Brand: Women, the State, And Liberalization

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VOL. 29


No. 2
P. 107
Recent Books
Brand: Women, the State, And Liberalization

    Laurie Brand is an accomplished political scientist, best known for her work on Palestinian and Jordanian politics and policy. With this book, she branches out into North Africa and into the study of women's issues. In both realms she displays many of the strengths of her earlier work: the cases are well-researched and judiciously presented, and future scholars of the status of women in the Arab world will have good reason to turn to this volume for the ample and reliable empirical detail it contains. The theoretical ambitions of the book, however, do not match its empirical richness; Brand is content with a fairly modest comparative analytical framework, thereby permitting the readers to extract their own generalizations from the data.
    Brand seeks to understand how episodes of political liberalization affect women, women's rights, and women's organization in three countries: Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan. This is an interesting question because many feminists consider the welfare state to have been women-friendly, and they worry about the differential and largely negative impact of privatization and liberalization on women. Brand begins her own work with a brief examination of the fortunes of women in the political liberalizations of Latin America and Eastern Europe in the last fifteen years, ostensibly to provide some comparative perspective and highlight the particular circumstances women in the Arab world face. Unfortunately, the comparison is only partially useful for, as Brand is well aware, the cases she examines are in many respects not comparable cases of liberalization at all, but instances of failed or aborted experiments in liberalization. Might not political failure have an impact on women that is different from success? It seems plausible that it might, but she does not treat that question here.
    Instead, Brand identifies a number of dimensions along which the relationship among women, the state, and liberalization might vary, including the nature of the transition, the pre-existing roles and rights of women, and the relationship between the old and new regimes and between each of them and "conservative forces, particularly the religious establishment." On the strength of this study, it appears that the importance of the preliberal regime can hardly be overstated, since the principal distinction among these cases is not to be found within the transitions themselves (which, as has been noted, did not produce much permanent liberal change in any event) but in the circumstances in which the regimes began. The remarkably profeminist legal regime in Tunisia, a regime that predated and survived the country's "liberal" experiments, accounts far better than any element of the liberalization process for the difference between the status of women in Tunisia and in Morocco and Jordan.
    Interestingly, Brand concludes that in none of her cases have women's organizations had a significant role in advancing women's rights before or during the liberal periods. Both the Tunisian government's relatively feminist stance and the conservative approaches of the monarchies have reflected the predispositions and commitments of the (male) political leadership, not the influence of mobilized popular opinion or special interests. Unfortunately, it is difficult to explain the very different results across the countries in terms that permit drawing conclusions that are of interest beyond the region. Is the apparent Tunisian feminism merely old-fashioned patrimonialism in another guise? Is the discrimination in the Jordanian and Moroccan legal codes a "culturally authentic" expression of welfare state policies designed to protect women and children? Without exploring in more detail the cultural, political, or economic dynamics behind the failures of liberal reform, it is difficult to tease out of these cases the relative weight one should assign to traditional or conservative ideologies and social forces on one hand and modern welfare-state policies on the other in creating the circumstances in which, as Brand suggests, women are, for good and for ill, relatively passive recipients of policy. Yet, from the vantage point of the Eastern European or Latin American comparisons with which Brand starts--indeed, from the perspective of feminist theory in general--these are crucial questions. It is a testament to the value of Brand's contribution that her book raises such questions, even if it must fall to subsequent scholars to find definitive answers.

Lisa Anderson teaches political science at Columbia University, New York.