When the Personal Is Always Political: Norwegian Muslims’ Arguments for Women’s Rights

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

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When the Personal Is Always Political: Norwegian Muslims’ Arguments for Women’s Rights


  • Hannah Helseth Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo, Norway


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Abstract:  For almost two decades, the public debate about Islam in Western Europe has been dominated by concerns about the lack of gender equality in the racialized Muslim population. There has been a tendency to victimize “the Muslim woman” rather than to encourage Muslim women’s participation in the public debate about their lives. This contribution to the study of discourses on Muslim women is an analysis of arguments written by Muslims about women’s rights. The data consists of 239 texts written by self-defined Muslims in major Norwegian newspapers about women’s rights. I will discuss two findings from the study. The first is an appeal to be personal when discussing issues of domestic violence and racism is combined with an implicit and explicit demand to represent all Muslims in order to get published in newspapers—which creates an ethno-religious threshold for participation in the public debate. The second finding is that, across different positions and different religious affiliations, from conservative to nearly secular, and across the timeline, from 2000 to 2012, there is a dominant understanding of women’s rights as individual autonomy. These findings will be discussed from different theoretical perspectives to explore how arguments for individual autonomy can both challenge and amplify neoliberal agendas.

Keywords:  European Islam; feminism; Hannah Arendt; individualism; neoliberalism; Norway; public debate; traditional media; Wendy Brown; women’s rights

Published:   22 November 2018


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v6i4.1518


© Hannah Helseth. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.