The Rise of Women in Muslim Political Parties


Date and Time

February 25, 2020 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM



RSVP required by 5PM February 24.


Encina Commons Room 123
Encina Commons
615 Crothers Way
Stanford, CA

This event is co-sponsored with The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.


Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Roza Otunbayva in Kyrgystan, Megawati Sukarno Putri in Indonesia: female Muslim leaders are seen as pioneers at the forefront of the empowerment of women in Muslim-majority countries and more generally the empowerment of women on a global scale. The younger generation of women Muslim leaders have forged their political struggle and discourse in the post-9/11 context. More recently, they have surfed the wave of hope and disillusion of the Spring revolution(s). A major difference with the first generation of female Muslim leaders is that the younger generation’s political identity is strongly grounded in Islamic references. They are (or have labelled themselves) as Islamists, Islamist democrats or Muslim democrats that propose an alternative to the exclusive secular discourse.

Through the experience of Sayida Ounissi, we explore the genuine and challenging role of a new generation of female leaders, in Muslim democrats or Islamist parties. This discussion goes beyond the common assumptions and clichés of the veil oppressed Muslim women, the question of the compatibility between Islam and democracy or Islam and feminism. It rather looks at the rise of young women Muslim democrats in Islamist or Muslim parties in a way to grasp the feminine, and sometimes feminist, re-definition of the Islamic tradition and Islamist or Muslim democrats discourse. It explores the modes of transmission of political struggle and ideologies, from fathers to daughters, and from mothers, whether passive or active Islamists, to daughters. Finally, it examines the challenges posed to their ascensions within their parties and society by analysing how these women are re-appropriating conservative Islamic codes, other cultural or religious practices, and the social and political concepts inherent to their respective local and global context, in order to secure legitimate ascension in their parties and societies.


Sayida Ounissi is a member of the Tunisian Assembly of People’s Representatives and Minister for Employment and Vocational Training.  She represents Tunisians living in the North of France for the Ennahdha Party and was first elected in October 2014 and reelected in October 2019.  In 1993, her family fled the dictatorship of Ben-Ali for France where she completed all of her schooling. In 2005, she joined the University of Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne for a double degree in History and Political Science. She obtained her Masters at the Institute for the Study of Economic and Social Development, and completed her studies with an internship at the African Development Bank in Tunis. In 2016, she was recruited by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to join his Cabinet as Secretary of State in the Ministry of Employment and Vocational Training, charged with vocational training and private initiative. In 2018, she was promoted as the Minister for Employment and Vocational Training, becoming the youngest minister in Tunisia.


Portrait of Sophie LemiereSophie Lemiere is a Political Anthropologist and FSI-Humanities Center International Visitor, 2019-20, at Stanford University. She is a former Fellow for the Democracy in Hard Places Initiative at the Ash Center for Democracy, Harvard University. In 2014, she received her PhD from Sciences-Po, France. Her thesis was the first study on the political role of gangs through umbrella NGOs in Malaysia. In 2019-2020, Sophie has been awarded the Visiting Fellowship at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University and the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship at the International Forum for Democratic Studies (National Endowment for Democracy-NED), in Washington, D.C.

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