For many women’s rights activists working internationally, especially those coming from a western context, sharia is believed to be a major obstacle to women’s rights. In order to protect women from Muslim religious law, these advocates often position themselves aggressively against so-called sharia legislation and sharia in general. I believe that this approach is counterproductive and ultimately exacerbates, rather than improves, the situation for women living in Muslim-majority countries. In this article, I explain how current global feminist strategies have helped create an unwinnable and unnecessary war: that of sharia vs. women’s rights. Drawing on observations incident to my work on the zina (extra-marital sex) laws in Nigeria and Pakistan, I argue for an alternative: women’s rights advocates concerned about the situation of Muslim women around the world would do better not to mention Islamic law at all. This would be a major strategy shift, requiring significant restraint on the part of western secular feminist activists, but I believe it is worth it. I explain how, with this shift in approach, internationally-active women’s rights advocates might more effectively contribute to securing rights for women in Muslim-majority countries. This shift could also open up a new appreciation for a wider spectrum of feminism, including that coming from a sharia-mindful perspective. In short, I argue for a world of advocacy for women that is nuanced and sophisticated and works with—not against—the reality of sharia in Muslim lives.
This Article argues that there is a rising bar for establishing persecution in U.S. asylum cases involving sexual and reproductive harm. Analyzing recent cases, the Article shows that adjudicators tend to apply a higher standard for physical harm in these types of cases and largely overlook nonphysical harm, including psychological suffering and the intangible harm caused by deprivation of equality, autonomy, and privacy. The Article focuses specifically on two types of cases where these patterns appear: (1) female genital mutilation (FGM); and (2) involuntary insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD). Regarding FGM, the Article discusses an emerging dispute as to whether Type I FGM (clitoridectomy) constitutes persecution. With respect to involuntary IUDs, the Article analyzes a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) requiring aggravating circumstances for the harm to constitute persecution, as well as recent circuit court decisions reviewing the application of this problematic precedent to other cases. The Article then argues that using international human rights law to identify and evaluate various types of harm would lead to a much more comprehensive and principled analysis of persecution and would likely lead to different results in these types of cases.
Despite over thirty years of rape law reform, rape remains too prevalent, and successful convictions of rapists remain too rare. I argue in this Article that we continue to fail rape victims because we are too quick to give in to our instinct to blame and less willing to engage in the careful reflection that would lead us to see more profoundly our collective responsibility for this failure.
The Article proceeds in five sections. In Section I, I review a number of studies and argue that rape reforms to date, while significant, have nonetheless been inadequate. I then discuss the pervasiveness of rape myths about blame, both over time and in the present day. In Section II, I extend my analysis to rape in the tort system. Drawing on a recent empirical analysis of jury verdicts and settlements, as well as interviews with practicing plaintiffs’ attorneys, I argue that unless harm is concrete and visible, we tend to devalue it.
In Section III, I turn my attention to policymaking. Based on a series of empirical studies, I discuss the role of the media and legislators in shaping policy response to sex crimes. I argue that the policy response has often been driven by moral panic rather than careful reflection. In Section IV, I evaluate why reform has failed and suggest that the impulse to blame all men or all men in fraternities is overly simplistic. In Section V, I conclude the paper with a reflection on the deeper meanings of rape myths and rape law reform. I argue that to find lasting solutions for the problems of sexual violence we must first look inward. Reflection, leading to collective responsibility and collective action, is the best path to reform.