Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East
Isobel Coleman, Author and Senior Fellow for
US Foreign Policy Council on Foreign Relations
Photos | Transcript

Washington, DC—On May 10, 2010, Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed her recent book, Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East. Dr. Coleman is an expert on democratization, civil society, economic development, education, regional gender issues, and microfinance, with a regional focus on the Middle East and South Asia. She also directs the Women in Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At the event, which was co-hosted by the Women's Foreign Policy Group and the World Bank, Dr. Coleman addressed the ways in which women in the greater Middle East were advocating for their rights from an "Islamic feminist" angle. An economist by training, she focused on how economic opportunities for women have helped drive social and political changes in terms of women's rights. Dr. Coleman went on to discuss how these changing perspectives on women's rights have been driven by rising levels of female education, progressive media, extremist Islam, and a questioning of sharia interpretations. In addition, she highlighted the important roles that men have played in provoking and supporting these changes.

In the Q&A session that followed, Dr. Coleman spoke about the urban/rural divide and the generational gap within Islamic societies, in particular the increased conservatism of the younger generations, which has posed challenges for women's empowerment efforts. In addition, she highlighted the recent heightened questioning of prevailing interpretations of the Quran, which has spurred many different individuals -- both men and women -- to begin re-examining the passages that have traditionally been used to justify limiting women's rights. Dr. Coleman also discussed the contentious family issues that have been at the crux of many controversies over women's rights in the Middle East, citing in particular the moudouana reform in Morocco and the ripple effects it has had throughout the region.

In closing, Dr. Coleman emphasized the need for women's educational and economic opportunities, stressing the entrepreneurial spirit of women in the Middle East and their impact on overall economic development: "Women create jobs for other women and for men--it's additive... And that will be an engine of growth in that part of the world. It has to be.


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WFPG President Patricia Ellis,
Speaker Isobel Coleman,
Co-sponsor Amanda Ellis, World Bank

  Coleman addresses WFPG members and guests

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