On 4 March I attended a lively and rich discussion on some of the latest findings that are part of the larger multiple-year AWID research on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms.
AWID has undertaken eighteen in depth case studies to grasp how religious fundamentalisms, in different contexts and different religions, operate, how they appeal or not to women, how they impact on women’s rights and women’s activism.
The case studies are a follow up to the 2008 AWID survey among 1600 women’s rights activists on their understanding of religious fundamentalisms. The respondents to the survey were adamant about the similarities between different religious fundamentalisms: preoccupation with controlling women’s bodies and sexuality, curtailment of women’s rights, freedom of movement and speech, and instigation of violence against women.
Nadine Moawad, from Lebanon, shared the history of Meem, an LBT organisation in a country where homosexuality is criminalized, where sexuality education does not exist and that is characterised by religious sectarianism that operates in all spheres of people’s lives. Meem builds a community of support for lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning women and transgenders. The safety of this community is critical and a precondition for employing other strategies such as alliance building with other progressive forces in the women’s and human rights movement, religious leaders and intellectuals. Online activism is a main strategy that allows Meem to maintain members’ anonymity whilst its online presence enables both public and underground organising, and connection to members and allies across Lebanon and the world. Meem works to reclaim discussions of sex and sexuality in the Arab world, search for gay-friendly Islamic interpretations and to contribute to building an Arab LBTQ movement. Read more
Little is known as yet about Christian fundamentalisms in Africa. Jessica Horn (Sierra Leone/Uganda) explored its dynamics and the impact on women’s activism, with a strong focus on the role of Pentecostalism. African Pentecostalism is characterised by a mass popular base and an ideology of making money, drawing in poor people through promises of material benefits. Mobilization strategies exercised by Christian fundamentalists include the use of popular and mass communication channels, entry into formal party politics, mobilization of women against women’s rights and strategic appeals to cultural and national identity. Women’s rights activists are currently identifying entry points to begin tackling and resisting Christian fundamentalisms in Africa. The civil society coalition against the Anti Gay bill in Uganda is an example of concerted action and solidarity across women’s rights and LGBT activists. However the presence of fundamentalist actors within the broader gender equality sector (which we experienced during the Dutch government LBT side event two days before) weakens the uncompromising response from progressive feminist activists.
Juan Marco Vaggione summarised the findings of eight Latin American case studies. Striking commonalities were found throughout these cases. Catholic fundamentalism is the most influential political actor vis-à-vis women’s rights and abortion has become the political cleavage of women’s rights. Catholic fundamentalism in Latin America targets the state, political parties and civil society in order to influence state policies. In Vaggione’s view catholic fundamentalism in Latin America is a counter response to the success of the women’s rights agenda.
The recommendation to explore strategies of engagement with faith based organisations and to track dissent from within religious fundamentalisms met cautionary responses from the floor. Suggestion was made to also make an assessment of the impact of religious fundamentalism on the human rights system and the mandates of special rapporteurs.
For AWID’s research on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms read more