Gender and the Sectarian State

By Rola El-Husseini
Submitted to Session P4737 (Reflections on the State and Statelessness in the Post-Arab Spring Era, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
In Arab nations such as Morocco, Jordan, and Tunisia, the quota system has provided an effective means to increase the political representation of women in the state. In these non-sectarian Muslim-majority countries, the quota system has enabled women to demonstrate their great competency through public service. In this presentation, I will contrast political representation by women in these non-sectarian states to the dismal standing of women in sectarian countries such as Iraq and Lebanon. It draws upon the role played by women’s quotas in Iraq following the 2003 US invasion, and the similar status of women in politics in the non-quota state of Lebanon, to question the efficacy of quota use in sectarian countries where politicians are more often representative of their sect than their class or gender. It also outlines the importance of external actors in ensuring the deployment of state feminism not only in authoritarian Arab states but also in sectarian states such as Iraq after 2003.
In a sectarian state like Iraq the quota has been enacted through a patrimonial system where women’s public service is shackled to a confessional leader rather than to serving the public good. Furthermore, any of the localized benefits that might accrue from having a quota system within the sect, have been diminished by the roll back of progressive laws implemented by the pre-invasion secular state.
The enactment of a quota system for women has become a regular part of political discourse in Lebanon with the hope that it will improve the limited role that Lebanese women have in the political sphere. I will argue that the Iraq case demonstrates the likely shortcomings of this approach in a state where political power is likewise enacted within a system where allegiance is to powerful and often regressive political leaders.