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Women -- Middle East -- Social conditions, Women -- Political activity -- Middle East, Feminist theory -- Political aspects, Middle East -- Social life and customs, Patriarchy


Why do we know so little about gender and politics in the Middle East? Most obviously, few women were elected to office in the Arab world until recently, limiting the study of women in formal politics. In Morocco, the first female was elected to the lower house in 1993, while in Saudi Arabia, women first ran for office—in municipal elections—in 2015. Systematic data on politics has also been historically scant, making the study of women’s informal participation, such as voting and civil society activities, also difficult. The Middle East tends to contribute less to comparative politics than have other regions, and so, it is unsurprising that little is known about a sometimes marginalized, though sizeable area of political science—gender and politics—in the Arab region.

In a working paper, Marwa Shalaby and I discuss these and other reasons the Middle East lags behind in its contribution to gender and politics literature. We also summarize insights from new avenues of research which are transforming the ways we think about gender relations within and beyond the Arab world. In this memo, I discuss another barrier: the need for improved conceptualization and measurement of patriarchy. I argue that political scientists under-conceptualize patriarchy and fail to draw on existing feminist theory. By better engaging with feminist theorists such as Kandiyoti (1988), who conceptualized gender relations as a “patriarchal bargain,” and Sadiqi (2008), who distinguished private and public patriarchy, political scientists can better explain mechanisms promoting women’s empowerment.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Mediterranean Politics. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version will be published in Mediterranean Politics

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