergraduate level students who are interested in using scholarship to inform more nuanced women’s rights activism • Development and Online and Social Media internships for those interested in gaining experience in the growth and expansion of partnerships of a prospective non-profit organization • F.I.’s work is designed: • To enable activist organizations to open newer and more innovative avenues through which women might be able to exercise their agency and engage in a self-articulation of rights using languages and terminology more decipherable and legible within their own communities • To enable organizations to use scholarship as inspiration for developing projects that are more relevant to local contexts and that actually facilitate women’s power and not merely their presence: • Sometimes, in order to facilitate women’s power, the settings in which you propose they have more of an appearance or presence in need to be changed • Sometimes this means using religious platforms, certain forms of existing rituals, or encouraging the creation of women-led community platforms that offer a safer and more productive forum upon which they may be able to talk about issues of concern to them.
Future Projects F.I. will be starting it’s fourth research cycle in November and is actively recruiting PhD, graduate, and advanced undergraduate students to participate in its research internship program. F.I. will continue to expand its online portal through honing CUAs from previous cycles. It is currently recruiting Research Analyst interns to help in the editing of these CUAs. F.I. is also actively creating toolkits to better consolidate the information from multiple CUAs that converge on one topic to give readers and clients a more holistic and accessible understanding of what different scholars and sources have to say on one particular issue. We are in the process of building collaborative partnerships with university internship programs to help in our recruitment of researchers throughout the U.S. We are also in the process of building working relationships with professors who focus on gender and sexuality studies as well as women’s histories in Muslim-majority societies, to gain their feedback and critiques of the quality of our products. Continuing to develop our blog, current events pages, and F.I. newsletter to let our audience and members know about issues in the news we find relevant for women’s social progress and the multiple factors that affect and shape women’s realities.
For more information: • Visit our website at: www.feminijtihad.com • Contact one of our executive board members: • Natasha Latiff, Founder and Exec. Director (firstname.lastname@example.org) • Helena Zeweri, Director of Research-NY Chapter (email@example.com) • Medina Del Castillo, Director of Development & Communications (firstname.lastname@example.org)