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Women’s Rights and Religions: Contemporary Perspectives

Panel Chair: Rosalind I.J. Hackett | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The topic of religion and women’s rights raises a myriad of questions and problems. For many of these issues there are no clear-cut or easy answers. Firstly, there is a question concerning which particular religion(s) out of the many contemporary entities is/are being designated. Secondly, women’s rights themselves demarcate a contested area, with strong criticisms coming from diverse directions – e.g., from post-colonial scholars, from critical theorists, as well as from religious fundamentalists. As a result, before any attempt is made to investigate the topic of rights in relation to religions, I think it is necessary to examine the different ways in which religion and rights have been positioned in specific dispensations. The panel will consist of four papers. Two examine particular religious contexts; one analyzes the present situation in India; and one is a theoretical paper providing new insights on the problem of rights, religion and the secular/religious divide.

Purushottama Bilimoria

Women, Religious Law and Rights in Modern India

The paper examines the provisions of rights for disparate religious communities in modern India, under personal law, that covers marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, custody, adoption, and succession. Hindus, Christians, Jains and Sikhs¬ enjoy certain cultural rights, in whose governance the secular state must not intervene. Personal law, however, has come under criticism, particularly in respect of the gendered disadvantages that arise within the provisions safeguarding the practices, and the role that religious politics plays in their perpetuation. There is no way of checking and redressing certain discriminatory practices within particular communities against members of their own kind, in particular women. Illustrations will be drawn from cases involving: satī; dowry deaths; husband-instigated divorce; forfeiture of alimony; female-male ratio; girl child education; foeticide; barring of women of 'lower caste' religious communities from certain vocations in public life; and disequilibrium in the ability to 'profess and practice' a community's faith without impunity.

Diah Ariani Arimbi

Women and The Politics of Piety: Women’s Rights, Roles and Equality in Tarbiyah Movement in Indonesia

The Tarbiyah (education) movement is the best known in Indonesia today. It has the largest number of members amongst groups in the Dakwah (proselytising) movement that work on Indonesian campuses. Some groups in this movement call for Indonesia to become more Islamic—in the Middle Eastern way—with religious clothing, segregation and limitations on women’s role. In contrast to other Islamic revivalist organizations, however, the Tarbiyah movement is reformist, and relies heavily on modern interpretations of Islam concerned with democracy, civil society, human rights and equality of women, although these values are understood differently from Western notions. This paper aims to explore the varieties of women’s activities in this movement, especially in relation the ways women view their rights, roles and sexual identities within their notion of piety. Using participation observation and in-depth interviews as techniques of data collection, I will examine female activists of Tarbiyah movement in Airlangga University, Surabaya.

Brigitta Kalmar

Gender Dynamics of Tibetan Buddhism in Exile

The generally ambiguous Buddhist attitudes towards women are evident in Tibetan Vajrayāna Buddhism in addition to other forms. On the one hand, at the doctrinal level, the Tibetan Buddhist attitude has been favourable, in that it includes positive feminine symbols and images, as well as a significant number of well-respected female practitioners, both monastic and lay people. On the other hand, the undebated folk belief in the “unfortunate female rebirth” has been especially prevalent, resulting in absolute male dominance in the holding of religious institutionalized positions, in an unwillingness to reinstitute the full ordination of nuns, as well as in a lack of financial and educational support of nunneries, leading to a general discouragement towards women taking up monastic life. This paper will investigate the current situation with particular reference to the notion of women’s rights in contemporary Vajrayāna Buddhism.

Morny Joy

Women, Rights and Religion: A Change in Perspective

A major feature of debates on religion and rights is a tendency towards defining positions as mutual exclusive. I believe it is time to move beyond the resultant polarization, whether it appears as: (1) rights in opposition to religion – as is mostly the case in the secularized west; (2) the public versus private; or (3) accommodation versus assimilation. This essay surveys specific cases of the relations between women, religion and rights so as to illustrate such continuing dilemmas. An examination is then made of proposals from women scholars suggesting certain vital changes, e.g., reconfiguring rights as involving relationships. Such a change in perspective serves to ameliorate the all too prevalent binary dichotomy. The aim of this panel and my paper is to foster future collaborative efforts on the part of women scholars from diverse backgrounds working in religion and rights so as to advance awareness of this contentious contemporary issue.


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