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This chapter shows how the adoption of constitutional and legislative women’s rights reforms have converged in the Maghreb region, but also how the Maghreb has diverged from the Middle East in this regard. I discuss the adoption of unified legal systems, which set the stage for future women’s rights reforms. I then examine constitutional reforms followed by a discussion of key areas of legislative reform since 2000, particularly areas showing variation within the region and where we have seen legislative reforms improving women’s status. This allows us to identify the key differences between the Maghreb countries and the Middle East, but also where variance cuts across the entire region.
This chapter discusses the divergence and commonalties between the Maghreb (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and the Middle East when it comes to advancing women’s rights. I hypothesize several possible explanations for the divergence: (1) Maghrebi leaders adopted the political strategy of advancing women’s rights in order to present a modernizing image of their nation to the world and to neutralize Islamist movements, especially extremist ones; (2) the ruling parties, including Islamist parties, sought to stay in power by advancing women’s rights, knowing it would cost them if they did not adopt such reforms; (3) women’s movements exerted pressure resulting in demands for greater accountability (often these reforms occurred in the context of a critical juncture after a change of leadership, the end of a war, a coup d’état, or other major social upheaval); and, finally, (4) the women’s movements in all three countries communicated with each other, thus diffusing goals and strategies. The chapter briefly engages with alternate explanations for women’s rights reforms in the region. One set of explanations relates to cultural factors like kinship and religion, and the other looks at structural factors relating to women’s education, economic growth, the presence of oil rents, and international pressures.
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