Rachel Bass

Bound Volume Number

Volume III

Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-2016

Capstone Advisor

Thomas Perreault

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component



Postcolonial Legacy, Middle East and North Africa

Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories



The way in which women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been portrayed in international development and rights discourse is based on a narrow, ahistorical view of Arab/Muslim majority societies, which exhibits an overconfidence in the discipline of economics and the ideology of neoliberalism, or free-market economics. Based on arguments presented by anthropologists, feminist economists, geographers, sociologists, comparative literary scholars and others, I explore in this thesis the legacy of colonialism in MENA in its various incarnations: as physical colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries; as suppression of indigenous knowledge in favor of scientific, western knowledge; as speaking on behalf of women and making general assumptions about their behaviors, desires and motivations; as ignorance of the West’s contribution to social, economic and political problems; and as the power to restructure modern Arab economies in ways that hurt poor households and women in particular.

I engage in an empirical analysis of a recent World Bank document focusing on the status of women in MENA societies and economies to determine which narratives dominate, and which viewpoints are omitted. Due to the complicated nature of everyday life in this region, I suggest that various qualitative studies, such as those presented throughout the thesis, are crucial to understanding what different women in the region want, if anything, from the international community. I also suggest that the mainstream development community curb its enthusiasm for free-market economics, as these ideologies have done more harm than good for women in MENA. Instead, the world should make an effort to listen to different viewpoints and acknowledge the complex history of western involvement that has contributed to the circumstances in which these women live.

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