Myths and realities of the impact of political Islam on women: female employment in Indonesia and Iran

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks on targets in the USA, debates concerning the situation of women in the Muslim world have tended to focus on the extent to which they are victims of religious dogma. Like any other religion, Islam can be oppressive towards women; however, working women are not affected only by religious factors. This paper reviews women's experiences in Indonesia and Iran, countries in which Islamist movements have taken a leading role in the government. In the former, the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s precipitated civil unrest and brought an Islamist government to power. Since then, female employment in Indonesia appears to have been affected more by the economic crisis than by the Islamist movement, which was itself a by-product of the crisis. In Iran, it might have been expected that women's formal employment would have declined after two decades of Islamisation, but in fact it has increased. A review of these two cases shows that the impact of the rise of political Islam is complex and cannot be captured by simple stereotypes.