This introduction outlines the central themes that are covered in the chapters and sheds light on the linkages between these issues as well as drawing out the conclusions that tie the arguments of the individual chapters. Three central themes connect the chapters in this volume. The first is concerned with problematising binaries and uniform categories. That is, many of the chapters address the question: What is concealed when both reform efforts (and the public debates about them) fail to escape conceptualisations and categorisations that are based on binaries and uniform understandings of terms such as ‘religious’ ‘secular’ or ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity?’
The authors unpack and contest conventional understandings of these categories. They provide multiple answers to the question posed above. What we can take away from their analyses is that it is not simply that the terms in the above mentioned binaries do not inherently and always mean opposite things. It is also that the meanings of these terms, and the discourses in which they are articulated are multiple, diverse, and most of all shaped by specific temporalities and sociopolitical contexts.
The second common theme is the gains, challenges, and limits of state-centred feminist legal activism. The various chapters tackle this issue through addressing the following questions: What is gained by feminist activists when they seek and engage with the state and its institutions as the pathway of realising the goals of gender equality and justice? What are the challenges and drawbacks of this engagement? What other and perhaps potentially effective pathways become subordinate and less sought by feminist activists precisely because of their focus on the state as the agent of social change and gender equality? And what are the different ramifications for ordinary women as well as feminist movements in different contexts when gender rights become entangled in political struggles for state control, legitimacy, and access to resources?
The third central theme is the multidimensionality of the factors and processes that enable or hinder the successful and effective implementation of gender-based legal reforms. Some of the main conclusions that can be drawn from the diverse manifestations of this issue in the different country cases are: the significance of the context in which gender-based legal reforms are being implemented in terms of conducive or inhibiting social and institutional structures and environments; the ways in which different legal institutions and actors such as courts and judges and enforcement officials interpret and implement laws; and the interplay between different public discourses on gender rights (i.e. written laws, social norms, dominant religious interpretations, political discourses, etc.).