Flower delivery in Iran

Flower delivery in Iran


Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Women * FAQ * Write for The Iranian
* Editorial policy

Gender ideology
To what extent are equal rights for women tied to issues of globalization?

Decembeer 28, 2001
The Iranian

Introduction to Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The Politics of Women's Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts edited by Jane Bayes and Nayereh Tohidi (2001, Palgrave). Bayes teaches women and politics at California State University, Northridge. Tohidi is a fellow at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

This book is an outcome of two historic world conferences on women -- the Beijing conference of 1995 and the Beijing Plus Five conference of 2000 in New York-sponsored by the United Nations.

As participants in the Beijing conference, we (authors and editors of this book) were intrigued by two new important trends that had become more prominent during the preparatory process of the conference. These trends reflected certain old international divisions of political, cultural (especially religious), and economic nature.

The first was related to a new transnational and cross-cultural conservative and religious alliance against equal rights for women, and the second concerned the growing implications of globalization for women and gender politics.

The first trend was the display of a major split among the delegates around issues of sexuality and sexual orientation, women's control of their bodies--including abortion rights--as well as over questions of equity versus equality and sex versus gender.

The intensity of this controversy surprised many at the conference and many in the global women's movement. That an alliance of some Catholic and some Muslim delegations led by the Vatican (the Holy See) were united as a bloc in lobbying for a unified position on these issues was the news of the conference (Moghadam 1995;Woodman 1995; Tohidi 1996; Afkhami & Friedl 1997).

This book has explored the historic, sociological, cultural, and political roots and dimensions of these gender-related global trends. Why should some Catholics unite with some Muslims against equal rights for women? Why do some groups of men and especially women keep emphasizing male-female differences rather than similarities? Why do these men and women continue to advocate male supremacy rather than gender egalitarianism and why do they oppose equal rights for men and women?

These questions led us to some even broader issues. To what extent are equal rights for women tied to issues of modernization, democratization, Westernization, and globalization? In the inevitable conflicts that arise between the old and the new in the processes of industrialization and modernization, why is it that women and their status, especially their sexuality, become such a focus of attention? Why is it that politics in Catholic and Muslim contexts are so often played out on women's bodies?

A related question that emerged from the Beijing conference concerned how religious Catholic and Muslim women who believe in women's equal rights were coping with the contradictions between their own beliefs in women's equal rights and the official positions of their religious authorities. More specifically, we were interested in the spectrum of opinion and the variety of strategies that women have adopted with regard to this contradiction in a variety of contexts.

The broader question here concerns the interplay between the processes of change in religion and in patterns of gender relationships. What variety of strategies do women adopt when traditional patterns of gender relations are challenged by new economic arrangements or by exposure to new ideas and cultural practices? This book is an outcome of our search for a better comprehension of these questions and for better strategizing for the global women's movement in regard to the recent religio-political trends.

The Conservative Muslim-Catholic Religious Alliance against Women's Rights

The Beijing Platform for Action identified twelve critical areas, including equality, poverty, education, health, reproductive and sexual health, violence, armed conflicts, economic participation, and human rights. The traditional practices of female genital cutting, forced marriage, and honor killings also were addressed for the first time in an international consensus document, with the draft text calling for laws to eradicate such human rights violations (Rumsey 2000).

The Beijing Platform for Action has been considered an internationally accepted blueprint for achieving women's equality, development, and peace, hence a significant and major human rights accomplishment for women.

But as mentioned above, the alliance of conservative Catholic and Muslim delegations around issues related to sexuality and the definition of women's rights has been an important force challenging the implementation of the Beijing commitments. Pope John Paul II was the initial architect of this coalition, an architect who understood the similarities between conservative Catholics and conservative Muslims and sought to unite the two groups.

This organizing effort began in response to the Clinton-Gore U.S. presidential campaign in 1992, in which the Pope perceived Clinton and Gore as campaigning for federal funding for abortion on demand at any time during pregnancy, for federal funding for greater family planning efforts in poor countries in exchange for foreign aid, and against population growth anywhere in the world.

When Clinton signed five executive orders dealing with this topic on the day of his inauguration, January 23, 1993, the Vatican responded with a carefully planned mobilization of the global organization of the Catholic Church to oppose the Clinton administration, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), and various international NGOs such as International Planned Parenthood Association and their population control initiatives which were to be presented for approval at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1993.

The Pope also sent emissaries to Muslim countries to garner their support against abortion on demand as a universal human right and against the definition of sexual expression not connected to marriage or procreation, as an individual right under international law (Weigel 1999, 715; Szulc 1995, 468-69).

In addition to making a moral plea against what the Pope perceived as anti-marriage, anti-family, anti-procreation, and pro-death initiatives, the Pope also made an anti-imperialist, anti- western individualism argument to build his conservative alliance, characterizing the Cairo initiatives as serious imperialistic threats designed to impose population control measures and western morality on poor countries in exchange for foreign aid.

In Beijing, the coalition of Catholic countries that joined the Vatican included Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the Philippines. These were joined by the Muslim countries of Iran, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Kuwait. In 1995, the Catholics and Muslims established a Catholic-Islamic commission for the purpose of fostering interfaith dialogue, a commission that continues to operate in 2001. During the 1995 ­ 2000 period, other Catholic Muslim cooperative efforts occurred. In 1997, the Pontifical Council on the Family met with the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs in Rome to unite to protect families.

In 2000 at the Beijing Plus Five Conference in New York, the conservative religious alliance continued its opposition to the initiatives involving sexuality, abortion, and for some, even the issue of women's rights as human rights, (arguing instead for "human dignity") although the group had lost many of its Catholic supporters and shrunk to a hard core coalition of the Holy See, Iran, Algeria, Nicaragua, Syria, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Pakistan (Amnesty International Index 2000).

In a direct joint attack on globalization, the Catholic-Islamic Linkage Commission on July 13, 2001 issued a statement on globalization that noted the benefits of globalization, but warned of its dangers, signaling a continuing interest and cooperation between the leaders of the two faiths (Zenit 2001).

This does not mean that all Catholics and all Muslims agree with the conservative leaders of their religions. A number of Muslim NGOs, including Al-Khoei Foundation, the international Islamic instituted based in London and New York, opposed the stance of the Vatican and its Muslim allies in 1995 and again in 2000.

he progressive Muslims said that while some of the issues raised by the conservative alliance were legitimate, these should not obscure the overall framework and fundamental basis of the Beijing document--the promotion of a clearly secular vision of women's rights. They emphasized that the need to respect cultural differences should not preclude universal adherence to fundamental human rights as embodied in the UN Charter (Rumsey 2000).

What theoretical and practical inferences can be drawn from these recent alliances made on the basis of supra-national and supra-confessional lines in support of or in opposition to women's rights as human rights? First, let us note which issues and what interests have brought conservative religious Muslim and Catholic groups together.

The main areas of consensus among conservative Catholics and Muslims have been specifically over the divinely ordained and biologically determined different yet complementary masculine and feminine roles; the definition of the institution of the family; the primacy of women's role as mothers; confinement of sexuality to marriage (heterosexual marriage only); opposition to abortion; the central role of religion in society, emphasis on religious values; and opposition to pornography and degrading images of women in the media, opposition to the individualism of western culture which would give women's individual rights priority over women's communal family and religious duties ( Moghadam 1995; Tohidi 1996).

While the Pope was the first to organize Catholics and Muslims on these shared beliefs, he was not alone in his creative leadership. One illustrative instance of collaboration between the Catholic and Islamist delegations during the NGO Forum '95 in Beijing was the workshop on "The Life and Status of the Virgin Mary" organized by an Islamist delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The underlying proposition of this workshop was reflected in the following words:

Social scientists are now seriously questioning the moral relevancy of the models presented in mass media. As a common model shared between the two major religions of the world we aim to address the question of whether Mary the mother of Christ can serve as a symbolic model for women and perhaps men.... At the threshold of the twenty-first century, faith, chastity, sincerity, purity, moral and social commitment and spiritual elevation are all attributes of [Mary] a flawless personality that deserves to be considered as a model for the bewildered human race. (Gorji and Ebtekar 1995).

This was an interesting attempt on the part of the Iranian Islamists to expand their conservative gender agenda globally across national, cultural, and confessional lines. While at national level in Iran and amongst Shià Muslims, Islamists have promoted Fatima (the daughter of the Prophet and the wife of the First Imam, Ali), internationally they are willing to adopt a non-Muslim but conservative role model for women in order to bridge sectarian gaps.

The disagreements among delegates over specific aspects of the Beijing Platform for Action appears to be related to basic differences between modern versus pre-modern (as explained in chapter 2 of this book) or traditional political and gender regimes. The struggle is between those who define gender roles and sexuality on a fixed hierarchical order often sanctioned by religious doctrinal necessity as predetermined by divine and/or natural order, and those who view these as matters of social-historical construction and individual choice.

One side believes in the rule of law--a law that is fixed, can be interpreted by religious authorities only, and then obeyed by the believers. The other side believes in a law that can be constructed and reconstructed by social change, human agency, and the choices of citizens. These differences have their roots in different historical eras and are a part of an ongoing historical struggle associated with the emergence of modernity and industrialization, and the spread of modernity by globalization since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Globalized Gender-Based Alliances

As manifested during the Beijing conferences, tremendous diversity and heterogeneity exist in the cultural, religious, and civilizational components of each side of this gender-based division. The alliance in support of equal rights includes most South American, Western, African, and many Asians of Christian, Muslim, and other religions, cultures, or civilizations.

The alliance against equal rights, too, includes Christians and Muslims of various nations and civilizations. The cultural and religious heterogeneity of this alliance challenges the controversial thesis of the "clash of civilizations" formulated by Samuel Huntington (1993), according to which the principal source of conflict in the post-cold-war world order is a cultural division between the Confucian-Islamic and Christian western civilizations.

An important division, however, seems to be between those forces supporting democracy, pluralism, and universal human rights, and those supporting a political order based on religious authoritarianism, be it Islamic or Christian, a division that has a not-so-subtle gendered nature. The contestation over a visible and articulated subordinate status for women has in many situations become the arena of conflict symbolizing much larger cultural, political, and ontological differences.

Gender ideology has consequently become a significant basis on which to draw the lines of demarcation for global alliance or conflict. A broad supra-national alignment for equal rights for women has emerged in the last fifty years as symbolized by the United Nations conferences in Vienna on human rights in 1993, in Cairo on population in 1994, and in Beijing on women in 1995, to form the basis of an emerging supra-national global feminism. In reaction, a supra-national, supra-religious alliance has emerged beginning in Cairo in an attempt to maintain and reinforce a hierarchical sex/gender regime based on male supremacy and justified by religious beliefs.

The real picture is, of course, more complicated and nuanced than this simple dichotomy may suggest. Other factors, especially nationality, economic and class interests, racial, ethnic, and religious differences, cultural and political rivalries all interplay and intersect with gender ideology and gender system.


In this book's ten chapters and one appendix (on a brief history of Catholic and Muslim expansion), scholars from eight Muslim and Catholic communities (Iran: Mehrangiz Kar and Nayereh Tohidi; Turkey: Ayse Gunes-Ayata; Bangladesh: Najma Chowdhury; Egypt: Heba Raouf Ezzat; the United States of America: Jane Bayes and Susan Marie Maloney; Ireland: Yvonne Galligan and Nuala Ryan; Spain: Celia Valiente; and Latin America: Laura Guzman Stein) have offered their ideas and experiences.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Jane Bayes
Comment for the writer Nayereh Tohidi

By Nayereh Tohidi

Time for reconciliation
Normalization of Iran-U.S. relations


Aspects of modernity
On Iranian history and gender
By Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi

Making sense of faith and culture
Women turn the most patriarchal elements of shari'a law to their advantage
By Fereydoun Safizadeh

Second class
The legal status of Iranian women
By Mehrangiz Kar

On the outskirts
Photo essay
By Javad Montazeri

Questions of faith and freedom
Does the exercise of power by a woman make her a prostitute?
By Darya Allen-Attar

Giving away faithlessness
... by putting forth grand questions about religion
By Massud Alemi


* Recent

* Cover stories

* Writers

* All sections

Flower delivery in Iran
Copyright © Iranian.com All Rights Reserved. Legal Terms for more information contact: times@iranian.com
Web design by BTC Consultants
Internet server Global Publishing Group