Key Resources: Fundamentalisms

Religious fundamentalisms, development and women’s rights
Fundamentalisms in different religions
Religion and politics
Progressive religious interpretations

Religious fundamentalisms, development and women’s rights

The Devil is in the Details: At the Nexus of Development, Women’s Rights, and Religious Fundamentalisms (2016) Ayesha Imam, Shareen Gokal and Isabel Marler Toronto: Association for Women’s Rights in Development, default/files/atoms/files/final_web_the_devil_is_in_the_details.pdf (last accessed 13 September 2016), 53 pp.

This important publication from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) reflects the organisation’s sustained focus on religious fundamentalisms. An edited version appears as an article in this issue of Gender & Development. It opens by positioning religious fundamentalisms as one of the major impediments to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly as they relate to gender justice. The paper first outlines the extent of religious fundamentalisms globally, discussing the role of non-state actors, political policies, and cross-region and cross-religious alliances; then examines the structural drivers of religious fundamentalisms, such as economic factors, political marginalisation and alienation, external support, and geopolitical factors. It moves on to explore the importance of acting on the warning signs of fundamentalisms, promoting pluralism and diversity, and avoiding homogenous ideas of identity; then looks at working with partners, and giving support to those already resisting fundamentalisms. The paper represents both a call for development actors to engage critically with the rise of religious fundamentalisms using a clear gender analysis, and a tool to help enable them to do this. Key points from the paper are summarised in a two-page brief, Seven Pointers for Development Actors Navigating Religious Fundamentalisms and Women’s Rights, files/cf-devilisinthedetails-7pointers-eng.pdf (last accessed 13 September 2016).

Gender, Faith and Development (2011) Emma Tomalin (ed.), Oxford: Oxfam GB, 156 pp., 144042 (last accessed 9 December 2016)

An edited collection, this book brings together articles on the theme of religion, gender, and development, all previously published in Gender & Development. The specially written introductory and concluding chapters together provide an outline survey of the central issues – development work and religion, working with faith-based organisations, religious feminisms, and religion and the control of women, with the articles providing case studies within these thematic areas. Of particular note is the article ‘Islam and development: opportunities and constraints for Somali women’, by Sadia Ahmed, which gives an account of the consequences for women of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia from the 1990s. Taken together, though, the collection illustrates not only the problems posed by religion when it comes to working on gender equality in development, but also some of the opportunities it provides, particularly in contexts where religion and religiously informed social norms are of central importance to people and the societies in which they live.

Avoiding Some Deadly Sins: Oxfam Learnings and Analysis About Religion, Culture, Diversity, and Development (2011) Cassandra Balchin, Oxford: Oxfam GB, (last accessed 15 November 2016), 47 pp.

Recommended reading for development practitioners, this excellent paper provides a thoughtful consideration of rights-based development work and religion in a global context in which, as the author points out, identity politics (often based on religion), and religious fundamentalisms, are on the rise. After giving an overview of the challenges for development work presented by culture, religion, and diversity, the paper goes on to provide six case studies: three from Muslim contexts, one Christian, one pan-South Asian, and one from a post-conflict context in which ethnic-religious identity had been a focus. Of particular interest for readers of this issue of Gender & Development is the case study of the South Asian ‘We Can’ Campaign to end violence against women. The case study outlines some of the strategies adopted by the campaign which has led to its success, such as sidestepping debates over whether religion supports domestic violence by focusing on the effects of violence against women and girls on the family as a whole, appealing to people’s positive aspirations, and on the benefits arising for all, including men, from more gender equitable relations. This is particularly important, as the paper notes, given the growing influence of gender discriminatory interpretations of religion – central to religious fundamentalist projects – which promise men greater control over ‘their women’ (p. 22). The paper ends with practical tools for development practitioners for developing ‘religious literacy’ and undertaking engagement with religious groups, plus future steps for Oxfam’s work in this area.

The Impact of Religious Fundamentalisms and Extreme Interpretations of Religion on Women’s Human Rights (2015) AWID, Arrow, Sexual Rights Initiative, World Council of Churches, cedaw_briefing_paper_nov15.pdf (last accessed 27 October 2016), 11 pp.

This very useful briefing paper was prepared for the November 2015 session of the CEDAW Committee, which monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in November 2015. The paper outlines the ways in which growing levels of fundamentalism across all religions and regions are undermining gender justice, with a specific focus on how this is inhibiting the implementation of CEDAW (to which most countries in the world are signatories), and the accountability of states to their legal obligations under the Convention. Six short case studies from different religious and geographical contexts provide examples illustrating the nature of the threat posed to women’s rights, and the briefing concludes with a set of recommendations to strengthen CEDAW in relation to the rising tide of religious fundamentalisms and conservative and restrictive interpretations of religion globally.

Key Learnings from Feminists on the Frontline: Summaries from Case Studies on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms (2011) Shareen Gokal, Rosanna Barbero and Cassandra Balchin, Toronto: AWID, atoms/files/key_learnings_from_feminists_on_the_frontline.pdf (last accessed 27 October 2016), 51 pp.

Informed by evidence from 18 case studies (summaries of which are presented here) from diverse geographical and religious contexts, the authors of this paper have identified a set of strategies that are commonly adopted by religious fundamentalists seeking to mobilise political power and control, and a set of feminist strategies for resisting and challenging them. These strategies of resistance are grouped into the following categories: movement building and mobilising; knowledge, information, and communication; the promotion of secularity and rights-based interpretations of religion; and holding the state and politicians to account. The case studies in full are all available at (last accessed 27 October 2016).

Understanding Religious Fundamentalisms for Activists (2014) AWID, www.awid. org/publications/understanding-religious-fundamentalisms-activists

This resource manual from AWID is specifically designed for use by activists and organisations facing religious fundamentalist opposition to their work. (Please note: the manual is not directly downloadable, and anyone interested in obtaining it should contact AWID directly – via the link above.) The manual brings together learning from AWID’s ongoing research programme on fundamentalisms, and includes sections on understanding fundamentalisms; the factors contributing to their growth; the impact of fundamentalisms on women’s rights and human rights; strategies used by fundamentalists; strategies to counter fundamentalisms; along with materials for workshop use, including visuals and participatory activities designed to develop understanding, and to support and strengthen responses.

Fundamentalisms in different religions

Christian Fundamentalisms and Women’s Rights in the African Context: Mapping the Terrain (2010) Jessica Horn, Toronto: AWID, files/atoms/files/feminists_on_the_frontline_-_christian_fundamentalisms_and_ womens_rights_in_the_african_context.pdf (last accessed 27 October 2016), 17 pp.

Another piece of research from AWID’s ‘Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms’ programme, this paper defines religious fundamentalism as a ‘morally conservative ideology based on, and justified by, a particular interpretation of scripture that seeks to promote and establish itself as hegemonic’ (p. 1). The paper focuses on fundamentalism in the burgeoning Pentecostal and charismatic Christian movement in Africa, and draws on interviews with seven African academics and activists working on and/or affected by Christian fundamentalism. The paper charts the growth and characteristics of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in Africa, before moving on to discussing women’s rights, HIV and AIDS, and Christian fundamentalist beliefs held by those within the ‘gender sector’. Raising the question of why, differences in national contexts notwithstanding, Christian fundamentalists focus so heavily on matters relating to women’s rights, the paper reports the interviewees conviction that ‘the sexism of Christian fundamentalist doctrine in Africa is simply an extension of an attempt to maintain patriarchal power in all domains’ (p. 13). There follows a more detailed examination of the influence of Christian fundamentalisms in Uganda, and further sections on the mobilising strategies of fundamentalists and strategies of those seeking to resist them. This is a fascinating case study, providing concrete examples that all too clearly illustrate the ‘theory’ when it comes to fundamentalisms and women’s rights.

Not as Simple as ABC: Christian Fundamentalisms and HIV and AIDS Responses in Africa (2012) Jessica Horn, Toronto: AWID, atoms/files/not_as_simple_abc.pdf (last accessed 14 November 2016), 25 pp.

In a context in which sub-Saharan Africans make up 68 per cent of HIV-positive people globally, and where an estimated 25–75 per cent of health services are owned or run by religiously affiliated institutions, this paper examines the agendas, strategies, and influence of Christian fundamentalist actors in HIV and AIDS responses in this region. It looks in particular at how Christian fundamentalist engagement in the HIV and AIDS sector has supported and strengthened highly moralistic patriarchal discourses around sexuality, gender, and sexual practices, and continues to affect practice and policy on HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. The paper tracks the shifting attitudes of key actors – the US government (a major funder of HIV responses in sub-Saharan Africa) and the Catholic Church – and also considers the resulting implications for women’s rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights, particularly in the light of the connections between the US Christian right and African Pentecostal and charismatic churches, and growing levels of homophobic policymaking at the state level.

Religious Fundamentalisms and Their Gendered Impacts in Asia (2010) Claudia Derichs and Andrea Fleschenberg (eds.), Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, http:// (last accessed 1 November 2016), 75 pp.

With a focus on Asia, this paper argues that rising religious fundamentalisms in the region are jeopardising the realisation of women’s rights as set out in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (formulated at the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women) and puts a particular emphasis on the impact of religious fundamentalisms on the political participation of women. The opening chapter outlines religious fundamentalisms in the global political context, discusses the centrality of the control of women to all religious fundamentalist projects, and highlights the threat to women’s political participation, through fundamentalist attempts to confine women within the domestic sphere, close down democratic space, and roll back feminist gains. Case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka follow, providing examples from different Asian contexts, of the negative impact of increasing fundamentalist influence on women’s rights, the idea of the secular state, and women’s involvement in politics.

The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State? (2013) Catholics for Choice, Washington, DC: Catholics for Choice, 2013/08/CFC_See_Change_2013.pdf (last accessed 30 November 2016), 28 pp.

The Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, has permanent observer status at the United Nations, a position held by no other religion. This means that it is invited to attend UN conferences, with all the privileges of a sovereign state, including the right to vote. This paper begins by setting out the history of how the Holy See attained this status, questioning its validity (the paper is part of the ‘See Change’ campaign calling for a review of the Holy See’s status at the UN) and moves on to discuss the attempts of the Holy See to exert its influence at UN conferences and over the formulation of human rights mechanisms, with a focus on women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The paper could perhaps have referred to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting gender equality and women’s rights. Each annual CSW produces an Outcome Document. Discussions leading to the production of this document are generally notable for the Holy See (usually in conjunction with groupings of other states pursuing ‘conservative’ agendas with regard to women’s rights) acting to block any progressive language with regard to SRHR, women’s rights, and LGBTI rights, seeking to water down language on previously established commitments (such as the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action), and pushing for a ‘protection of the [traditional] family’ message.

More Under the Veil: Women and Muslim Fundamentalism in MENA (2009) Shaina Greiff, 3wia09_02feat ures_shaina.pdf (last accessed 30 November 2016), 7 pp.

This short paper provides a brief discussion of Muslim fundamentalism and women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The author sketches out the rise of religious fundamentalisms since the 1970s in the context of the region’s experience of imperialism and colonialism from the West, the perceived failure of modernisation projects and globalisation, and ‘the failure of secularised states to effectively maintain and develop “cultural integrity”’ (p. 2). As she points out, the accusation of cultural inauthenticity is often directed at women’s rights activists and feminists in the region, who it is claimed are attempting to import ‘Western’ values. Identifying Sharia (Islamic law)-derived ‘personal status laws’ governing marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance as the place where the influence of fundamentalisms is felt most strongly, the author goes on to describe the two forms of feminism that are broadly in operation in the region. Firstly, she outlines the form adopted by both non-religious and religious feminists, who seek to operate within a secular framework, who argue that laws governing the family should not be based on. Secondly, she outlines Islamic feminism, which accepts a religiously organised culture and polity, but advocates for a non-patriarchal rereading and reinterpretation of religious texts.

‘Muslim women and the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism/extremism: an overview of Southeast Asian Muslim women’s struggle for human rights and gender equality’ (2006) Norani Othman, Women’s Studies International Forum 29: 339–353

This paper argues that while religious extremism is not restricted to Islam alone, codified Islamic law, or Sharia, prevails in almost all contemporary Muslim societies. These codified laws are frequently contradictory to current notions of human rights and the equal legal status of men and women. With what the author terms the global Islamic resurgence throughout the Muslim world since the 1970s, she contends that most Muslim countries have had to respond to the demands of their Muslim constituencies, resulting in more laws that are retrogressive for women being adopted, and implemented as Sharia. The author identifies the issues and major challenges confronting Muslim women in South-East Asia in the face of increasing religious extremism within the region’s Islamist movements, and then outlines strategies that women’s groups in South-East Asia have employed to engage with these movements, and surmount the challenges they posed to women’s rights and women’s access to justice under the law. The author argues that Muslim women’s groups need to form broad coalitions and alliances and to work with progressive and democratic Muslim intellectuals and scholars, and that in order to reclaim their rights and justice in Islam and under its laws, Muslim women must also be actively engaged with the project of interpretation of texts and laws.

‘Religious coercion and violence against women: the case of Beit Shemesh’ (2016) Sima Zalchberg Block, in Fareda Banda and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe (eds.) Women’s Rights and Religious Law: Domestic and International Perspectives, London and New York: Routledge, 152–75

In this fascinating but troubling book chapter, the author describes the activities of ultraorthodox Jewish extremists in Beit Shemesh, a city in Jerusalem County, Israel. Based on desk research and research undertaken by the author in Beit Shemesh, the piece documents increasing levels of intimidation and violence perpetrated by religious extremists in Beit Shemesh, which is aimed primarily at those who violate their norms of sexual behaviour. The piece is underpinned theoretically, with a particularly good section on female ‘modesty’, and is very well referenced.

Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain (2000) Gita Sahgal and Nira Yuval Davis, London: Women Living Under Muslim Laws, www.wluml. org/sites/ pdf (last accessed 26 October 2016), 247 pp.

Although first published in 1992, and re-published by Women Living Under Muslim Laws back in 2000, this book is nevertheless still valuable for its illustration of the growing influence of religious fundamentalisms in a secular, global-Northern context, specifically the UK, with its particular history of imperialism and colonialism. In the introductory chapter, ‘Fundamentalism, multiculturalism and women in Britain’, the authors discuss fundamentalism[s] and women, secularism, religion and the state in the UK, and the UK policy of multiculturalism. This policy has resulted, the authors argue, in fundamentalist leaderships in minority communities (where the state and communities themselves now define identity by religion, rather than nationality) being the main beneficiaries. Subsequent chapters provide examinations of Muslim women’s experiences, women in black-led churches, women and Irish-Catholicism, Asian women’s activism, and women and Jewish fundamentalism. Inevitably, given the length of time since publication, events in the UK have moved on. However, themes in the book are still of great relevance. These include, for example, the support fundamentalist forms of religion receive from many women, who derive comfort and even a sense of empowerment from them, especially within a wider society often hostile to minority ethnic and religious groups; and the challenges faced by women who seek to confront fundamentalism in their own communities while facing racist stereotyping by the majority population. And in the UK, multiculturalism, assimilation, and women’s rights continue to be hotly debated.

Women’s Rights and Religious Law: Domestic and International Perspectives (2016) Fareda Banda and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, London and New York: Routledge

The promotion of religiously informed laws is a central concern of fundamentalist movements. Arguing that ‘Gender, religion and equality are the fault lines of the twenty-first century’ (p. 2), the editors of this excellent collection (which contains the chapter on Jewish extremism summarised above) bring together case studies of religious law as currently conceived, practised, and interpreted in Muslim and Jewish communities in different parts of the world. The book opens with a framing section, which contains chapters on culture, religion, and women’s international human rights; marriage, religion, and gender equality; gender, religion, and human rights in Africa; and the Vatican’s notion of gender complementarity; before moving on to the case studies, which aim to show, in the editors’ words, ‘the ways in which religious principles are being manipulated, co-opted, contested and reshaped to meet the evolving challenges that face the societies under review’ (p. 1).

Religion and politics

Religious politics and the rise of illiberal religion’ (2015) Scott W. Hibbard, in Luke M. Herrington, Alasdair McKay and Jeffrey Haynes (eds.) Nations Under God: The Geopolitics of Faith in the Twenty-first Century, Bristol: E-International Relations Publishing, 103–11, (last accessed 1 December 2016)

This is a very interesting discussion of why, given the resurgence of religious politics in the past few decades, it has been what the author terms a ‘conservative or illiberal rendering of religious tradition’ that has been so evident, rather than a more inclusive or liberal interpretation (p. 104). This is in a context in which the assumptions of modernisation theory and its corollary, secularisation theory – which have held that economic and political development in countries would lead to a decline in the influence of the role of religious organisations in public life, and that religious belief would fall away in the face of scientific advances – have proved to be incorrect. Basing his analysis on his previous study of politicised religion in Egypt, India, and the USA, the author argues that the proliferation of religious politics in the post-Cold War era is a combination of both religious and political factors – religious populations rebelling against secular elites, along with the failure of the modern state to meet basic human needs. In addition, the fact that it is religion that is the aspect of culture selected for this role is because of its continuing salience in speaking ‘to fundamental questions of human existence’ (p. 105). That it has been fundamentalist strains of religion that have assumed such prominence (in the place of a general trend at mid-century for liberal, tolerant, and non-literal interpretations of religion) is, for the author, explained by the role of state leaders and mainstream political actors. Viewing religious fundamentalisms as a bulwark against socialism at a time when they were also abandoning a commitment to social change, state elites began ‘to see illiberal religious movements as a constituency to be courted, not a threat to be marginalised’ (p. 107). The author argues that this has resulted in a more assertive religious nationalism, with political actors choosing to promote illiberal, divisive, and polarising forms over a more virtuous reading of religion.

‘The unhappy marriage of religion and politics: problems and pitfalls for gender equality’ (2010) Shahra Razavi and Anne Jenichen, Third World Quarterly 31(6): 833–50, available at
(last accessed 3 November 2016)

This is the excellent introductory article in a special issue of Third World Quarterly from 2010 (see below). The issue itself brings together articles from a variety of regional and religious contexts to explore how religion as a political force affects women’s struggles for gender equality. In this article, the authors provide an overview of the dynamics at play, evidenced in the case studies in the journal issue, in a global context which has seen the rising political prominence of religious actors and movements over the past 30 years. For the authors, the mobilisation of religion in the service of political projects such as nationalism and the bolstering of authoritarianism has led to issues related to family, sexuality, and reproduction – core focuses in all religions – becoming battle grounds between conservative religious actors wishing to regulate these issues according to religious doctrine, and feminist and other human rights advocates who argue for rights-based regulation and legislation. Further, in the authors’ words, ‘Not only are claims of “divine truth” justifying discriminatory practices against women hard to challenge, but the struggle for gender equality is further complicated by the manner in which it is closely tied up with, and inseparable from, struggles for social and economic justice, ethnic/racial recognition, and national self-determination vis-à-vis imperial/global domination’.

The Unhappy Marriage of Religion and Politics: Problems and Pitfalls for Gender Equality (2010) Third World Quarterly 31(6)

The articles in this special issue of Third World Quarterly, the introductory article to which is outlined above, all focus on the intersection of religion, politics, and women’s rights. The articles provide a set of case studies from 11 different countries – Chile, Israel, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia, Turkey, and the USA – where religion has become increasingly prominent in the political sphere. The range of contexts illustrates, for example, the influence of religion and religious actors even in nominally secular states such as the USA and India, and points to the negative implications for women’s rights when national and religious identities are conflated, nationalist discourses and conservative religious views tending to share the same ideas of strictly defined gender roles for women and men, as demonstrated in the article on Serbia. While all case studies reflect the particular histories and dynamics at play in each specific country, taken together they reveal that politicised religion operates to the detriment of the establishment of gender equality in whatever context it occurs.

‘Religion, Rights and Gender at the Crossroads’ (2011) IDS Bulletin 42(1), http://bulletin. (last accessed 20 January 2017)

The ten articles in this issue of IDS Bulletin explore the intersection of religion, women’s rights, and politics, looking at the ways in which religion and gender equality are instrumentalised in national and (post-9/11) international politics, with a particular focus on Islamic contexts. The introductory article, by Mariz Tadros, outlines the use of religion by international actors, donors, states, feminists, development practitioners and human rights activists, who are increasingly adopting ‘religionised’ approaches to the issue of gender equality, against a backdrop of a volatile political environment, the rise of identity politics, and increasing levels of economic deprivation.

Uncomfortable Truths, Unconventional Wisdoms: Women’s Perspectives on Violent Extremism & Security Interventions (2016) Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership, (last accessed 1 December 2016), 33 pp.

Arguing that women’s rights groups have been warning against the rise of extremism, both religious and ethno-nationalist for the last three decades, often bearing the brunt of fundamentalist forces that oppose basic principles of human rights, democracy, and pluralism, this report offers an analysis of the global ‘Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism’ (P/CVE)’ agenda, from the perspective of women’s peace and rights activists from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Asia regions. The paper finds that early attention to women and gender by the P/CVE community at large focused to a great extent on women, and especially mothers, as ‘counterweights or informants against extremism’, instrumentalising women and creating danger for activists on the ground. At the same time, many governments have introduced financial restrictions on local NGOs preventing them from accessing international resources. This is in a context of political, financial, and logistic support to armed groups far outweighing assistance to non-violent civil society organisations, many of which work directly on peacebuilding. The report covers three areas: security concerns for civilians and civil society organisations; experiences and engagement with local police; outreach to local militias and experiences of de-radicalisation work; and perspectives on international military and security presence and interventions. The report makes clear that the difficulties faced by those working to prevent the growth of extremism on the ground can come not only from the extremists themselves, but from interventions undertaken by international governments that are intended to suppress violent extremism and radicalisation. The report is also available in Arabic, at 321b35/1481585585254/WASL Security Interventions Brief Arabic.pdf (last accessed 1 December 2016), 64 pp.

‘Women, Gender, and the U.K. Government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Efforts: Looking Back and Forward’ (2016) Jayne Huckerby, in Naureen Chowdhury Fink, Sara Zeiger and Rafia Bhulai (eds.), A Man’s World? Exploring the Roles of Women in Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism, Abu Dhabi: Hedayah and The Global Center on Cooperative Security, 76–98, http:// (last accessed 20 January 2017), 193 pp.

In this excellent piece, the author traces the history of the UK government’s efforts to engage women in its counter-terrorism strategy over recent years, providing a critical analysis of what, as the author notes, is ‘one of the few [international] government programs that has had an explicit and specific focus on women’s roles in CVE’ (p.76). Lessons to be drawn from the UK experience include the dangers of a blurring between integration and CVE strategies, and the corresponding risks to the work of Muslim women’s organisations, whose activism may be increasingly associated with a government agenda of counter-radicalisation, which is regarded with suspicion by many Muslims.

Progressive religious interpretations

Islamic feminism, possibilities and limitations’ (2002) Qudsia Mirza, in John Strawson (ed.) Law After Ground Zero, London: The GlassHouse Press, 108–22

In this scholarly account, the author first situates Islamic feminism in relation to historical Western perceptions of Islam – in which the figure of the veiled Oriental woman has been central – and then in relation to Western feminism. She moves on to outline reformist schools of thought within Islam, including a consideration of thinking on gender issues within these schools, and identifies different types of Islamic feminism, which although varying hugely in theoretical approaches, are characterised by ‘a common concern with the empowerment of their gender within a rethought Islam’ (p. 13 – the author quoting Mai Yamani (ed.), p. 1, in Feminism and Legal and Literary Perspectives). Such a rethought Islam involves reinterpretating the Qur’an in ways that promote gender justice, with many Islamic feminists arguing for a reversion to what they see as the egalitarian principles of original Islam (although the author includes discussion of feminists within the Islamic feminism typologies given here who hold that Islam itself is predicated on the notion of a gender hierarchy and is incompatible with gender equality). For the author, any consideration of Islamic feminism(s) throws up a crucial issue; that of the failure to take into account diversity and difference within Islam, thus denying the experiences of women who are considered to be politically marginal. This, the author argues, maybe a strategic necessity for the time being, particularly in countries where Islamists are particularly powerful, but risks checking the development of an internal critique within Islamic feminist scholarship, and ignores the difficulties posed by scripture-based feminist advances for women who fall outside an explicit Islamic framework.

The Bible: The Biography (2007) Karen Armstrong, London: Atlantic Books, ISBN: 9781782396406, 302 pp.

This work is a historical analysis of the Bible, tracing the construction, from diverse and often contradictory texts, of the Old Testament (part of the Jewish Torah) and the Christian New Testament, and the ways in which Jews and Christians have regarded the writings over the course of time. What is clear from this study is the expectation of many adherents throughout the Bible’s history that the texts will be open to constant and often allegorical (re)interpretation, and that no text has one definitive meaning. This is in contrast to those who adopt a literal and fixed reading of Biblical texts. Such a literal approach to religious texts is the defining feature of religious fundamentalisms, but as this book makes clear, calls from fundamentalists to return to original, literal reading of Biblical scripture are spurious, in the light of the history of the ways Biblical texts have been understood.

‘Faith paths to overcome violence against women and girls in Brazil’ (2016) Sarah de Roure and Chiara Capraro, Gender & Development 24(2): 205–18, (last accessed 1 December 2016)

In this article, the authors describe the experience of international NGO Christian Aid in partnering with progressive Christian churches and faith-based organisations to tackle violence against women through service delivery, advocacy, and pastoral care in two locations in Brazil – the city of São Paulo and the town of Ariquemes in the Amazon region. This is in the context of increasing religious conservatism in the country, and the strong influence of both the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant churches on Brazilian society and politics. The authors stress the importance of religious belief to many people, and the need, therefore, to engage with progressive theologians and church leaders, and to recognise the existence of people who are committed to overcoming gender inequality withinfaith communities. Such people, the authors argue, often look for support from those of other faiths working for gender justice, and from secular organisations who share the same commitment.


The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), 215 Spadina Ave, Suite 150, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 2C7, Canada and Tlaxcala 69 Colonia Roma Sur Mexico D.F. C.P. 06760 Delegación Cuauhtémoc, website: email:

AWID is an international feminist network made up of organisations and individual development practitioners, women’s rights activists, and academics. AWID conducts research, advocacy, and capacity building in several priority areas, one of which is religious fundamentalisms. Their ‘Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms’ stream of work has been running for some years, the network having identified the rising levels of politicised religion globally as posing a significant threat to women’s rights. AWID has produced a significant number of publications on the subject, some of which are listed above, and which are aimed at helping those working on women’s rights issues on the ground to identify and challenge religious fundamentalisms where they occur.

Catholics for Choice (CFC), 1436 U Street NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009–3997, USA, tel: 1 (202) 986–6093, email:, website: www.

CFC is a US-based organisation, working at a national and international level, and advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights – including access to safe, legal, and 130 RESOURCES affordable abortion and contraception – for all women, a standpoint running contrary to official Catholic teaching. Founded in 1973, the organisation argues for freedom of conscience for the individual in matters relating to sex, reproduction, and family life, and focuses its work on the following areas: abortion and contraception; HIV and AIDS; sex and sexuality; new reproductive health technologies; and religion in public policy. Working at both a national and international level, CFC is an accredited NGO at the United Nations, taking part in UN conferences and meetings. Its quarterly magazine, Conscience, publishes on a variety of contemporary issues including reproductive rights, feminism, politics, religion, and gender and sexuality.

Christian Feminist Network (CFN), email: via the website, website: https://

This UK-based network was founded in 2012 and aims ‘to promote gender equality and challenge oppression in society, church and home; to provide a safe space for Christian feminists to support each other; and to contribute a Christian voice within the feminist community’. Open to all, including members of the LGBTI communities, CFN is an example of an organisation, like Karamah and Musawah, below, working to challenge patriarchal attitudes and further gender equality from within a religious framework.

Karamah – Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, email:, website:

This US organisation aims to inform both Muslims and non-Muslims of ‘the just, gender equitable foundation of Islam’ and to ‘provide the community with Islamic jurisprudence that emphasizes gender equity and encourages intellectual growth, conflict resolution and leadership development’. The organisation’s work focuses on research into Islamic legal sources and women’s rights within Islam, and running educational programmes for Muslim women – both in the USA and internationally – in the fields of Islamic law, conflict resolution, and leadership.

Musawah, c/o SIS Forum (Malaysia), No. 4, Lorong 11/8E, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, email:, website:

Founded in 2009, Musawah grew out of the Malaysian Sisters in Islam organisation, and seeks to bring about gender equality within the Muslim family and ‘to apply feminist and rights-based lenses in understanding and searching for equality and justice within Muslim legal traditions’. A major area of work for the organisation is the promotion of its ‘Framework for Action’, which argues for reform through the use of a combination of approaches – Islamic sources, international human rights standards (including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), national legislation, and the lived experience of women and men. Another focus is challenging concepts of religiously sanctioned male custody and guardianship of women (qiwamah and wilayah), and the organisation published a book, Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (edited by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki Al-Sarmani and Jana Rumminger, Oneworld Publications) devoted to this issue, in 2015.

One Law for All, BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK, tel: 44 (0) 20 3287 6128; 44 (0) 7719166731, email:, website:

Arguing that the work of Sharia (Islamic religious law) councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in the UK – which operate in many Muslim communities in the country – leads to further marginalisation and segregation of minority groups in the UK, and particularly women within these groups, this organisation advocates for their abolition. For One Law for All, the increasing number and acceptance of such bodies, whose rulings have no status under British law, is leading to the existence of parallel legal systems for dealing with matters such as divorce and family law (the focus of Sharia councils and tribunals). For One Law for All, the operation of such parallel legal systems effectively renders Muslim women second-class citizens within British society, potentially denied knowledge of the rights they hold under national and international law, and subject to patriarchal, discriminatory, and arbitrary religious laws. The current One Law for All Campaign calls for the banning by UK law of not only Sharia courts, but all religious tribunals, such as the Jewish Beth Din religious courts. Internationally, where parallel legal systems operate, the issue of their existence and their impact on women is a contentious one; see, for example, in India.

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), PO Box 28455, London N19 5NZ, UK, email:, website:

Founded in 1984, WLUML is an international network that defines its role as promoting solidarity among and providing information, support, and a collective space for women ‘whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam’. The network has no formal membership, with individuals and organisations who engage with WLUML being defined as either networkers or active networkers, the latter being those involved in collective projects or particular aspects of WLUML’s work, or being involved at the decision-making level. Work undertaken by WLUML includes issuing, circulating, and responding to international alerts and calls for solidarity; the provision of networking and information services; capacity building for networking groups; a publishing and media programme; and collective project work. The network has an international co-ordination office in London, with regional co-ordination offices located in Dakar and Lahore. The network’s website has an extremely useful Resources section, containing a large number of reports and publications, available to download.