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Reviewed by:
  • Family, Gender, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia
  • Azza Basarudin
Family, Gender, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia Kenneth M. Cuno and Manisha Desai, eds. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009. 245 pages. ISBN 978-0-8516-3235-1.

This edited collection addresses the intersection of gender, law, and family in the Middle East and South Asia through a comparative paradigm. It is comprised of twelve essays based on an international symposium organized by co-editors Kenneth M. Cuno and Manisha Desai at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2004. The "South-South" comparison focuses on how gender roles, familial/social structures, and legal codes are shaped by colonial, national, and transnational forces and how local actors are active participants in negotiating and contesting state laws that impact their lived realities. The contributors question the role of modern nation-states as champions of equal rights and gender egalitarian principles by exposing the divergence that results from religious laws governing the private and familial realms.

The strength of the book lies in its regional comparison and interdisciplinary approach to the question of women's rights in the family. It does so through a reframing of the complex interaction between historical and contemporary factors, tension between secularists and Islamists, and interplay between local and global politics. It complicates our understanding of gender ideals and women's status and expands existing debates by bringing together family laws, feminist philosophy, competing religious edicts, political changes, and universal standards of rights, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms [End Page 103] of Discrimination Against Women. The authors expose the collusion of societal norms, state policies, religious establishments, and international conventions in regulating the boundaries of morality and sexuality.

The book is divided into four parts: Part 1: "Colonial Modernity and Family Law Codes" (Cuno and Flavia Agnes), Part 2: "Religion, Custom, the State and Patriarchy" (Frances Raday, Desai, and Zehra Arat), Part 3: "Family Law Codes Contested and (Re) Constructed" (Juan Cole, Lynn Welchman, Zakia Salime, and Anita Weiss), and Part 4: "Women's Roles and Family Relationships Renegotiated and Redefined" (Shelley Feldman, Frances Hasso, and Homa Hoodfar).

Part 1 considers marital relations and family law reform during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Egypt, particularly in relation to the notion of "bayt al-ta'a" (the house of obedience) (6) as well as the impact of colonial state policies on gender relations in India, where Victorian morality recast in the mold of a "new modernity" (20) revitalized indigenous patriarchy and weakened women's roles.

Part 2 includes the conflict between religion and human rights in Israel through an analysis of constitutional doctrine, legislative standards, and judicial policy; debates on legal pluralism versus a uniform civil code in India; and the ways in which the institutions of religion, state, and family in Turkey "reproduced, transmitted, and enforced" (80) patriarchal norms.

Part 3 depicts struggles over personal status law in conflict ridden and post-Baathist Iraq; the shifting Muslim family laws in Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza; the repositioning of feminist activism on the debates to reform the Moroccon Moudawana (shari'a-based family law); and identity politics behind contradictory visions of women's rights in contemporary Pakistan.

Part 4 examines civil, religious, and customary moral regulations in contemporary Bangladesh; the changing marital patterns and sexual relationships among Sunni Muslim Egyptians and Emiratis; and gender consciousness and constructions of family in communities of Afghan refugee women in Iran.

While differing in the social structures, legislation, and customs they analyze, the authors provide meticulous documentation and analysis that unravels claims by colonial powers and administrators that they civilized societies and liberated women. The authors demonstrate [End Page 104] how fluid local legal systems, upon encounter with European laws (e.g., British and French), have both yielded and institutionalized the reification of private and public patriarchies. They show how the codification of family laws results from interactions between local elites, ordinary citizens, and colonial authorities, and in some cases, such as Egypt and India, erodes citizen's ability to negotiate the legal system (3 – 42). Moreover, the authors unpack the...


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