Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Kristin Fabbe

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Rights Information

© 2014 Kelsey Cherland


This thesis explores the historical development of personal status law, which governs a person’s marriage, divorce, and custody rights. It is significant because it is part of a framework that has defined women’s rights for centuries. I will argue that personal status law is a patriarchal framework that has been reinforced over time, leading up to the creation of nation-states in the Middle East. As such, this is the “institution” of personal status that will be traced using historical institutionalism theory. In this thesis I will argue that personal status has undergone a critical juncture, or crucial moment of potential to change, in both Jordan and Iraq’s founding, and that this has consequentially affected personal status law development and responses to the women’s movement throughout the 20th century in both countries. This thesis briefly reviews the role of women’s rights and the development of law in pre-Islam era, Islam and the Qur’an, and the Ottoman Empire in order to describe the institution of personal status law. Next, I review the history of Jordan and then Iraq and identify the critical juncture of personal status in historical context. In each chapter I will also explore the matter of de facto, or what women’s rights are like in practice, as an example of the institution at work in the patriarchal protection paradox.