Thus, the effects of legal changes in these societies tend to trickle down gradually.It is important to remember that the problems of male-female inequality that have most typically concerned Western feminists are different from those facing Middle Eastern feminists.Often these legal changes have been far in advance of the state of social evolution; it may take many years before some segments of Middle Eastern societies feel the impact.While reform may be immediately significant for educated women in major urban centers, illiterate women, particularly those in nomadic or rural communities, may not understand their legal rights or enjoy the independence and resources required to benefit from legal reform.While the situation of women has been generally worse under customary than under Islamic law, Islamic law itself has many provisions that leave women at a clear disadvantage - an irony of history, since these same provisions at the time of their promulgation in seventh century Arabia originally advanced women's rights vis-a-vis the then existing norms.
The Islamic fundamentalist movement has campaigned to forestall any legal changes that might undermine male domination and privilege in the family and to eliminate reforms that have enhanced women's rights - a campaign which invokes traditional interpretations of Islamic law as its justification.
They were assisted in these attempts by liberal Muslim intellectuals, who propounded new interpretations of Islamic law that justified modifying the rules propounded by medieval jurists to accommodate the changing circumstances of modern societies.
Typically, various modest reforms were enacted via statutes, including such measures as raising the age of marriage and requiring a bride's consent, placing conditions on a husband's polygamy, reducing the legal support for a husband's right to demand obedience, enhancing the ability of wives to obtain divorces over their husbands' objections, increasing a husband's financial liabilities to divorced wives, restricting a husband's ability to divorce his wife out of court and without cause, and some very modest reforms in the law of inheritance to the advantage of female heirs.
Generally, Middle Eastern women enjoy something close to legal equality with men in political life, access to education, professional opportunities, and salaries - goals for which Western women have long had to struggle.
Moreover, Islamic law has from the outset given women full legal capacity once they attain puberty.
Even in medieval times Muslim women enjoyed rights that Western women only won much later, such as the right to own and manage property, to sue and to be sued, and to enter into contracts and conduct business.