This article reflects on the challenges faced by Muslim women in Africa in the context of the globalization of women's rights and the politicization of Islam. I argue that the gender hierarchies shaping Muslim women's identity politics are embedded in the broader historical processes of struggles against the colonial regimes, on the one hand, and the different projects of national state building, on the other hand. Central to these processes is a male-interpretation of Islam that has defined the way women would be incorporated into “nationhood” and would become “citizens” in the independent state. I also argue that Islam has been a major site for both the justification of women's oppression by state and nonstate actors and a source for identification and empowerment for women in Africa. In the independent state, women's identity politics were shaped by the institutionalization of gender inequalities in various legislations and by the enforcement of Sharia pressured by the gains of political Islam. My study draws on the substantial body of literature by local activists and scholars to historicize the current political and economic context of struggle for Muslim women in Africa. I use the term Muslim women in this study to refer only to the cultural location of women who may or may not identify with the Islamic faith. I also draw the line between Islamic activists who claim the emergence of Sharia-based states and other groups that inscribe their struggles within the framework of a progressive Islam but do not share the ideology and goals of political Islam. This picture is even more complicated by the location of women at all these levels of cultural framing and political activism in Africa.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.