The Shah Bano case of the 1980s was a landmark in the discourse on ‘Muslim women’s rights’ in India. At this time, however, few Muslim women actually participated in the debates, which were dominated by male religious leaders and politicians or by ‘secular’ women’s groups, which had scant Muslim representation. Since the 1980s several Muslim-women led organisations have emerged in urban areas across the country, some of which have formed networks to advocate for Muslim women’s rights. This article looks at the emergence of two networks in particular, the Muslim Women’s Rights Network (MWRN) and the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), both of which were established during the last ten years. These networks have different but overlapping ideological bases, priorities and strategies. They both aim to challenge the authority of the Muslim religious leadership, represented by institutions such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. They also offer a critique of the mainstream women’s movement, either from within the movement or from outside, as not having given sufficient space to the perspectives of women from marginalised communities. Both networks are engaged in struggles to reformulate power relations at the local and national levels, thus challenging the dominant conception of Muslim women as a passive, homogenous group with a common set of interests. Rather, the MWRN and the BMMA demonstrate new forms of political agency and are creating a space for a conceptualisation of identities that complicates the dichotomy between religious and gender-based interests and aims to reconcile the two in a manner that protects and promotes women’s rights without denying the importance of religious identity.
Kirmani, N. Claiming Their Space: Muslim Women-led Networks and the Women’s Movement in India. Journal of International Women’s Studies (2009) 11 (1) 72-85.