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RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM Impact on SRHR of Women & Young People in Asia-Pacific Region ~ Ratna Osman ~ Sisters in Islam ARROW Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting Kuala Lumpur 2 – 4 May 2012. Empowering voices for change. Religious Extremism. What is Religious Extremism?.

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RELIGIOUS EXTREMISMImpact on SRHR of Women & Young People in Asia-Pacific Region~ Ratna Osman ~Sisters in IslamARROW Asia-Pacific Regional MeetingKuala Lumpur2 – 4 May 2012

Empowering voices for change

Religious Extremism

What is Religious Extremism?

American Protestants in 20th century  to distinguish from

‘liberal’ Protestants; from distortion of Christian faith

(K. Armstrong)

What is Religious Extremism?

M * Embattled forms of spirituality

* Enemies  secularist policies; war between between good and evil

* Fear of annihilation  selective doctrines doctrines & past practices

* Creating a counterculture to avoid


(Marty & Appleby)

Religious Extremism & Women

ARROW: Religious Extremism is an obstacle

  • to fulfillment of reproductive rights

  • gender inequality

  • Insufficient data on women’s health

  • Limited access to legal services

  • Adverse impact of international policies

  • “Religious extremism promotes stereo-

  • types about women based on

  • inequality between the two sexes;

  • and used in political arena to deny

  • women recognition of their rights”

Religious Extremism & Women

  • Islamic Extremism:

  • * Women considered as subordinate

  • and second-class citizen

  • * Women’s nurturing, reproductive and

  • socially supporting role  ‘special

  • treatment’ as the gentler sex to be

  • given high respect.

  • * No consideration of social realities

    (Prof Norani Othman)

Religious Extremism & Women

  • In Hinduism, the roots from nationalist project of Hindu revival and reform from 19th century

  • Women who sacrificed their lives for

    protection of chastity were lauded as

    courageous eg. women who committed

    suicide to escape from Muslim invaders

    or practice of ‘sati’.

  • Conservative interpretations of Christian

    texts on women  divorce, abortion

    and contraceptive

Religious Extremism & Women

  • Buddhism – No discrimination

    on women when it started

    2,500 years ago

  • Patriarchal influence – being

    born a woman is a result of bad

    karma and is a misfortune.

  • The male body is sacred, higher and more superior than

    the female body

Religious Extremism & Women

  • Most world religions  structures of dominance to control

    the reproductive lives of women.

  • Blocking women’s access to reproductive health services

  • Political influence affecting

    state and government officers –

    inclined to accept fundamentalist

    perspective as representative of

    their tradition

  • Preserving male privileges

    (Kissling & Sippel)

Women’s Rights Movements vs Religious Extremism





*1,600 women’s


Women’s Rights Movements vs Religious Extremism

AWID Global survey 2008 - Most influential actors

of religious extremism are perceived to be:

  • Religious leaders;

  • Local/national and international religious institutions, organizations and groups;

  • Militant parties and groups with religious discourse;

  • Religious and secular political parties;

  • NGOs and charities with fundamentalist links

  • State

Women’s Rights Movements vs Religious Extremism

AWID Global survey 2008 - Most negative

impacts of religious extremism identified by the

women activists are:

  • Reduced health and reproductive rights

  • Reduced general autonomy for women

  • Increased violence against women

  • Reduced sexual rights and freedoms

  • Reduced rights for women in the public sphere

Women’s Rights Movements vs Religious Extremism

  • Rise of political Islam and Islamic extremism – failure of post independence secular Muslim states

  • From Middle East to Southeast Asia – effects of political Islam seen through pre-modern conceptions of gender roles, human rights and adherence to laws that are unrealistic

    (Prof Norani Othman)

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

Sexual & Gender based Violence

  • FGM (FGC) – condoned as religious/traditional practice to ‘cleanse’ or control a young girl’s sexuality, although no direct religious texts that prescribed FGM. UN 2009 report – India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka as countries in Asia where FGM documented.

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

2. Honour Killing/Honour Crimes

  • Pressure on girls to remain virgin until marriage – consequence of sex outside marriage can be fatal

  • Extremists from Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – women and girls as property and men/leaders of tribe to decide their fate

    UNHCR report – young men and

    LGBTIQ community suffer the same.

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

3. Virginity Test

  • Report from CNN of virginity test in Madhya Pradesh, India (2009)

  • Human Rights Watch report (2010) abuses against minors in Aceh – shari’ah police forcing girls to submit to virginity test

    4. Strict dress-code (Hijab)

    Cases in Malaysia and Indonesia

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

5. Child Marriage

Classical interpretation of Shari’ah – puberty as the sign of

maturity. UNICEF report – still practised in South Asia,

Some marriages pre-puberty.

UNICEF report 2011 – child

marriage taking place between

15 to below 18.

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

Moral Policing

  • The control of ‘moral conduct’,

    turning personal religious

    obligations into legal obligations

  • Cases in Malaysia – Kartika (2009)

    and 3 Muslim women whipped

    (2010); attacks on Sisters in Islam

  • Khalwat (Close Proximity) and Seclusion Law

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

Abortion/Contraception/Family Planning

  • Extremists considered abortion as killing of an innocent life i.e. a grievous sin; although there exists progressive interpretation

  • Law and policies regulating pregnancy

  • Family Planning deemed as western

  • imposition and money-making industry

Religious Extremism – Its Impact on SRHR on Women and Youth

Family Laws & State Policies

  • Islamic Family Law (Malaysia) – Matters of marriage and divorce – about women as subordinates eg. concept of ‘nuzhuz’ (disobedience)

  • Impacts of Islam Non-Muslims and Minorities

  • Divorce not even recognised in Philippines for Catholics

Countering Religious Extremism

  • Networking – building alliance to promote the awareness of SRHR

  • Reclaiming the religion – It is important that SRHR issues are looked within the context of religion in the interpretive process, codification or implementation by building knowledge from progressive and rights perspective

  • Working with media –Mass media is crucial for women’s rights groups to be heard, especially with the usage of social media in creating an active public space and discussion on SRHR to engage with the ‘silent majority’ that are mostly afraid to speak out for fear of backlash from religious extremists.

Countering Religious Extremism

  • Reforming curricula in education institutes to promote progressive understanding of religion and SRHR

  • Writing and Publications of easy-to-read materials – In order to break the dominance of religious books from classical texts and traditional interpretations

  • Participation of Men – As the shift within a patriarchal society is still in the making, men’s voices have more influence and impact, especially on matters of religion. Women’s rights groups need to engage with progressive men and get them to speak on women’s issues and SRHR.


Empowering Voices for Change

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