Gender Jihad: the slow and steady gains of women in the Middle East.

Author:Richardson, Emily E.
Position::Book review

Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East

Isobel Coleman

(New York: Random House, 2013), 315 pages.

An old proverb states, "If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he will eat for a lifetime." According to Isobel Coleman in Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, if you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime, but if you give a woman the title to the fishpond, she will clean it, preserve it for the next generation, supply it with new fish, and create a fish farm to employ the whole village.

Women are often not entitled to a fishpond, especially in the Arab world. In fact, in much of the Middle East, women are not even allowed out of the home to go and tend to the fishpond on their own. However, this state of affairs is changing, slowly but surely. Just three decades after Iran's Revolution, more Iranian women than men attend university. In Pakistan, women now occupy 33 percent of the seats in local government, and in Saudi Arabia, the government now provides scholarships for women to study abroad.

Despite the recent progress made by countries in the Middle East in realizing women's rights and enhancing opportunities and roles for women, the issue of women's empowerment remains contentious and is frequently debated. Isobel Coleman, the director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, delves into the heated topic of women and their rights in the Muslim world in Paradise Beneath Her Feet.

First released in 2010 and re-released in 2013, Paradise Beneath Her Feet chronicles Coleman's travels across the Middle East. It explores how both women and men are driving change, and how women are becoming more active members of society through new political, economic, and educational opportunities. As she journeys across Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Coleman highlights the stories of determined women and open-minded men who are working within the tenets of Islam to fight for women's rights and social justice through what she calls Islamic feminism. Coleman argues that this form of reform, within the principles of and based on context-specific understandings of Islam, will lead to a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful Middle East.

Paradise Beneath Her Feet is the compilation of a decade of Coleman's research and writing on women and development in the Middle East. Written for a diverse...

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