SOAS University of London


Supporting gender equality in law, politics and society

The research of many scholars at SOAS, University of London explores gender in the context of law, politics and society.

This strand of work is crucial to better understand our regions. SOAS scholars have had significant impact in helping women influence structural change in post-conflict society; they have helped to redefine legislation to protect women; and the representation of women - particularly Muslim women - and how this shapes public perception has been examined and scrutinised.

Professor Nadje Al-Ali’s work has addressed the systematic marginalisation of women in the context of political transition in post-invasion Iraq. More than twenty years of sanctions and war have decimated all areas of Iraqi society, including its higher education sector. Drawing on her research on women’s rights in Iraq and beyond, Professor Al-Ali has worked to raise consciousness of how perspectives informed by gender studies can contribute both to critical thinking within higher education and a more just and egalitarian approach to politics and society. Through in-country and regional training of academics and women’s rights activists, and mentoring numerous Iraqi research projects, Al-Ali has substantially progressed the promotion of women’s rights and gender-based equality in Iraq.

Women studying in Iraq
A group of women studying in Iraq. Professor Al-Ali has been working closely with female academics and women’s rights activists to improve the research capacity to better inform advocacy, lobbying, decision and policy-making at local, national and international levels in relation to women’s rights. Photo credit: Shamous/Index on Censorship/Open Shutters

Research capacity in Iraq is extremely weak as during the sanctions of the 1990s, academics were denied new books, access to journals and opportunities to attend conferences or collaborate internationally. Professor Al-Ali has been working closely with female academics and women’s rights activists in Iraq for more than five years to improve the research capacity of both individuals and institutions in ways that promote the creation of an evidence base to better inform advocacy, lobbying, decision and policy-making at local, national and international levels in relation to women’s rights. The scholar has spearheaded several initiatives to fulfil these objectives, including Middle East Regional Roundtables on Gender and a Research Fellowship Programme with the collaboration and support of UK-based Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Amman and UN Women.

Dr Amina Yaqin’s research on Muslim women’s stereotyping and self-image has heavily informed on-going discussions regarding the representation of Muslims in the media and how it shapes public perception of the Muslim community and Islam more broadly. Through active engagement with the media and the public, her research findings have impacted on a wide audience, increasing awareness and understanding of how negative portrayals of Muslims are established and, more importantly, how they can be countered.

Representation of Muslim women
Clothbound is taken from a photographic series focusing on addressing the way veiled Muslim woman are perceived in contemporary culture. This image was entered in the SOAS photo competition last year. Credit: Leila Fatemi

Dr Yaqin’s co-authored book Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, has greatly informed the work of individuals and organisations who actively challenge negative perceptions of Muslims and Muslim communities in the UK. Specifically, the book has been used by ENGAGE (now MEND), a not-for-profit company founded in 2008 with the aim of challenging Islamophobia in the UK and improving Muslim participation in media and politics. In November 2012, ENGAGE launched a national touring exhibition, Media Portrayals of Islam and Muslims, at the House of Commons to generate awareness and understanding of Islamophobia and its impact on the lives and security of British Muslims. The findings of Framing Muslims formed part of the exhibition and its accompanying guide, providing in-depth analysis of what constitutes “newsworthy” articles when selecting stories about Muslims or Islam and how pre-determined patterns of selection reinforce negative stereotypes.

Professor Lynn Welchman’s research on honour crimes, necessarily global in scope, has been crucial to better understanding these crimes and developing coordinated responses. Since the 1990s, honour crimes, including femicide and forced marriage, have received increasing attention, elicited by high-profile cases in the media, condemnation by the United Nations and international as well as domestic human rights groups. Professor Welchman and colleagues have substantially contributed to this evolving research base, offering a definition of honour crimes and an approach to combating such crimes that has influenced the UK statutory guidance and training followed by the police, NHS and social services.

Since the publication of her co-edited book Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women in 2005, the definition of honour crimes articulated by Professor Welchman and collaborating partners in the Honour Crimes Project hosted by the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at SOAS has gained general acceptance. It has informed multi-agency statutory guidance published in 2009, as well as good-practice guidelines published throughout the period since 2008 that shape how professionals in all public authorities including the police, the NHS, local authorities and in the education and social care sectors respond to different manifestations of honour-related violence.