Tajali earned her doctorate from Concordia’s Humanities PhD Program. Her thesis, Demanding a Seat at the Table: Iranian and Turkish Women’s Organizing for Political Representation, looks at the ways women in two different Muslim contexts actively organize and campaign in politics.
Tajali is aware that her work breaks down stereotypes held about women in Muslim countries. “I felt like this was an absent piece in all that we’re writing and all that we’re saying about the Middle East,” she says.
Through her doctorate and upcoming book, Tajali’s work focuses on influential women in Turkey and Iran who are actively taking part in politics — a traditionally male-dominated field in many areas of the world.
Part of Tajali’s process included dissolving her own ideas about women in politics in the Middle East. “I was sitting down and meeting very powerful, very active women who struggle every day in their own ways just like their western sisters do in their own ways,” she says.
The approach Tajali took was one of comparative politics, which, she believes, gives a fuller picture of political complexities. Iran, as a theocracy, organizes itself differently than Turkey, a completely secular state.
In both countries, Tajali saw the progressive attitudes women have toward politics. “I was speaking to very conservative, very religious Islamic women in Iran who were saying women and men should be able to be the Supreme leader,” she says, “and that gender should not play a role in women reaching the highest levels of authority.”
One example of women’s agency in Turkey was the 2013 ruling that allowed women wearing headscarves to work in civil service or government. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the republic in 1923, he ruled against women wearing headscarves in public service roles. This excluded democratically elected Muslim women from entering parliament, and therefore politics. With the majority of Turkish women wearers of the headscarf, this law had widespread effects.