Religion, gender and civil society: the role of a Muslim Women's Association in the evolution of Nigerian society
Kurfi, Mustapha Hashim
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This dissertation examines how the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) utilizes effective organizational and networking structures, along with a dynamic religious culture to produce empowering opportunities for women to engage in education, social services, and civic life. Most of the theorizing about civil society has taken Europe and North America as its primary focus, assuming a secular public sphere and leaving open questions about the nature of civil society where those assumptions do not hold. Questions about civil society in nonwestern contexts, in turn, have focused especially on the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and very little of that literature addresses the role of religion. Research elsewhere suggests, however, that religious NGOs may be critical players in the construction of civil society. This dissertation shows how FOMWAN creates trust and fosters agency among Muslim women in Nigeria, enabling them to improve the wellbeing of their communities and create networks across multiple religious and secular lines. To address the role of religious organizations, and FOMWAN specifically, in the construction of civil society, my research uses a triangulated qualitative research design, rooted in grounded theory. I conducted interviews with leaders of FOMWAN and its partners; fostered discussions with members of FOMWAN and some service recipients; conducted a content analysis of records (archival research); and conducted participant observation at FOMWAN events. The qualitative data were analyzed using the technique of grounded theory. Each component of the research sought to uncover how FOMWAN builds trust, agency, opportunities, and participation in decision-making for Muslim women in Nigeria. I find that FOMWAN follows in a line of historic Muslim women’s associations and was created in reaction to Nigeria’s weak and fragile state. I demonstrate the role of the organization’s religious culture and networks in creating a plural civil society. I argue that understanding Nigerian civil society requires understanding that religious ideas and cultures are a powerful force that shape a people’s worldviews and identities and have the potential for influencing human actions. My dissertation thus provides a critical intervention into broader debates about the role of Muslim women’s religious culture in development discourse and in the global South’s public life.