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Introduction IN THIS age of globalization, women’s bodies and sexuality are increasingly becoming arenas of intense conflict. Conservative and religious right political forces are fiercely trying to maintain or reinforce traditional mechanisms of control over women’s sexuality and even create new ones. Four UN conferences held in the 1990s—the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, the 1995 Beijing Conference, the 1999 five-year review of the ICPD (ICPD+5), and the 2000 fiveyear review of the Beijing Conference (Beijing+5)—witnessed the Catholic and Muslim religious right engaging in unprecedented cooperation to oppose and restrict women’s right to control their bodies and sexuality. At the same time, in the last decade, women around the globe have joined forces to counter these moves from the conservative and religious right and have engaged in an international struggle against violations of their sexual and reproductive rights—a struggle transcending national borders as well as real or constructed North-South and East-West dichotomies. A visible sign of the success of this struggle is the significant change in the way international agencies use language. As the global women’s movement has become stronger and the “rights” approach has gained credibility , reproductive rights” discourse has increasingly replaced reproductive “health” and “sexual health” and become a focus of SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall 2002) Women, Sexuality, and Social Change in the Middle East and the Maghreb BY PINAR ILKKARACAN interest and a part of common terminology. The shift from “sexual health” to “sexual rights” constitutes the last link in this chain of global change as introduced by the global women’s movement. In this context, several traditional cultural practices—such as honor crimes, the stoning of women accused of adultery, virginity tests, or female genital cutting—in Muslim societies, including the Middle East, have increasingly drawn the attention of the Western media and public in recent years as human rights abuses. The lack of information on Islam and on the wide diversity of Muslim societies, the parallel rise of the Islamic religious right, which claims such customary practices to be Islamic, and the tendency to “essentialize” Islam are some of the factors that have led to the incorrect portrayal in the West of such practices as Islamic. This depiction is not only misleading, but also stands in sharp contrast to the efforts of women’s movements in Muslim societies, which, in their fight against such practices, are campaigning to raise public consciousness that these practices are against Islam. In fact, the incorrect depiction contributes to the Islamic religious right’s cause of vigorously trying to create extreme forms of control over women and their sexuality by incorporating and universalizing the worst customary practices in the name of religion. In this article, I argue that the practices leading to violations of women’s sexual rights in the Middle East and the Maghreb are not the result of an Islamic vision of sexuality, but a combination of political, economic, and social inequalities through the ages. In this context, religion is unfortunately often misused as a powerful instrument of control with the goal of legitimizing violations of women’s human rights. In making this argument I will first provide some information on the contradictory construction of women’s sexuality in the Qur’an and the early fiqh texts (the legal science of Islamic jurisprudence), which are at the root of the controversy. I will then explore some of the historical and sociopolitical factors that have had an impact on women’s sexuality in the region today. In particular, I will consider the contradictory impact of moderniza754 SOCIAL RESEARCH tion on women’s sexual lives; the nationalist ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their efforts to create new mechanisms to control women’s sexuality; and the rise of the Islamic religious right, which has placed the construction of an “Islamic” sexual identity of women at the top of its agenda. Sexuality in the Qur’an and the Early Fiqh Texts: The Initial Roots of Controversy Several researchers have pointed to the contradiction between the notion of gender equality in the Qur’an and the patriarchal misinterpretation of it...


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