Religious Fundamentalisms and Their Gendered Impacts in Asia
Preface: Amidst growing uncertainties in a globalised world, fundamentalist convictions have been gaining ground in many religions. Reinforced by the threat from interna- tional terrorism, this renaissance of religious fundamentalisms has created ideolog- ical conditions for polarisation between ‘us’ and ‘them’, from community to trans-national level. At national level, it has affected both politics and society, leading to something of a ‘retraditionalisation’ of gender roles.
The understanding of fundamentalism is often one-dimensional, however, and domi- nated by the figure of the male Muslim. In fact, fundamentalism is multifaceted and rooted in different religious and cultural contexts. However, among the vast diver- sity of religions, cultures and peoples in Asia, a number of common features can be discerned with regard to religious fundamentalisms and gender:
- The authority to interpret sacred religious texts in order to construct an ideology is often monopolised by and enforced to sustain patriarchal structures, and therefore it is a question of authority and power.
- Women are often the first target of fundamentalist forces in an effort to demonise all difference and to prescribe codes of behaviour, thus either restricting or exaggerating the role of women.
The stereotypical assignation of gender roles limits the space for diversity, dissent and socio-political participation on the part of women. This gradually leads to the erosion of the democratic polity and respect for human rights, reversing many im- provements that have been made in Asian societies in recent decades.
The Regional Office for Cooperation in Asia of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the country offices in the region are trying to help foster gender equality in Asia and to promote women’s rights in accordance with the Beijing Declaration and the Plat- form for Action. Religious fundamentalisms are jeopardising these goals and mak- ing the struggle for universality of women’s human rights more difficult, but also more important.
With the conference ‘Religious Fundamentalisms and Their Gendered Impacts in Asia’ (a joint project with the University of Hildesheim) and with this publication the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung wishes to contribute to this vital debate within the triangle of gender, religion and politics in Asia and the West. We attempted to gather repre- sentatives from civil society – in particular pro-democracy and women’s rights activ- ists confronted by fundamentalists in their work – politics, journalism and academia to mirror the diversity of religions and prevailing fundamentalisms in Asia, Europe and the United States. The conference provided the participants with an opportunity to scrutinise definitions of religion, faith, fundamentalism, tradition and secularism. At the same time, it offered a space for exchange and reflection to develop creative strategies for overcoming possible gendered restraints on political participation.
I would like to thank the editors of this volume, Professor Claudia Derichs and Dr. Andrea Fleschenberg, Institute for Social Science, Stiftung Universität Hildesheim, for their efforts and commitment to this joint project. We thank the authors, whose contributions reflect in part the very broad and fruitful discussion among the 30 conference participants.
If we assume that the roles and disparities perpetuated by religious fundamental-isms are socially constructed, then they are not immutable. Future responses must include strategies to curb the negative impacts of religious fundamentalisms on democracy, peace and human rights, while at the same time unwaveringly asserting the need for gender equality.
Singapore, January 2010
Dr Stefanie Elies
Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia
The Publication is available free online. .