The Brookings Institution recently published a paper that I co-wrote with three of my colleagues. The paper proposes a method for advancing women’s rights in the key constitutional moments underway in three post-conflict Muslim-majority states: Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya. We argue for meaningful collaboration and strategizing done between three sectors we believe are key to advancing and securing social change: legal scholars, political activists, and religious authorities. The latter are needed particularly when resistance to social change is grounded in religious argument, as women’s rights often are around the world and across religious traditions. This is particularly important in these three states, however, where they are currently negotiating the substance of constitutions that incorporate religious law (sharia), which will have serious implications for women (depending on which form of sharia and how it is interpreted and upheld).
Although we don’t say this in the paper itself, for obvious reasons, we used as our model the marriage equality movement in the United States. The significant changes that have been made to advance LGBT rights in such a relatively short period in this country, we believe, is due in part to the fact that these three pillars worked so closely and well together for the common aim. The legal experts knew where and how the laws could be challenged and the best judicial route (state vs. federal) to do so, the political activists provided their skills in mobilization, advocacy, and lobbying, and the religious institutions and actors (including my own United Church of Christ), provided authoritative theological language to support gay rights and to challenge religious language used to resist it. We believe it was these three sectors working together that produced such impressive changes in social, legal, and political norms in such a short amount of time.