GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Of Parliaments and Patriarchy: Gender Politics and Public Participation in the Arab Gulf States
Paper Proposal Text :
Why does women\'s participation matter in elections and parliaments in the Arab Gulf states? The topic of women\'s participation in Arab Gulf state elections is a matter of interest to many scholars (Longva, 2000; Krause, 2009, Moghadam and Shalaby, 2016). Furthermore, scholars and policy makers alike generally seem to support greater women\'s participation. However, they are hard-pressed to articulate as a community what specifically such participation tells us about the status of women in these societies. In many Gulf countries, for example, women serve as elected officials but have few rights as private citizens. There is also little agreement on what this participation - or lack thereof - indicates about politics in these states. Scholars seem to converge on the idea that patriarchy restricts women\'s participation and elections are an indicator of patriarchal governance. Yet there is little agreement on how to measure and define patriarchy as a concept (Benstead, 2015). Different frameworks of patriarchy create vastly different assessments of which states are more or less patriarchal, which indicates that conceptual stretching (Sartori, 1970) is at play. Without a precise conceptualization of patriarchy, however, it is difficult to articulate the actual stakes of women\'s electoral participation.

In this paper, I argue that in order to understand how patriarchy shapes women\'s participation in electoral politics in the Gulf, we must first better conceptualize patriarchy as a concept. Drawing on seven months of archival and interview field work in Kuwait and Oman, I originate a theory of patriarchy that seeks to regulate women\'s reproductive capacities by creating family units. I use an analysis of Arab Gulf tribal structures to show how existing work (Wolf, 1966; Kandiyoti, 1988; Ortner, 1996; Moghadam, 2004) conflates the \"biological\" family (usra) with the political family (beit) that serves as the smallest building block of a tribe. I use this theory as the basis of a hypothesis that patriarchal regulation of women occurs not from the bottom-up, but rather from the top-down. In other words, political institutions - not families - are the source of this regulation. Specifically, where there is greater institutional protection of citizens\' individual rights, patriarchy is lower. Where there is less protection, patriarchy is higher.

To test these hypotheses, I compare patriarchy\'s effects on women where the family is strongly present to its effects when the family is not strongly present. For women living in rural Omani villages, the family has a strong presence. In contrast, many women in the capital, Muscat, live hours away from their family. If existing accounts are correct, patriarchy should be significantly stronger in rural Oman since the family is there. Muscat should have little patriarchy since the family is far removed from the societies in which women exist day-to-day. In the analysis, I proxy formal patriarchy by examining the legal status of women, and informal patriarchy by examining the concept of \'aib. The term refers to behavior that is considered shameful. While both men and women can commit behaviors considered \'aib, it is universally understood in Gulf societies that it regulates women to a stronger extent. I find that while differences exist between rural and urban Oman, these differences are not nearly as large as existing conceptions of patriarchy suggest.

To assess the potential effects of urban-rural differences in this analysis, I provide a comparison of Kuwait City - an urban area, but one where the family is strongly present. I find that patriarchy is low in Kuwait City despite the strong presence of families. This finding supports the conclusion that institutionalized individual rights for citizens predict lower rates of patriarchy. Kuwait history is not inherently more tolerant of women than Oman\'s, but Kuwait\'s history of constitutions and official concessions by the royal family created a higher degree of institutionalized protection of citizens\' individual rights. I contend that this institutionalization is key to low patriarchy because women are citizens in Gulf countries. Thus, it is easier to make the case that as citizens, they deserve more rights and less patriarchal regulations.

These findings show that political institutions themselves play a key role in supporting or denying women\'s participation in elections. Scholars can apply these findings to more precisely articulate patriarchy\'s role in Arab Gulf politics and pursue a more focused research agenda in this regard.