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Gender, Religion,

and Spirituality
Edited by Caroline Sweetman

Oxfam Focus on Gender

The books in Oxfam's Focus on Gender series were originally published as single issues of
the journal Gender and Development (formerly Focus on Gender). Gender and Development is
published by Oxfam three times a year. It is the only British journal to focus specifically
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Oxfam GB1998
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ISBN 0 85598 400 7

This book converted to digital file in 2010

Editorial 2
Caroline Sweetman

Reconciling Islam and feminism 7

Iman Hashim

Christianity, development, and women's liberation 15

Bridget Walker

Conflict and compliance: Christianity and the occult in horticultural exporting 23

Catherine S Dolan

No time to worship the serpent deities:

Women, economic change, and religion in north-western Nepal 31
Rebecca Saul

Gender relations, 'Hindu' nationalism, and NGO responses in India 40

Stacey Burlet

Religion, male violence, and the control of women:

Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford, UK 48
Marie Macey

A double-edged sword:
Challenging women's oppression within Muslim society in Northern Nigeria 56
Fatima L Adamu

Gender and development from a Christian perspective:

Experience from World Vision 62
Linda Tripp

Islam and development: Opportunities and constraints for Somali women 69

Sadia Ahmed

'The way to do is to be': Exploring the interface between values and research 73
Sharon Harper and Kathleen Clancy

Resources 81
Compiled by Sophie Dodgeon
Books 81
Video 85
Organisations 85
Web resources 86
uch development thought has customs, means that the distinction between

M dismissed religion, its rituals and its

customs, as at best irrelevant and at
worst a barrier to economic, social, and politi-
these is often overlooked. This blurring of
terms has led to further confusion in much
development literature, where the terms
cal 'progress'. This collection of articles - by 'culture' and 'religion' are used almost
writers who live both within, and outside, interchangeably to describe any or all of
various religious traditions - explores these these elements (Mukhopadhyay 1995). A key
views. Why have considerations of faith and feminist strategy has been to highlight the
spirituality been left on the margin of distinction between the two, described by
development research, practice, and policy, one writer as the difference between
not only by 'mainstream' development, but 'religion' and 'religiosity' (Carroll 1983).
by many gender and development workers? Women's position within societies is
This marginalisation of a critical area of human regulated by religious institutions at the family
activity has had, and continues to have, a and community levels. Custom and tradition,
dramatic negative impact on economic, social, often justified on religious grounds, ensure
and political development, and the attainment women's conformity to conventional gender
of equality for women. roles, which can be the source of power-
Moving beyond this, contributors to this lessness and pain. In particular, notions of
collection also analyse the complex fatalism which are integral to many religions,
relationship between culture, religion, and from Hinduism to Orthodox Christianity, can
feminism, and how this is played out in offer comfort to the powerless and an
gender and development work in countries explanation for suffering, while at the same
of the South. They aim to assess how both time constraining people from seeking change.
organised religions, and personal spiritual
convictions can shape, challenge, and
potentially transform gender relations.
Religious 'fundamentalism'
and the control of women
Religious faith and its The connections between religion, culture,
and the control of women are evident
institutions throughout the history of human develop-
As Bridget Walker states in her article, ment. Women's central role as wives, mothers,
religion can have a contradictory status in and transmitters of cultural and religious beliefs
women's lives. The close relationship between (Mukhopadhyay 1995) makes it important for
core religious beliefs, and religious institu- their behaviour to be regulated, in particular
tions with their associated rituals and their sexuality, since the paternity of their

children is of prime concern to patriarchal European ideals of wife- and motherhood

societies. 'Most human religions, from tribal accompanied the message of Christianity
to world religions, have treated woman's brought by the missionaries (Hansen 1992,
body, in its gender-specific sexual functions, referring to Africa).
as impure or polluted and thus to be In the post-colonial era, a growing number
distanced from sacred spaces and rites domi- of development workers from former colonial
nated by males' (Radford Ruether 1990,7). The powers have been anxious to avoid charges
need to control women's impure sexuality is of cultural and religious imperialism.
linked to male physical and mental violence Accordingly, they have worked 'around'
against them, ranging from the sexual these issues, focusing on practical, technical,
violence inflicted on child and adult females or material issues (Ver Beek, forthcoming).
at home and outside the home, to the policing However, it is increasingly argued that for
of women's dress codes and 'modesty'. development agencies to ignore the religious
Several articles in this issue, and many of beliefs of the people with whom they work,
the resources listed at the end of this or to reject them out of hand as backward or
collection, address the threat to women's 'against development', itself amounts to a
human rights from religious extremists in the continuation of cultural imperialism which is
many politically unstable situations all over promoting secularism. All too frequently, the
the world, who use the control of women as a failure of development interventions is
symbol of social cohesion. Although often explained by 'blaming the traditionalism of
misleadingly associated solely with Islam, the an ill-defined, but convenient, idea of
emphasis on a return to 'fundamental' "culture"' (Crewe and Harrison 1999,1).
religious laws actually originates in American Southern feminists working in develop-
Protestant Christianity. 'Fundamentalists' are ment have been particularly keen to challenge
defined by one source as having 'a militant the idea of culture as a separate, backward
desire to defend religion against the realm of life which outsiders may respect or
onslaughts of modern, secular culture; their denigrate, but in which they should not
principal weapon is their insistence on the interfere (Longwe 1995,47). Southern feminists
inerrancy of scripture' (Hawley and Proudfoot have argued that such cultural relativity is
1994, 3). Fundamentalism's basic concern is patronising, and potentially allows women's
attaining political power through control of rights to be marginalised. However, Southern
social structures, rather than an intrinsic feminists risk accusations of betraying their
interest in religious truth (ibid.). (For further societies if they criticise the cultural and
analysis and information on strategies to religious status of women (Mukhopadhyay
eradicate the issue of violence against women, 1995). In view of the complex interplay
including violence inflicted in the name of between race, religion, and gender, and in an
religion or culture, see Gender and Development atmosphere of accusations and counter-
Vol. 6, No. 3, November 1998.) accusations of racism and sexism, you need
courage to take action. In her article, Fatima L
Adamu discusses how the tensions between
Development, culture, and gender and race turn into a 'double-edged
feminism sword' for Muslim feminists working in
The same complex relationship between Northern Nigeria. As Adamu states, they
political and economic power, and the control must not only challenge the prejudices of men
of women through culture and religion, could from their own communities regarding their
be seen during colonialism, when Western view of 'gender' as a Western imposition, but
Christianity was exported to the empires of also circumvent the corresponding prejudice
European states. Attempts to 'domesticate' of foreign donors against Islam. Haleh Afshar
women in the colonies into nineteenth-century has summed up this hostility as follows: 'just
as in the West much of the discussion about world; most religious movements have their
Islam and Islamist women is conducted in roots in transformatory visions, which focus
terms of simplistic caricatures, so it is in the on the 'inner ethical motivations of the person,
case of the perception of Western feminism by rather than their external bodily state, and
the establishment [in Iran]' (Afshar 1998, 33). respect for all persons, regardless of gender
Such tensions are particularly evident in or ethnicity' (Radford Ruether 1990, 14, on
situations where culture is perceived to be Christianity and modern reformist Judaism).
under threat, for example in immigrant In line with this, Iman Hashim challenges
communities. In her article on Pakistani male Islam's reputation for being 'anti-woman',
violence in Bradford, UK, Marie Macey and supportive of a 'segregated social system
analyses how notions of racism, religion, where women are economically and
culture, and feminism have paralysed politically marginalised' (Hashim, this issue,
institutional responses in this context to male p.8). She, with other Muslim women and
violence against women both inside and men, argues that women can fight for the
outside the home. attainment of political, social, and economic
In her article, Stacey Burlet traces how the rights from within the framework of Islam.
Hindu religion has become linked to struggles These arguments emphasise the importance
for political power and notions of nationhood of reclaiming the egalitarian spirit of many
in India. Many NGOs and community-based religious texts, to counter the current life-
organisations (CBOs) are currently upholding and-death threat presented to women in
the ideal of secular development which the many contexts by religious extremists, often
Indian state embraced at independence. They termed 'fundamentalists'. However, as Sadia
resist being drawn into the polarised political Ahmed describes in her article on religious
struggles around the idea of Hindus as one extremism in Somalia, this is only useful for
united nation, and emphasise that poverty cuts the majority if women at the grassroots can
across religious differences. As Burlet states, gain access to these arguments. It is they
NGOs and CBOs must achieve a difficult bal- whose bodies become battlegrounds for
ancing act between acknowledging religious competing interpretations of religious texts,
affiliation as an important aspect of personal and they who require both basic education
identity, and privileging it above other aspects and knowledge of religious texts and
of economic and social differentiation. The arguments as weapons against fundamen-
Indian women's movement in particular is talist interpretations of Islam.
facing this challenge to its agenda. From a Christian perspective, in her article
on World Vision's approach to gender issues,
development worker Linda Tripp continues
Religion and transformation
the theme of countering sexism through
Oppressive interpretations of religious texts reclaiming religious texts. World Vision uses
promoted by male-dominated religious the Gospels of the life of Christ to assert
institutions can be challenged by alternative the equal humanity of women, and to
interpretations of religious writings, and, as promote their rights through development
Bridget Walker states in her article, these programmes. This has also included imple-
feminist theologies can be compared and menting a gender policy within World Vision
linked to other liberation theologies which itself. Tripp also discusses the advocacy
reclaim religion for the poor (Walker 1987). work on spiritual values in development
The core ideas of a religion, often expressed undertaken by World Vision, which was
in the words of a deity or prophet, can inspire instrumental in persuading the Canadian
positive social, economic, and political change. International Development Agency (CIDA)
Religious faith motivates the thoughts and to determine a formal position on the role of
actions of women and men throughout the spirituality and religion in its work.

The myth of Value-free' Integrating religion into

development impact assessment
As gender analysis and other forms of social Recording, and learning from, cultural or
analysis have shown, no forms of change or religious change is essential if the impact of
'development' (even those concerned with development interventions on various groups
technical change) are value-free, and all of is to be assessed. There have been recent calls
them have an impact on culture and power from UNRISD and UNESCO for the develop-
relations in society (Longwe 1995). Donors' ment of cultural indicators, including indivi-
reluctance to fund development initiatives dual and social well-being (UNRISD, 1997,
with links to religious bodies often stems from quoted by Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1998).
a real concern for the potentially negative Catherine Dolan considers the changing
consequences for communities. However, as patterns of religious worship and the growing
Fatima Adamu argues (p.60), this means that use of witchcraft among women in Meru
some community-based organisations in the District, Kenya. Dolan links these directly to
South are obliged to struggle on their own. women's resentment of economic margina-
Others accept resources from donors who at lisation and of the overwork they have
best ignore, and at worst encourage them to suffered as a result of the introduction of
reject, their commitment to religious belief. In export horticulture. Women use poison to
effect this kind of development, presented as injure and tranquillise their husbands as a
value-free, is actually preaching what Linda strategy of resistance, and convert to 'born-
Tripp terms a 'doctrine of secularity' (p.66), again' Christianity to find the mental and
which marginalises many human concerns. A emotional strength to withstand current
conceptual separation of physical well-being pressures. Rather than dismissing these pheno-
from spiritual health is alien to many cultures mena as unrelated to the economic changes
and belief-systems, having its roots in Western that are taking place, or as proof of 'back-
notions of science and medicine (Joseph 1990). wardness', Dolan argues that they indicate
In their article, Sharon Harper and serious flaws in the development model used
Kathleen Clancy discuss how research for in Meru. The spiritual domain has become
development could integrate spiritual values the principal forum in which struggles over
and religious beliefs, and argue that land and labour are expressed; these struggles
development researchers and workers should could not only undermine the economic
acknowledge that the true goal of human objectives of export horticulture, but also lead
development involves more than material to familial breakdown. Ultimately, they prove
wealth, or even well-being; it is also about the poverty of vision in economic models of
intangibles including personal fulfilment and 'development', which merely aim to increase
happiness. In their discussion, Harper and income rather than well-being. In turn,
Clancy draw on the preliminary findings of Rebecca Saul's comparative study of two
the Science, Research and Development communities in north-western Nepal demon-
(SRD) Project of the Canadian International strates the dynamism of religious belief in
Development Research Centre (IDRC). response to economic and social change. She
Building on the fact that some 'factors which explores how Buddhist rituals are changing
influence people's world-view, such as in significance and nature in response to the
gender, indigenous knowledge and social growing tourist trade. 'Development' based
structure' have already been addressed in on tourism is having a profound impact on
development, Harper and Clancy argue for community life in one of the settlements, Saul
'being-oriented' research approaches for argues; in contrast, the second community
development, which draw on individual and has chosen a different kind of development
shared ideas of spirituality. and kept their religious traditions.
Conclusion societies, and particularly women, across the
world. 'The rising tide of religious bigotry
Articles in this collection survey the impact of across the world in recent decades is one of
religion and spirituality on women's lives, on the reasons why space for serious discussion
communities, and on development work. on the links between social and personal
Writers argue that human development must change has been so closed off (Edwards and
rest on personal, and organisational, commit- Sen 1999, 7). Perhaps now is the time for that
ment to values beyond the individualism and discussion - but we must be vigilant.
materialism characteristic of world develop-
ment to date. Research into gender and orga-
nisational change illustrates the importance of References
the link between the commitment of Afshar, H (1998) Islam and Feminisms: an
individual workers, and their success or Iranian case-study, Macmillan: London and
failure in achieving certain goals (Porter et al. St Martin's Press: New York.
1999). In line with this, there is an increasing
Becher, J (ed.) (1991) Women, Religion and
awareness that all development workers who
Sexuality: studies on the impact of religious
promote poverty alleviation with social justice teachings on women, World Council of
must practise what they preach if they hope to Churches: Geneva.
extend their scope to influence global political
Edwards, M and Sen, G (1999) 'NGOs, Social
and economic players: 'it is the link between
Change and the Transformation of
values and actions that is crucial in generating
Human Relationship: A 21st-century Civic
legitimacy when arguing the case for Agenda', paper delivered at the Third
change'(Edwards and Sen 1999,11). International NGO Conference, University
But what precisely is the relationship of Birmingham, UK, 10-13 January 1999.
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justice and religious or spiritual beliefs? While Spirit: Buddhism and social engagement in
'development, being concerned with the Thailand', paper delivered at the Third
ordering of social life, is at root a moral issue, International NGO Conference, University
and moral systems have generally sprung of Birmingham, UK, 10-13 January 1999.
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sources' (ibid., 2), it is, surely, critically impor- Domesticity, Rutgers: New Jersey.
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activism which underlie compassionate and Gateway: women, religion and taboo, SPCK:
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Nevertheless, the current interest in Longwe, SH (1995) 'Institutional opposition
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and values on which we base our Mukhopadhyay, M (1995) 'Gender relations,
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Reconciling Islam and
Iman Hashim
Islam is often represented as a religion which denigrates women and limits theirfreedom.However,
many scholars have found evidence in Islamic texts which is supportive of women's rights.
Whereas Western concepts of feminism are often resisted as foreign and subversive of Muslim
culture, arguments for women's equality from within Islam hold a lot of potential for feminists.

Given these differences, it is somewhat

eminists have tended to regard religion
as just another of the sources of women's unsurprising that Western feminists have not
subordination, citing the manner in drawn upon Islamic texts when addressing
which women are often represented as gender inequalities in Muslim societies. In
subordinated in religious texts, and the this article, however, I shall question such a
frequency with which religion is used to position and argue that, for a variety of
justify and maintain men's dominant position reasons, feminists may have more to lose
in society (White 1992). Although these than to gain from maintaining such a view.
charges are levelled at all the major religions,
Islam in particular has a reputation for being
'anti-woman' and for supporting a segregated Islam and the West
social system where women are economically The first issue that must be addressed when
and politically marginalised. considering the relationship between fem-
Many Muslim women and men disagree inism and Islam is the historical relationship
with such a view, arguing that the Qur'an between Islamic and Western societies, as this
provides significant rights for women, which has important ramifications for both Muslim
are often far more wide-reaching than the women in general and feminists, Muslim or
rights which secular legal systems provide for otherwise. This history is best described as
a state's female citizens. However, many one of conflict and mistrust, stemming from
Muslims are frequently mistrustful of the real - and perceived - economic, political,
feminism, because they see the feminist and theological threats which Islamic and
emphasis on equal rights as at odds with the Western social systems have posed to each
Islamic notion of the complementarity of the other. This tense relationship has continued,
sexes, and the specific roles and rights laid and even intensified, in the modern era,
down for men and women, which they particularly since the 1970s, when the world
believe reflect their particular strengths and began to witness something of an Islamic
weaknesses (Afshar 1997). revival (Esposito 1992).
In the West, the enmity between these ideas (An-Na'im 1995), while local partici-
ideological positions is reflected in the repre- pants in a development project lay themselves
sentations of Islam which conjure up images open to accusations of betrayal (Kandiyoti
of totalitarian states and irrational believers - 1991). These considerations provide the first
violent, oppressive men and powerless, reason for feminist engagement with Islam.
submissive women. This misrepresentation A further problem with a feminist position
in the West has been a means of supporting which totally rejects Islam is that this does not
and maintaining its position of dominance take into account the importance of Islam for
(Said 1978). Stories of the poor treatment of women. Women do not tend to report religion
Muslim women were used by colonial as the source of constraints placed on them
powers (Ahmed 1992) and missionaries (Shaheed 1995); moreover, religion often gives
(Kandiyoti 1991) to discredit Islam, and 'the women a sense of identity and belonging, not
custom of veiling and the position of women to mention psychological support. This makes
in Muslim societies became, in their rhetoric, it almost impossible for the average Muslim
the proof of the inferiority of Islam and the woman to retain her identity and position in
justification of their efforts to undermine society, were she to reject religious laws and
Muslim religion and society' (Ahmed 1992, customs (Shaheed 1995), especially because
236-7). The result has been that as a defensive 'in the absence of alternatives it is unlikely
reaction, the Islamist position regarding that women will abandon precisely those
women has become even more retrogressive structures that provide them with solace and
and reactionary, to the extent that Afkhami, supporf (ibid., 92). Therefore, secularist argu-
an academic and political activist, goes so far ments will have little or no appeal to Muslim
as to suggest that 'contemporary Islamist women. Many women are, moreover, inter-
regimes are most lucidly identified, and preting religion in their own way as a means
differentiated from other regimes, by the of responding to oppression. For example,
position they assign to women in the family practices such as the Zar (spirit possession) act
and in society' (Afkhami 1995,1). Any inter- as legitimate opportunities for the oppressed
vention targeted at women, or any attempt to 'let off steam' (Kandiyoti 1998), and some
by feminists to change the position of argue that women also use them to 'form
Muslim women from a position which friendships and patron-client relationships, to
totally rejects Islam, results in accusations of promote economic transactions and to offer
cultural imperialism or neo-imperialism and gain services' (Constantinides 1978, in
(Kandiyoti 1991). Hale 1996, 234).
It is therefore highly relevant for develop-
Reasons for feminist ment practitioners to take into consideration
the relevance of local beliefs. The importance
engagement with Islam of making interventions appropriate to the
Currently, accusations of neo-imperialism are indigenous context has recently been
most visible in the context of development recognised in development thinking as central
work, as it is in this arena that most feminist to the effectiveness of planning and imple-
thought is 'delivered' to Muslim countries. menting development work (Stirrat and
For example, Rashiduzzaman (1997) reports Henkel 1996). From this perspective, it is
on increasing attacks on non-governmental important that development practitioners and/
organisations (NGOs) by Islamist groups in or feminists address Islam, not only to avoid
Bangladesh, who see these NGOs as cultural inappropriate interventions which might
adversaries, and part of the more general alienate the communities in which they work,
'Western' project of domination. Such views but also to be aware of existing social structures
can all too easily be used by opponents of and norms which might promote more
women's rights to rally opposition to feminist effective implementation.
Reconciling Islam and feminism 9

Addressing women's when one considers the frequency with which

interests through the Qur'an politico-religious groups cite so-called Islamic
laws applied in other Muslim countries to
There is a significant gap between what the support their own demands for more stringent
Qur'an says and the manner in which its or discriminatory 'Islamic' law (Shaheed
teachings are practised1 (Ali 1993); and the 1995), or the manner in which Muslims are
Qur'an provides rights for women which can often misled by self-ordained Muslim divines
immediately be drawn upon to improve (Bhatty 1993). Given their levels of illiteracy,
women's circumstances. Those issues that particularly women's illiteracy, and the fact
women usually do complain about, such as that the Qur'an is often still read in Arabic,
lack of freedom to make decisions for them- poor Muslims are particularly vulnerable to
selves, or the inability to earn an income (for this kind of manipulation.
example, Shaheed 1995), can all be addressed Indeed, the historical misrepresentation of
by referring to the Qur'an. I am not suggesting Islam has had profound and far-reaching
that knowledge of one's rights according to consequences for women. The most glaring
the Qur'an can be sufficient for changing cases are the practices of veiling and purdah
social relations. However, women can and (seclusion). Many argue that these have no
have used these to great effect. Much of the foundation in the Qur'an, but demonstrate the
women's movement in the West has focused
manner in which patriarchy has circumvented
not only on bringing gender inequalities to
the Qur'an's essentially egalitarian message
light, but on formalising issues in legislation.
(Mernissi in El-Solh and Mabro 1994). It is
Yet here in Islam, we as women have rights
worth exploring this argument in greater
which are stated in a source considered to be
detail, as a means of illustrating how Islam
divine, and consequently much harder to
refute, but which we do not draw upon. has been used as a method of controlling
women. This points out the necessity to
For example, Goetz and Gupta's (1994) engage with Islam from a position of
study on credit provided to women in rural knowing, and to ensure that Muslim women
Bangladesh finds that a significant propor- have access to this knowledge.
tion of these loans are directly invested by
their male relatives. Women borrowers The example of veiling and purdah
thus bear the responsibility for repayment There are four verses in the Qur'an that
without necessarily benefiting from the are used to justify veiling and/or purdah
loan. They argue that women's access to (seclusion). They are open to a number of
credit is important, but limited as a strategy interpretations, as is evidenced from the
for women's empowerment, given the lack enormous variation in whether practice veiling
of their control over these loans. However, and/or purdah or not. A Lebanese scholar, who
a verse in the Qur'an (4:34) is frequently undertook an extensive study of the various
interpreted as giving women complete interpretations, states that she found over
control over their own income and property, 10 interpretations - 'none of them in harmony
while men should be responsible for main- or even agreement with the others' (Zin al-Din
taining their female relatives. If education 1928, in Shabaan 1995, 65). Two verses are
on such a right was incorporated into the addressed to women in general, and two to the
consciousness-raising components of credit Prophets' wives (Shabaan 1995). However,
programmes, it might prove an effective their interpretation as commandments to
means of preventing the misappropriation veiling is challenged by Islamic scholars from a
of women's property, given that Muslims variety of perspectives3.
consider its source indisputable2. The two verses addressed to the Prophet
Promoting women's knowledge of their Mohamed's wives are 33:33 and 33:53,
Islamic rights becomes even more important exhorting them to 'stay quietly in your

houses and make not a dazzling display, like conditions in Medina at the time. It requires
that of the former Times of Ignorance'; and a significant stretch of the imagination to
stating: 'And when ye ask (his ladies) for interpret these verses as meaning that women
anything ye want, ask them from before a should be totally covered or confined to their
screen: that makes for greater purity for your homes. Furthermore, if women were to be
hearts and for theirs'. These verses often form entirely covered, there would be no need to
the basis for arguments in favour of veiling ask men to also lower their gaze and guard
and seclusion; other Islamic scholars argue their modesty (Shabaan 1995). Similarly, it
that such interpretations are inaccurate, has been argued that, as it is compulsory for
particularly in light of the fact that women in women not to cover their faces during
general, as well as the Prophet's wives - pilgrimage and prayer, two of the central five
particularly Khadija - were often publicly pillars of Islam, then it would be nonsensical
visible, and independent, wealthy, and active to do so ordinarily (Al-Ghazali in Shabaan
in their own right (Stowasser 1987). Such 1995). Women's public visibility during the
interpreters suggest that rather than an Prophet Mohamed's own life-time
injunction to cover up and stay behind closed undermines the arguments for seclusion.
doors the first of these verses is an injunction Finally, if women were to be in seclusion and
against parading finery, in keeping with the thus not actively engaged in earning an
Islamic ethos of not coveting or valuing income, what would be the purpose of the
material goods (Ali 1993). Similarly, the verse that states 'to men is allotted what they
second of these verses can be interpreted, earn and to women what they earn' (4:32)
even by non-feminists, as a mark of respect (Abu Shiqa in Shabaan 1995, 75)?
for the Prophet's wives rather than a demand Although there are many problems with
for their seclusion (Ali 1936). Even if one the representation of veiling and purdah in
disagrees with these interpretations, the Western, and early feminist, literature, which
Qur'an states clearly that the Prophet's wives has helped to perpetuate an image of Muslim
are not like other women (33:32); conseq- women as victims, and denied the diversity
uently, the verses directed at them can be of meaning and practice associated with this
argued not to apply to women as a group tradition, it is generally accepted that these
(Stowasser 1987). practices contribute to women's subordination.
The two verses that refer to women in They frequently restrict women's movements,
general have been similarly challenged. affecting their access to production and
These state: 'O Prophet! Tell Thy wives and economic autonomy, and increasing their
daughters, and the believing women, that dependence on men (Gardner 1994). Veiling
they should cast their outer garments over has become an institutionalised aspect of
their persons (when abroad) that is most Islam in many Muslim societies, which serves
convenient that they should be known as to illustrate both the importance of a
such and not molested' (33:59); 'And say to knowledge of Qur'anic injunctions, and the
the believing women that they should lower need to challenge patriarchal interpretations
their gaze and guard their modesty; that they which are used as a justification for practices
should not display their beauty and orna- which maintain an inequitable status quo. As
ments except what (must ordinarily) appear for purdah, while interpretations of the Qur'an
thereof; that they should draw their veils over which have obliged women to remain within
their bosoms and not display their beauty...' the household have not always precluded
(24:31). The first of these, however, must be Muslim women from earning a living - a well-
read in context: Ali (1936) explains that the known example in the gender and
object was not to restrict the liberty of women, development literature is of the lace-makers of
but to signify their identity as Muslims, and Narsapur - the degree to which they have
thus protect them from harm in the insecure control over these earnings is questionable,
Reconciling Islam and feminism 11

given their inevitable marginalisation from aspects of Qur'anic instruction: the socio-
institutions which could represent them, and economic and the ethical-religious categories.
dependency on male relations for the While women's status is inferior to men's in
marketing of goods (Mies 1982). the former category, they are full equals in
the latter. Muslim reformists argue that the
difference between men and women in the
Reconciling Islam and socio-economic sphere belongs to the cate-
feminism by returning to gory of social relations (mu'amalat), which are
the Qur'an subject to change, whereas their moral and
religious equality belongs to the category of
Despite the various advantages of drawing
religious duties towards God (ibadat), which
upon Islam when addressing women's
are immutable. The moral and religious
position in Muslim societies, some might
equality of men and women represents the
argue that Islam is ultimately a religion
highest expression of the value of equality
which provides men with status, control,
and therefore constitutes the most important
and authority over women, and which
aspect of Islamic instruction. Since men and
supports a system of inequitable gender
women are full equals in creation, in mind,
relations, and that one should not attempt
and in their spiritual and moral obligation
to tackle women's subordination through a
(i.e., the category of ibadat), there is no
religion which is, in the final analysis,
justification for inequalities between the sexes
inegalitarian. However, of recent years
(Shabaan 1995; Stowasser 1987).
activists have made efforts to reinterpret the
Islamic sources, suggesting that these can be Although one might dismiss these argu-
read as fully supportive of equal human ments as an intellectual exercise with little
rights for all. practical use for women, feminist theologians
These arguments are complex. Put are using these reinterpretations to challenge
simply, this strategy involves returning to and amend civil legal codes. For instance,
the Qur'an, and conducting a study of the Iranian feminists have concentrated on one
value system presented in the holy book. particular verse of the Qur'an (4:34), part of
The first point these activists make is that we which reads 'Men are the protectors of and
must look to the Qur'an, not the other maintainers of women because God has given
Islamic sources - the hadith, the sunna, and the one more (strength) than the other, and
the shariah - for guidance. The hadith and because they support them from their means'.
sunna are commentaries on the Prophet's Feminist theologians in Iran argue that as the
life, tradition, and sayings, while the shariah only distinction made between Muslims in
refers to laws created in the first centuries the Qur'an is that between the pious and the
after the Prophet's lifetime (An-Na'im 1995). impious (49:13), the word taken to mean
In other words, all these sources are the 'protectors and providers' in the verse above
outcome of human understandings of the is more appropriately interpreted as 'initiator
Qur'an, which are influenced by the context in affairs'. Since social transformations such
in which they were conceived. As this was as women's education and employment, as
an era which was organised hierarchically well as their participation in politics,
and patriarchally, these sources inevitably economics, and even warfare, have occurred,
reflect this reality, and the identity of the the Iranian civil code, which gives husbands
commentators, who were overwhelmingly the status of head of household and
men (Afkhami 1997). establishes unequal conjugal rights on the
On this basis, these theorists argue that we basis of this verse, is no longer appropriate.
need to return to the Qur'an as the true Not only is it inappropriate but it is un-
source of guidance, as this alone is the word Islamic, as the Qur'an makes no distinction
of God. The theorists also identify two on the basis of gender (Afary 1997).

A further tactic used by Iranian women is Having said this, I do not wish to present
to concede to the notion of complementarity, an over-simplistic or over-optimistic view of
but to emphasise that women are not 'forever the potential for women's emancipation as a
mothers and that the public domain too is in result of either knowledge of their rights or
great need of women's specific talents and feminist reinterpretations of the Qur'an. This
valuable contributions' (Afshar 1997, 764). strategy is, of course, insufficient in and of
Iranian women also highlight that comple- itself. Many Muslim women are politically
mentarity refers to both men's and women's and economically marginalised, and this in
roles in creating social units and in sustaining itself prevents them from claiming their
growth and development. Women have rights, let alone from using theological
demanded that the skills involved in the care arguments to do so. In this sense, reinter-
and management of home and family be both pretation of the Islamic texts from a feminist
recognised and valued, and that the govern- perspective remains an academic and
ment help them fulfil these roles as well as intellectual exercise, and it is primarily more
facilitate their return to the workplace. In this affluent and educated women who are able
way, a number of limited measures to both to engage in this debate and to benefit
improve the position of the women in the from its argument. Moreover, women's
labour market have been achieved, including experiences of Islam are myriad, and their
paid maternity leave, shorter working hours, subordination is not only based in so-called
and an earlier retirement age, in recognition Islamic practices. Consequently, one cannot
of women's double burden of unpaid prescribe some form of universal formula to
domestic work and paid employment (ibid.). overcome the constraints Muslim women
face, and strategies adopted must respond to
Overall, by drawing upon an Islamic
these contextual constraints.
discourse, Iranian activists have had a
measure of success in improving women's Incorporating the study of rights accorded
rights and social position. to women in Islam into the awareness-raising
and educational components of development
interventions could be very effective in
Conclusion improving women's lives. Addressing these
I have argued that there are significant reasons issues from within an Islamic perspective
why feminists might benefit from drawing would prevent opportunistic accusations of
upon Islam when attempting to address the cultural imperialism (intended to prevent
particular subordination of Muslim women. feminism from entering an Islamic culture),
At an individual level, Muslim women will and would be more likely to appeal to
be unlikely to subscribe to a Western notion Muslim women. Although egalitarian rein-
of feminism, which would mean abandoning terpretations of the Qur'an are currently
beliefs which they have a commitment to and relatively marginalised and limited in their
which provide them with mechanisms to deal scope, Muslim women (and men) are actively
with and resist the oppression they face. working not only to reinterpret the Qur'an,
Moreover, the Qur'an lays down significant but also to educate the political elite and
rights for women, of which they are often provide them with new interpretations of the
unaware, but which can be drawn upon to sacred texts which can be used as a basis for
address and improve their circumstances. At legislation. Activists are also making efforts
the political level, women's exclusion from to mobilise grassroots support for these
religion in the past has resulted in the domi- activities and to establish a dialogue between
nance of patriarchal interpretations of the people at the grassroots and national and
Qur'an. It is only from a position of knowledge international decision-makers, in order to
that women can claim their rights and contest ensure the dissemination and adoption of
patriarchal interpretations of Islam. these interpretations (Afkhami 1997).
Reconciling Islam and feminism 13

Speaking as a woman born into a Afkhami, M (1997) 'Promoting Women's

predominantly Muslim family and Rights in the Muslim World' in Journal of
community, and having undertaken a study Democracy, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 157-166.
into gender and Islam, I now recognise the Afshar, H (1997) 'Women and Work in Iran'
ways in which Islam is frequently in Journal of Political Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1,
misrepresented (deliberately or otherwise). pp. 755-67.
Having studied what the Qur'an actually Ahmed, L (1992) Women and Gender in Islam:
states, I am now in a position to oppose Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, Yale
patriarchal interpretations and to challenge University Press: New Haven and London.
others when debates are foreclosed on the Ali, ZS (1993) 'Women in Islam: Spirit and
basis of my gender. This, for me, is Progress' in Siddiqi, ZA and Zuberi, AJ
remarkably liberatory; but it is easy to get (eds.) Muslim Women: Problems and
carried away by one's personal experience. I Perspectives, MD Publications: New Delhi.
am a Northern-based, privileged woman An-Na'im, A (1995) 'The Dichotomy
who is relatively untouched by these between Religious and Secular Discourse
interpretations of Islam. I can only imagine in Islamic Societies' in Afkhami, M (ed.)
the constraints facing women in other socio- Faith and Freedom: Women's Human Rights
geographical locations. It is important to be in the Muslim World, I. B. Taurus & Co:
aware of the problems of advocating the London and New York.
dissemination and adoption of egalitarian Bhatty, Z (1994) 'Socio-Economic Status of
interpretations, and not to underestimate the Muslim Women' in Indian Journal of Social
dangers involved in contesting patriarchal Science, Vol. 7, Nos. 3-4, pp. 335-40.
interpretations of Islam - witness the plight ofEl-Solh, CF and Mabro, J (1994)
Taslima Nasreen or the recent death threats 'Introduction: Islam and Muslim Women'
levelled at Nawal el Sadaawa, the Egyptian in El-Solh, CF and Mabro, J (ed.) Muslim
feminist. However, the mere fact that this Women's Choices: Religious Belief and Social
does arouse such strong reactions, I would Reality, Berg: Providence.
suggest, is testimony to the potentially Esposito, J (1992) The Islamic Threat: Myth or
significant ramifications of such a strategy. Reality, Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Gardner, K (1994) 'Purdah, Female Power and
Cultural Change: A Sylheti Example' in
Iman Hashim is a sociologist and anthropologist
Journal of Social Studies, No. 65, pp. 1-24.
currently working at the International Labour
Goetz, A-M and Gupta, RS (1996) 'Who
Office before returning to the University of
Takes the Credit? Gender, Power, and
Sussex to undertake her DPhil. Contact details: Control Over Loan Use in Rural Credit
7-86, BIT, 4 Route de Morillons, 1211 Geneva, Programmes in Bangladesh' in World
Switzerland. Tel. +41 (11) 799 8893. Development, Vol. 24, No. 1.
Fax +41 (22) 799 6349. E-mail: or Hale, S (1996) Gender Politics in Sudan: Islamism, Socialism, and the State,
Wesrview Press: Boulder and London.
Bibliography Holy Qur'an 'Translation and Commentary'
by Ali, AY (1936) Islamic Propagation
Afary, J (1997) "The War Against Feminism in Centre International: Birmingham.
the name of the Almighty: Making Sense Kandiyoti, D (1991) 'Introduction' in
of Gender and Muslim Fundamentalism' Kandiyoti, D (ed.) Women Islam and the
in New Left Review, No. 224, pp. 89-110. State, Macmillan: London.
Afkhami, M (ed.) (1995) Faith and Freedom: Kandiyoti, D (1998) 'Gender, Power and
Women's Human Rights in the Muslim World, Contestation: "Bargaining with Patriarchy"
I. B. Taurus & Co.: London and New York. Revisited' in Jackson, C and Pearson, R

(eds.) Feminist Visions of Development, 2:229, 2:236, 2:237, 2:241, 4:20, 4:21, 4:35,
Routledge: London and New York. 65:6, 4:130; Polygamy: 4:24, 4:3, 4:129;
Mies, M (1982) The lace makers ofNarsapur : Inheritance and Property RightsA:7, 4:11,
Asian housewives produce for the world 4:12; Veiling and Purdah: 4:32,24:30, 24:31,
market, Zed Press: London. 33:32, 33:33,33:53,33:59
Rashiduzzaman, M (1997) 'The Dichotomy 2 Using this argument is a relatively
of Islam and Development NGOs, contentious issue, given that feminists
Women's Development in Bangladesh' in frequently call for the equality of the sexes.
Contemporary South Asia, Vol. 6, No. 3. To take such a position could be seen as
Said, E (1978) Orientalism: Western Conceptions playing into the hands of those who would
of the Orient, Pantheon: New York. argue that such an interpretation conforms
Shabaan, B (1995) 'The Muted Voices of to a notion of a 'weaker sex', reliant on male
Women Interpreters' in M, Afkhami, (ed.) relatives for support. Moreover, challenging
Faith and Freedom: Women's Human Rights this interpretation is precisely what Iranian
in the Muslim World, I. B. Taurus & Co.: feminists are doing in their fight for a more
London and New York. equitable interpretation of the Qur'an
Shaheed, F (1995) 'Networking for Change: (as discussed later). Nonetheless, for
The Role of Women's Groups in Initiating communities who do subscribe to such a
Dialogue on Women's Issues' in Afkhami, conceptualisation of gender roles, this
M (ed.) Faith and Freedom: Women's Human interpretation could be used to great effect.
Rights in the Muslim World, I. B. Taurus & 3 Cf. Shabaan (1995) for a comprehensive
Co.: London and New York. discussion of this.
Stirrat, R and Henkel, H (1996)
'Fundamentalism and Development', un-
published report, ODA: London.
Stowasser, BF (1987) 'Religious Ideology,
Women and the Family: The Islamic
Paradigm' in Stowasser, BF (ed.) The Islamic
Impulse, Croom Helm: London and Sydney.
White, S (1992) Arguing with the Crocodile:
Gender and Class in Bangladesh, Zed Books:

1 Those ayas considered to be the most
significant to women and gender relations
are listed here. However this list is by no
means comprehensive. They are refer-
enced according to the sura (chapter) and
relevant aya (verse). Thus 33:25 refers to
the thirty-third chapter and twenty-fifth
verse of the Qur'an. All are taken from
Yusuf Ali's (1936) translation of the
Qur'an. Spiritual and Moral Issues: 2:256,
3:195, 4: 1, 4:80, 4:124 , 4:92, 6:107, 9:71,
9:72, 10:99, 16:125, 33:35, 40:40) 48:5, 57:12,
88:21, 88:22; Marriage 2:187, 2:221, 2:223,
4:19, 4:34, 4:4 , 5:6, 30:21, 33:52; Divorce:

Christianity, development,
and women's liberation
Bridget Walker
Development practitioners working for gender equity must understand the significance of
religion for many women who live in poverty. Both development interventions and religion are
concerned with poverty; and both have often been problematic for women. Religious faith can offer
women the opportunity for liberation; but it can also encourage conformity.

Introduction While religion may seem remote and

even irrelevant to increasing numbers of
'I was active in the church throughout the 20 people in Britain (my own context) it is an
years of my marriage, during which I lived in important force in the lives of many people
constant fear ... The church was my lifeline ... on other continents. It is of personal
It was the only place my husband allowed me significance, providing rituals at deeply
to go ... but these (the church's) messages emotional moments of birth, marriage, and
helped me stay in that relationship of fear for death. It offers opportunities for reflecting
a long time' (quoted in Gnanadason 1997,45). on the meaning and purpose of life, and an
This quotation illustrates the ambiguous explanation for suffering. It prescribes codes
nature of the support offered to women by of behaviour in the family and beyond, and
religious institutions. For this woman, trapped provides a means of expressing a communal
in a violent relationship, the Christian church identity. It may shape the nature of the
provided the only chance to associate with state, and influence the way the economy is
others and to escape temporarily from the run. On the other hand, religion offers
prison of her home - yet it did not offer her alternatives to the dominant models of
liberation. On the other hand, religion has social, economic, and political development
been a resource in struggles for equality and (White and Tiongco, 1997). Many Christians
emancipation for many women. Gender and in Latin America have turned to the
development workers must be aware of these messages which liberation theology has for
two options - domestication and liberation - those living in poverty or under oppression;
because on the one hand, religious teaching others, in both Americas, have embraced
preaches women's subordination through Christian fundamentalism.
imposing social codes regarding women's I focus on the Christian tradition, because it
roles, behaviour, and relationships with men. is the one I know best: it has shaped the
On the other hand, church may also offer the society in which I live, the communities
only space in which women can meet. among whom I have worked, and my own

thinking as a feminist and a development claimed the word of God in the scriptures as
worker. I shall look primarily, but not the supreme authority, thus challenging the
exclusively, at the tradition and legacy of the priestly hierarchy. The Bible became
churches which emerged in the West1 and accessible to people in their own languages
missionised the Americas, Africa, and Asia. I and their own homes. It continues to be a
shall examine briefly what these churches resource for Christians working for change
have to say about the nature of women, family today. The Jubilee 2000 Coalition3 is an
relations, and other social institutions, and international movement of churches and
how women in the South have responded. development agencies which bases its
messages about the cancellation of Third
World debt on the Biblical imperative of
Christianity and justice for the poor. In Africa, Christians have
'development' sought an authentic, 'de-colonised' theology,
while in Asia the struggle for human rights
Christians have always described
has focused the thinking of Christian men
development in terms which go beyond
and women. The church in the Philippines
conventional definitions of development as
was divided during the years of repression:
modernisation and economic growth. The
the establishment supported the state, while
papal encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967)
many individual Protestants and Catholics
claimed development as a new name for
joined Muslims and Marxists in the people's
peace. A Christian Aid pamphlet2 published
struggle for change (Duremdes 1989, 38).
in 1970 states: 'Development means growth
Throughout Latin America, a theology has
towards wholeness: it describes the process
emerged which explicitly names itself a
by which individual persons and
theology of liberation.4 In situations where
communities struggle to realise their full
there was no freedom to speak directly about
potential; physical and intellectual, cultural
the political and economic situation in Latin
and spiritual, social and political. Thus,
America, it was still possible to tell stories
development is a Christian concern'
from the Bible. People immediately
(Christian Aid 1970, 5).
understood the messages of the Old
However, in countries of the South, Testament prophets who condemned unjust
development interventions have succeeded landlords, the sharp practice of profiteers,
colonialism, which was influenced by the and the corruption of the courts; they
Christian missionary activities of imperial identified with the gospel narratives of the
powers. Religious authority has often been New Testament in which the sick are healed,
allied with social, political, and economic the hungry fed, outcasts are befriended, and
power. As a consequence, theological doctrine which presents a vision of a kingdom of
has reflected establishment interests, given justice and love. Liberation theology has
ideological support for the rise of capitalism, influenced current development thinking
and, through missionary activity, imposed a about participation and empowerment (Eade
Western world-view on the religious 1997). I return to consider women's relation-
consciousness of other cultures. 'When white ship to liberation theology in the next section.
people came to South Africa, they had the
Bible, and we had the land. But now we find
that they have the land and we have the
Bible.' (Roxanne Jordaan in King 1994, 155).
Christianity, women, and
However, there have always been
social institutions
challenges to the religious institutions of the In this section, I examine the opportunities
establishment. In Europe in the sixteenth and constraints which exist for women in
century, movements to reform the doctrines the tradition of mainstream Christianity
and institutions of the Christian church regarding their sexuality and family life - at
Christianity, development, and women's liberation 17

community level, within the church itself women's full participation in the life of the
and in convent life, in the economy, and at church; the global economic crisis and its
the wider national and international levels. effects on women; racism and xenophobia
and their effects on women.
Sexuality and the family More than 200 people were engaged in
The churches have often interpreted human making the visits. Each team wrote its own
nature in a manner that is profoundly report, which was then forwarded to the
damaging to women. In particular, the church concerned. Living letters, published
control of female sexuality is of concern to by the WCC in 1997, is a digest of these
patriarchal society: this control is expressed reports with extensive quotations from the
in many religious and cultural forms. discussions5. In Living letters, the authors
Christianity may be used to deprive women comment that the dominant model of the
of autonomy over their own bodies, for family they encountered was a traditional,
example, through the prohibition of abortion hierarchical, and patriarchal one, in which
(as in the case where the Pope, head of the women played a submissive role.
Roman Catholic church, advised the A different view of women's role in family
Archbishop of Sarajevo that the women who and society can sometimes be conveyed
had been raped had a duty to bear the effectively through discussions of gender
children thus conceived (Gnanadason 1997). issues in development. At a gender-training
The negative impact of this attitude not only workshop in which I participated, organised
affects women at the level of their personal by Oxfam GB in Kenya some years ago, we
and social relations, but also shapes the discussed women's and men's roles in the
legislation of states which have a Christian home and in agriculture, and their different
tradition which makes women subordinated, workloads. The values underlying Oxfam's
second-class citizens. work in development were discussed, such as
The fact that women often seek support the need for everyone's participation - men's
from the churches in family matters is ironic, and women's - in planning processes and in
considering their record. Aruna Gnanadason, making decision which would affect their
of the World Council of Churches, has lives. There was a lively discussion of these
commented: 'Our concerns have been the issues, with much use by participants of
sanctity of the family, reconciliation, restoring scriptural references to support their points of
marriages, when often the first need is for an view. A proverb which suggested that beating
end to violence, for safety for women and and love were connected was firmly
children, and for justice for the oppressed' repudiated by a participant who quoted 6the
(Gnanadason 1997, 43). Bible. Love, she said, is patient and kind. In
From 1988 to 1998, Christian churches took the closing session, a church leader who had
part in the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in at the outset quoted scriptural references to
Solidarity with Women, which was designed support male authority, and who had claimed
to keep alive the concerns of the UN Women's that the equality of women and men was
Decade (1975-85). One of its activities was a 'against God and nature', said thoughtfully
four-year process of visiting all members of that he needed to re-think the way in which
the World Council of Churches (WCC) and his church was governed, and his role in it.
analysing the findings from these visits. The Perhaps, he said, he should not be doing
teams (usually two women, two men, and a everything himself.
WCC staff member) met church leaders, Mercy Oduyoye, a theologian from Ghana,
members of congregations, students and comments caustically: 'African men sing
teachers of theology. The WCC's main topics "Viva" when people talk about racial and class
of research mirrored the priorities of the UN exploitation, but they can hang you if you dare
Women's Decade: violence against women; talk about sexism. They say African culture

legitimates it and, if they are Christians, Here women are free to read and reflect on
sections of the Bible seal it for them' (King, the Bible from their own perspective and to
1994, 66). Women become dangerous when relate it to their own lives.
they question patriarchal models in this way,
for this is to question the foundation of Religious orders: an alternative model
institutions as broad as the state and as of community
intimate as the family. Christian feminists may The convent may at first glance seem an
be regarded by men and women alike as unlikely launch pad for women's liberation.
destructive of relationships, the family and all Yet some women in Europe struggling for
that is sacred. the right to vote in the nineteenth century
looked back on the convents of the past and
Organisation and leadership in the claimed that 400 years earlier, these had been
churches communities in which women could
Throughout most of history, the Christian develop their potential and serve society.
churches have been run by men, and Religious women today suggest that
leadership is still largely in men's hands. Yet, religious communities represent an alter-
paradoxically, many churches have also native 'corporate' model in social structures
provided the opportunity for women to which remain dominated by men, and which
meet, discuss, organise, and learn new skills. still position women in family or kinship
Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan groups, and identify them as daughters,
revolutionary leader, describes in her wives, and mothers.
autobiography how, at the age of 12, she
became a lay preacher, and how the church The church in the market place
provided her with the opportunity to While the members of religious orders
develop leadership qualities and to organise usually make vows of poverty, Christian
(Burgos Debray 1984). However, she religious foundations often hold substantial
criticises the way in which the priests company shares to provide income. In
encouraged her people to remain passive Britain, Canada and the United States,
and accept the status quo. Menchu calls for a religious women have played a key role in
church of the people, organised by them, shareholder action9, challenging trans-
and reflecting their experience of hunger and national corporations (TNCs) to take ethical
oppression. She sees this church as more considerations into account in their
than a building or an organisational operations in countries of the South. This
structure; it is a real change within people. challenge is one form of working in
This change should also address the solidarity with those women and men
relations between women and men and the
struggling for the liberation of Third World
'machismo' (male attitude of domination)
countries. Sharon Ruiz Duremdes from the
which she likens to a sickness. Ofelia Ortega
Philippines, writing in Women in a Changing
from Cuba7 argues that the contribution of
World (WCC Women's Unit 1989), sees this
Latin American women is essential for the
as an important way of 'doing theology' for
maturity of liberation theology. Its message
of good news and deliverance from bondage women in the countries of the North.
for the poor must reflect poor women's International networking for change in
experience and needs. In the Christian Base the churches
Communities8 of Latin America, women are The WCC has supported a range of global
represented in significant numbers - the
initiatives focusing on women, of which the
structure of organisation is more
Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Soli-
participatory, and less formal, clerical, and
darity with Women has been one of the most
hierarchical than in the traditional church.
far-reaching, challenging member churches
Christianity, development, and women's liberation 19

and providing a voice for women of faith. At times of personal or political upheaval,
Theirs is a voice of critical solidarity. Living women may choose to reaffirm their
letters (WCC 1997) makes a series of religious affiliation. This may be a source of
recommendations to churches. One of them solace, or offer a form of identity; it may be a
argues that the churches should denounce conservative or a radical move, or it may,
violence against women, regardless of paradoxically, contain elements of both. For
whether it is culturally sanctioned; another example, women and men who supported
that they should recognise the links the Catholic church in Poland in the days of
between sexism and racism, and combat the Cold War were participating in religious
them at the centre of church life. Another practice which presented a radical challenge
recommendation is that economic injustice to the Marxist government of the day, yet the
against women should be addressed Polish church remained deeply conservative
through development programmes and in its attitude to women. 'Resistance
advocacy concerning the root causes of theology', like 'resistance polities', has seldom
women's poverty. Economic justice must reflected women's interests until challenged
also be practised in the way churches are to do so by women in the movements.
run, through equal opportunities and equal
pay. The forms and substance of religious Reclaiming the faith
practice need to be re-examined in the light It has been important for many women of
of women's experience and perspective, different traditions of faith, including
and their need for liberation. Christianity, to return to the roots of religious
belief, in order to analyse how some aspects
have been given prominence by religious
The voices of women institutions, while others have been ignored.
What are women themselves saying about They argue that men have used religion to
religion today? In many social contexts, serve their patriarchal purposes, but that
'feminism' remains a suspect and threatening there is a more woman-friendly tradition to
concept, and many women would reject the be reclaimed: the early Christians lived in an
title of feminist, while nevertheless following egalitarian community of women and men,10
the first principle of feminist theology - being and women held positions of leadership.
faithful to their own experience. There are a Christian women have looked for liberating
number of positions which I would like to models in the Bible: Deborah the Judge and
categorise, rather crudely, as follows: re- Esther the Queen in the Old Testament, and
affirming the faith; reclaiming it; reforming it; the women in the community around Jesus in
and rejecting it. the New Testament. Mary, so often presented
as an impossible ideal of the woman as virgin
Re-affirming the faith and mother, is reclaimed as the strong
Women in the Orthodox churches have 'female face' of the faith, proclaiming the
argued that it is possible to be faithful to reversal of the established order: 'he [i.e.,
church tradition, and work for change God] has pulled down princes from their
within it. The Living Letters initiative found thrones and exalted the lowly; the hungry he
that, in Russia, the specificity of the roles of has filled with good things, and the rich sent
women and men means that, in the parishes, empty away' (Luke 1,52-23). The Bible offers
the priest has a mostly spiritual role, whereas a diversity of images of God, from which the
the administrative decisions are taken by church has selected mainly masculine terms;
women, who run the parish council. Women feminist theologians argue that to name God
are active in social and work and in religious only in terms of father, warrior, king, and
education; they feel that their contribution is lord is to limit our understanding of the
recognised and appreciated (WCC 1997). divine-human relationship. Ofelia Ortega

suggests that this task of reclaiming also is tional masculine image of God, asserting that
important for men, whose spirituality she God can be depicted in alternative, and
sees as having been damaged by the female forms; and that new and diverse
distortion of biblical revelation (WCC 1989). models of God should be developed to
include the experience of all peoples.
Reforming the faith
Many feminist theologians argue that Rejecting the faith of the fathers
reclaiming the faith is not enough, because Many women reject organised religion
religions arise in specific historical contexts, because they see it as part and parcel of a
and are formed by the political and profoundly contaminating patriarchy, built
economic forces and social attitudes of the on, and maintained by, violence. The
time. Therefore, the codes and practices Christian churches are judged to have been
developed at one time need to be reformed complicit in the violence of colonialism in
for a changed social context. Movements for the past, and genocide in this century. But
the ordination of women have used this women from formerly-colonised countries,
argument. Feminist theology takes as its whose consciousness has been formed in a
starting point the search for women's Christian tradition, continue to seek means
identity, grounded in women's own of articulation of their spiritual experience,
experience, rather than in the forms often drawing on their Christian heritage.
imposed by a patriarchal culture. This leads Oduyoye looks at the tradition of
to personal and social transformation. independent Christian movements which
Women theologians of the South have also have emerged in opposition to the racism
stressed the necessity of addressing the and ethnocentrism of Euro-Americans on
inheritance of cultural and spiritual impe- the African continent. At some churches,
rialism from the missionary endeavours African Christian women have tapped into
which brought Christianity to continents the primal religious sources of their
including Africa. Teresa Hinga, from Kenya, communities, for example through the
sees Christ as an ambivalent figure for African healing ministry of a prophetess.
women: he is both conqueror and liberator.
She suggests that it was the latter perception
of Christ and the 'emancipatory impulses'
within missionary Christianity which led to a At the beginning of this article, I stated that
positive response from Africans. Hinga those concerned with social development and
quotes the example of women among the social justice should analyse the role of
Kamba of Kenya, who tried to break away religious institutions in the lives of women,
from unsatisfactory marriages or harsh and understand their relationship to them. I
parental control by seeking refuge with the have outlined how the traditions of the
Africa Inland Mission, a Protestant mission in Christian church have often demeaned
that area (Hinga, 1994). women, but have also, paradoxically,
Another important focus for feminist supported them within the parameters of
theologians has been that of language: the existing social structures. Through a brief
translation of the Bible, and the words of the discussion of how women have claimed
liturgy. Gnanadason argues that the images liberation from a perspective grounded in
of God in Western Christianity are based on their faith, I have examined different per-
the 'social norms and gender role specifics in spectives on the extent to which forms of
that culture's national, ecclesiastical, business Christianity offer scope for women's
and family level' (Gnanadason 1989, 29). liberation or oppression. Women's continued
Drawing on examples from India, she points critique of Christianity demonstrates that
out the need to move beyond the conven- their relationship with it is more often one of
Christianity, development, and women's liberation 21

engagement than rejection. Development White, S and Tiongco, R (1997) Doing

workers concerned with the struggle against Theology and Development, Saint Andrew
poverty and its causes, and with improving Press: Edinburgh.
the quality of life for all, must listen to what WCC Women's Unit (1989) 'Women doing
women are saying about the spiritual as well Theology and Sharing Spirituality' in
as the material dimension of their lives. Women in a Changing World, Issue 28, May
1989, WCC: Geneva.
Bridget Walker is currently a member of the
Strategic Planning and Evaluation team of Notes
Oxfatn GB. She was previously an Adviser in
Oxfam's Gender and Development Unit. 1 The Christian church was established as
Contact details: Oxfam GB, 274 Banbury Rd, the religion of the Roman Empire by the
Oxford 0X2 7 DZ. Fax +44 (1865) 312 600; end of the fourth century. It split into two
e-mail major groups: the Eastern (Orthodox)
church, and the Western church with the
Bishop of Rome (the Roman Catholic Pope)
References at its head. The Roman Catholic church
Burgos Debray, E (ed.) (1984) I, Rigoberta was subsequently split by reform
Menchu, Verso: London. movements which led to the establishment
Duremdes ST (1989)' Women in Theology: of Protestant churches. (There are also
Philippine Perspectives' in Women in a smaller churches with an ancient history,
Changing World, Issue 28, May 1989, such as the Nestorians, the Copts (Egypt),
WCGGeneva. and the Ethiopian church. All these, like the
Eade D (1998) Capacity Building: An approach Eastern Orthodox church, generally did not
expand through missionary activity in the
to people-centred development, Oxfam GB:
same way as the Western churches.)
Gnanadason, A (1997) No Longer a Secret: The 2 Jay, Eric (1970) World Development and the
Church and Violence against Women, WCC Bible, Christian Aid: London.
Press: Geneva. 3 Jubilee 2000 is an international movement
Gutierrez, G (1983) The Power of the Poor in of development agencies and church
History, SCM: London. bodies calling for the cancellation of the
Hinga T (1994) 'Jesus Christ and the unpayable debts of the poorest countries
Liberation of Women in Africa' in King, by the year 2000. For a description of the
Ursula (ed.) Feminist Theology from the Year of Jubilee, when debts are written
Third World, SPCK: London. off, see Leviticus 25, 8-17.
IDOC and the Commission of the Churches 4 At a meeting in Medellin in 1968, the
on International Affairs: Human Rights: A Roman Catholic Bishops of Latin America
Challenge to Theology, Rome. denounced the unjust maintenance of
Jordaan R in King, Ursula (ed.) (1994) wealth by a few at the expense of the
Feminist Theology from the Third World, majority of citizens, and placed themselves
SPCK: London. firmly on the side of the poor, according to
Ortega, Ofelia (1995) Women's Visions: the Gospel's imperative to bring good
Theological Reflection, Celebration, Action, news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the
WCC: Geneva. captives, and to set free the downtrodden
Taylor, Michael (1990) Good for the Poor: (Luke 4,18-19). Liberation theology started
Christian Ethics and World Development, from the position of the oppressed and the
Mowbray: London. poor seeking liberation. The expression
The Jerusalem Bible (1986) Darton, Longman 'liberation theology' was used by the
and Tod: London. Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez.

5 The booklet was also the result of a team opportunity for women to organise, to
effort and has no single author. The participate in decision making, and to enjoy
foreword is written by Nicole Fischer- a freedom they may not have at home.
Duchable, the WCC consultant to the Mid 9 Shareholder action bodies such as the
Decade Process. Interfaith Committee on Corporate
6 1 Corinthians 13,10-12. Responsibility in the USA, and the
7 'Women doing Theology and Sharing Ecumenical Council for Corporate
Spirituality', p.10-11 in Women in a Responsibility in the UK, encourage
Changing World, Issue 28, May 1989, churches and religious foundations with
WCC: Geneva. investments to raise ethical questions at
8 The Christian Base Communities are a annual general shareholder meetings,
feature of liberation theology in practice. and to engage in dialogue about the
Grassroots groups within the Catholic companies' operations in the South.
church meet to reflect on the Bible and the 10 Acts 4, 32-35; see also Gnanadason (WCC
teachings of Jesus as these relate to their 1989, p.30).
own lives. They have provided an

Conflict and compliance:

Christianity and the occult in horticultural
Catherine S. Dolan1
The introduction of new export crops in the early 1990s upset the customary division of labour
between men and women in Meru District, Kenya, and led to conflict over land, labour, and
income. Women's workload increased; their earnings did not. They responded by turning to
'born-again' Christianity for support, and by resorting to traditional witchcraft to regain control.

eligion and witchcraft are often producing areas in Kenya by the 1990s. This

R perceived as peripheral to develop-

mental objectives. At best, they are
considered interesting phenomena of social
has had a profound effect on female farmers.
Prior to the introduction of French beans,
women's land (conventionally very small
life; at worst, they are viewed as relics of plots) was used to grow vegetables for
societies out of step with the modern world. household consumption and for sale at local
Development practitioners tend to view markets. In response to pressure for agri-
religion as a static feature of culture, with cultural diversification to supply the
little relevance to the success of development expanding European market for 'gourmet'
interventions (Mukhopadhyay 1995). Drawing vegetables, horticulture - historically a
on research conducted from 1994-96 and female domain - has been rapidly intensi-
briefly in 1998, this article challenges this fied, commoditised, and, in many cases,
assumption: in Meru District, Kenya, the appropriated by men. The profitability of
introduction of export horticulture has French beans grown for the export market is
generated conflict over land, labour, and raising the stakes in horticultural production;
income, and women use witchcraft and men usurp either the land allocated for, or the
Christianity to mitigate intra-household income derived from, French bean production.
struggles over income from export crops. The customary division of labour by crop and
Women are responding to the erosion of their gender is currently undergoing a sea-change,
rights in ways that may appear paradoxical: as tensions escalate over male and female
some undergo Christian conversion, while property rights and women's contributions to
others bewitch and poison their husbands. household subsistence.
Some do both. These practices simultaneously The spiritual domain has become a
comply with male authority, and resist it. principal forum through which struggles
While the region has a long history of over land and labour are expressed; these
export-oriented agriculture (coffee and tea), it struggles can undermine the developmental
had become one of the largest French bean- objectives of export horticulture.

Global food networks and labour a household must invest to secure a

gender relations profit. The quality standards that most
horticultural crops must meet - governing
Until the 1980s, food consumption patterns their texture, fragrance, colour, weight, and
of urban populations in the West were shape - make them highly labour-intensive,
limited by the seasonal availability of locally and resistant to mechanisation. Kenya's most
grown fresh produce. In contrast, today widely grown export vegetables - snow peas
agro-food chains deliver fresh fruits and and French beans - are extremely labour-
vegetables from all over the world to Western intensive, demanding 600 and 500 labour
consumers. These are grown in the so-called days per hectare respectively (Carter et al.
new agricultural countries (NACs). Sub- 1996; Little 1994). It is mainly women who
Saharan Africa has a comparative advantage are compelled to invest more time in specific
in the production of export horticultural tasks such as planting and weeding, yet their
commodities, because of its good climatic work remains categorised as unpaid labour.
conditions, geographic proximity to Euro- In fact, the economic benefits of growing
pean markets, preferential trade agreements, French beans and other horticultural export
and, most importantly, an abundance of crops are predicated upon the unpaid labour
cheap labour (Barrett et al. 1997). of women and children.
Agricultural diversification into high-value, Several studies (Schroeder 1996; Carney
labour-intensive commodities such as French and Watts 1990; Mackintosh 1989; Mbilinyi
beans ('non-traditional' exports) are central to
1988) have recorded the cultural norms
IMF/ World Bank programmes to reduce which govern the division of labour and
poverty through export-led growth (World control of resources between women and
Bank 1981, 1995). In particular, agricultural men, and which affect the extent to which
diversification strategies are promoted as a women can receive benefits from export
vehicle to enhance gender equity through production. My research confirms that in
increased female employment (e.g., Chilean Meru, biases in men's favour regarding the
temporeras and Mexican maquiladoras). Yet distribution of land, labour, and income
research on the social implications of growing undermine the potential of French bean
non-traditional exports (NTEs) has been production to provide developmental
largely restricted to Latin America (Collins benefits for women and children.
1995; Thrupp 1995; Barrientos 1997; Bee First, the exacting labour and time
and Vogel 1997) with little attention awarded constraints on women involved in export-
to Africa, where NTEs account for a crop production directly affect their ability to
growing share of women's economic activity. participate in other activities. Women are
Horticultural exports (principally cut flowers expected to meet the family's subsistence
and vegetables) are now the fastest growing needs, and to augment household income
agricultural sectors in many African through the sale of local crops. While men do
economies (Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Kenya), work on French beans, for the most part they
and a critical source of foreign exchange, perform tasks of relatively low labour inten-
particularly with the recent decline in sity such as clearing fields and applying
revenues from traditional export crops. fertiliser. Furthermore, although men have
more spare time to allocate to French bean
production than women, there has been no
Labour utilisation and adjustment of the gender division of labour in
income distribution existing activities between husband and wife.
When policy practitioners promote This has eroded women's capacity to fulfil
horticultural exports to raise rural incomes, their households' subsistence requirements.
they invariably fail to consider the amount of Women who are able to retain their proceeds
Conflict and compliance: Christianity and the occult in horticultural exporting 25

from French bean sales are choosing to Conflicts between husbands and wives over
allocate more labour to the cultivation of the allocation of income from French beans
French beans than of subsistence crops. Men are commonplace and often escalate into
resent the withdrawal of female labour from household violence. As one female
subsistence crops (unless they are given the interviewee claimed: 'The crops that result in
money earned from the cultivation of the wife-beating today is coffee and tea, because
French beans), and have challenged the right they are termed as a man's crop. Many hus-
of women to use vegetable plots for French bands misuse money from these crops and
bean cultivation. Furthermore, because men when asked they beat their wives. Michiri
are garnering significant amounts of money (French beans) are also cause for beating.
from export cultivation, they are less likely to When we try to keep our money, our
work on their wives' plots. As a result, husband asks where it is. If we don't give it to
women are compelled to hire labour to him we are beaten. These crops cause us
perform tasks that were formerly covered by many problems'.
reciprocal labour exchanges. Because family labour, specifically
Second, the gendered nature of property women's labour, is the fundamental source
rights also directly affects the benefits women of labour for French bean production, the
derive from French bean production. In success of export horticulture rests on sound
Kenya, women's access to land is mediated cooperation between husband and wife.
by their marital status, their household Traditional social structures which used to
position, and decisions made about land use deal with marital strife have been eroded, so
by male relatives. As in much of Africa, men that women now tuOrn to alternative means
have the right to control the proceeds from of resolving conflict.
the crops grown on female plots. Over 33 per
cent of the women interviewed claimed that
their husbands had either compelled them to Gender and the supernatural
grow French beans on their usufruct plots2, or In Meru, the spiritual domain has become
retracted their rights to them completely. This the principal area in which gender-based
violates conjugal norms, because not only are conflicts over crops, property rights, and
French beans cash crops (the earnings from labour allocation are expressed. Both
which traditionally go to men throughout Christianity and witchcraft reflect the nature
Africa) but they are also vegetable crops (the of social and economic relations, and hence
income from which women have the rights to are useful idioms for interpreting issues of
in customary law). power and domination in rural life. While
Third, although French bean production the presence of witchcraft appears at odds
has created a new mechanism for income with Christian revivalism, both represent
generation, there is a wide disparity in the ways of expressing discontent with
distribution of income from it between men prevailing social norms, and offer women
and women. My research showed that strategies to reclaim autonomy and security
women perform 72 per cent of the labour for within their households.
French beans, and obtain 38 per cent of the
income. Even where women receive the Christianity
returns from their labour, they are often Africa today cannot be considered apart
compelled to contribute this cash to house- from the presence of Christianity: a presence
hold expenditures that would, until now, which, a couple of generations ago could
have been their husband's responsibility. still be dismissed by some as of marginal
Finally, the profitability of French beans has importance, and a mere subsidiary aspect of
incited men to appropriate the income, which colonialism (Hasting 1990:208). There are
customarily has been under women's control. currently over 25 distinct Christian denom-

inations in Central Imenti, 43 churches, and become increasingly widespread through

new churches are built each month. Women Central Imenti during the last decade. The
participate in church groups that meet once phenomenon of 'saved' individuals origi-
a week to practise singing, organise church nated among the Methodists and the East
events, and to discuss both personal and African Revivalists in 1947-48 and the
religious matters. While women generally numbers continue to rise: my sample of 200
perform duties that replicate their randomly selected households included 95
responsibilities at home such as cooking and per cent 'saved' women in comparison to 35
cleaning, most women I spoke to claimed per cent 'saved' men. In fact, I never met a
that they would rather clean the church than woman who was not 'saved'. In Meru, being
their own home, because they were doing it born again is now synonymous with being a
for God, not for their husbands. They told good Christian and I was encouraged to
me that they look forward to their weekly profess my own conversion, or risk being
gatherings as a time of freedom and an perceived as an agent of the devil.
opportunity to gossip, laugh, and seek Being 'saved' is extremely important to
respite from the routine of daily labour and these women: most could recount the moment
the problems at home. when they turned over their lives to God. Most
The Kenyan state's conception of gender women claimed that they have turned to God
roles is so intertwined with the Christianity to bear with the perpetual marital and intra-
proselytised by village leaders that it is nearly household struggles they experience; a
impossible to separate Christian values from principal problem is disagreement over French
social life. Young girls are socialised from a bean income. Many told me that being 'saved'
very early age to be good Christian girls - enabled them to handle the difficulties of
obedient, submissive, and accommodating - their marriage; one told me it was 'the only
to attract a suitable man for marriage. One solution' to the powerlessness she experienced
interviewee told me that a good woman in daily life. The transformative power of
(mwekuru umwega in Kimeru) 'obeys her becoming 'saved' is a significant part of a
husband and does not speak rudely to him. woman's identity, and offers her not only a
She welcomes the guests and does all the means of coping with her life, but also an
work her husband asks her to do.' Her opportunity to join with other women who
sentiments are widely echoed by other share her experience.
women in Meru, who agree that a mwekuru Becoming 'saved' is most prevalent among
umwega 'does not quarrel with her husband, women who have a high stake in the stability
does not speak badly about her husband and of the household system, and few alternatives
obeys him always'. In fact, some women said for autonomy. Women who do not conform
that they deserve punishment for failing to to the 'patriarchal bargain'3 (Kandiyoti 1988)
meet the Christian standards of a 'good' wife. are vulnerable to insecurity, poverty, and
This linkage between religion and virtue in is landlessness. This is particularly true for
reinforced by the Kimeru term kimatha, which women who have no male sons to provide
connotes a bad woman who neglects God, them with land, and thus have no source of
and her husband and children. protection outside of their marriage.
Yet despite this, for many women in Meru While female Christian conversion can be
and elsewhere, the church presents a means seen as capitulation, I view it as a strategy
to escape the confines of their marriage, since designed to foster self-determination while
direct challenges to male authority entail too maintaining an outward appearance of
high a cost. In Meru, becoming 'saved' Christian compliance. In order to avoid
involves witnessing to Christ, and sanctions from men and the wider
acknowledging Jesus as a personal saviour. community, women act within the parameters
The crusade toward being 'born again' has of prevailing social norms (von Bulow 1991).
Conflict and compliance: Christianity and the occult in horticultural exporting 27

Witchcraft write a letter home and tell them of her

Witchcraft is not merely a 'traditional relic' of incoming death. She wrote home and the
tribal societies, but is woven into the fabric of parents received the news with shock. They
modern life. Expressions of the occult are hurriedly got the police and they saved the
well documented in situations of economic girl. The girl later told them of how people
change, where the introduction of new were taken there and eaten by other people ...
resources exacerbates social differentiation That people there were living with the devil'.
and increases struggles for power and In Meru, the changing balance of power
control (Geshiere 1997; Goheen 1996; Drucker between men and women in domestic,
Brown 1993). Further, theories suggest that economic, and political spheres has led to the
women are predominantly associated with emergence of witchcraft accusations by men
the occult because they are socially against women. In the 1920s, colonial
marginalised, which is expressed in various administrators had become intent on banish-
symbolic forms such as spirit possession, ing the issue of witchcraft from Meru,
sorcery, and witchcraft (Ardener 1970; contending that the District's development
Drucker-Brown 1993; Ong 1987). was being impeded by the persistence of
In Kenya, witchcraft is blamed for illness, 'superstition', and the perpetuation of 'secret
death, and natural catastrophe, and people societies'. In particular, officials were
may be lynched and mobbed because of their concerned over the reports of women's kiamas
perceived connections with the occult. (societies), where women practised witchcraft
Throughout the country, accusations and to ensure the obedience of their husbands.
counter-accusations of witchcraft exacerbate The women's intent was said to be not so
community tensions and contribute to much to kill their husbands as 'to force them
growing violence. In 1994, President Daniel to seek alternatives, preferably by providing
Arap Moi took a stand against occult ... gifts sufficient to induce removal of the
practices, following reports that devil wor- curse' (Fadiman 1993:160). A spate of women
shipping and witchcraft were infiltrating either giving their husbands kagweria - a
educational and government institutions, and substance that induces psychosis and leaves
widespread claims that his administration control of the household to the wife - or
was avoiding an investigation because some poisoning their husbands to death, was
of its members, as well as opposition figures, recorded early in this century, and
were involved in a satanic cult (Wachira reappeared in the 1970s. Kagweria, a liquid
1994). Kenyan politicians are known to taken from certain trees, is mixed with a
exploit people's paranoia by invoking bouquet of sedative drugs.
satanism to win votes. For example, during Today, women in Meru practise many
the 1992 elections, a Democratic Party (DP) forms of witchcraft (both sorcery and
politician sprinkled a potion in the ballot bewitching)4 which are widely used to secure
boxes professing that individuals who failed power and autonomy within their marriage.
to vote DP would be haunted by 'the bottle' Kagweria is purchased from knowledgeable
(The Nation, 24 May 1995). women, and its use is rapidly being taught to
Fear of the occult is pervasive in Meru; Meru women by women in other districts. In
witchcraft is inscribed in the consciousness of Githongo Location, a 35-year-old woman
the area and is expressed in a repertoire of administered the potion to her husband, aged
stories, for example: 'I know a girl, Tabitha 39. The man not only suffered from common
from Kibirichia, who left home with an dementia as a result, but also experienced a
unknown woman to be employed by a severe psychotic state. Following his
woman at Maua. But instead of them going to hospitalisation, his wife was implicated.
Maua they went to Thika. She was stripped Under investigation, she disclosed that there
naked and kept in the house. She was told to was a group of four women who had

perfected the recipe and were distributing it to diarrhoea. The church is taking the duty to
other women. One interviewee described preach against bewitching now. In June, the
women's involvement in the following way: Four Square preachers held a crusade and
'Women buy [kagweria] from other women prayed and pointed out one of the women
who are old. Kagweria is a charm given from Kiithe village who has been supplying
secretly by women to their men that changes kagweria. They chastised her. But usually
men's mental ability to a worse state. Once a these women aren't found because witchcraft
man is fed with kagweria, he stops giving can only be carried out at night. It is very
orders to his woman and therefore the secretive ... Only talked about... Never seen
woman becomes the head of the family. This with the eyes'.
[use] has increased because we are dealing In Meru, Kenya, witchcraft reflects
away with our traditional customs. Before, women's struggles for power in an arena in
the clan would intervene in husband and which they have been customarily denied a
wife cases. Now the clan doesn't do much for more direct vehicle for asserting their aims.
us, so we get a solution for ourselves. Men The growing prevalence of witchcraft is one
don't respect their wives or they are not all consequence of the expansion of French
that faithful like before. They still love with bean production and its exacerbating effect
other women and this annoys the wives. on intra-household disparities. As men's
Most women do not want to accept that a individual ambition has overridden their
woman should always be under a man, like customary social responsibilities (through
they tell us. We are envious of the the appropriation of women's incomes and
progressing way of other women who have usufruct rights to land), women have
freedom. A way to have freedom is to give developed strategies to reclaim autonomy
kagweria ... [and obtain] power over the and security within their households.
wealth, especially from the good crops.' As the number of witchcraft cases in Meru
One particular interviewee knew of seven District mounts, men are terrified. The rise in
cases of bewitching within the last two years, the number of baraza and village meetings to
all provoked due to interfamilial struggles lecture women on female obedience is
over French bean income. Churches regularly testimony to men's growing fear of female
organise women's seminars to preach against aggression. Men have no reason to believe
the practice and to teach women how to that their wife will be an exception to the
ameliorate household struggles through recent movement. As Geshiere contends
Christian service. Despite this, many of the (1994,325), 'witchcraft is indeed the dark side
same women who publicly espouse the tenets of kinship: it reflects the frightening notion
of Christianity privately employ witchcraft. that there is hidden aggression and violence
Baraza (public assemblies) are frequently where there should be only trust and
organised by village politicians to mitigate solidarity'. Thus, as long as men were not
male anxiety regarding women's increased jeopardising women's access to resources in
utilisation of witchcraft and poisoning, and to the female domain, women largely allowed
lecture women on norms of female obedience. public political power to remain in men's
One particular case concerned the poisoning hands. But as men have encroached upon the
of a village man, whose wife claimed that he income derived from French beans, a crop
refused to allocate any French bean income to culturally coded as female, the boundaries
her. A village woman described the incident and meanings of gender relationships have
in the following way: changed (Goheen 1996). In this situation,
'In Katheri, a wife worked with her women's resistance cannot be overlooked,
because the viability of export-promotion
daughters to bewitch her husband and take
strategies for development depends upon
all the wealth. The man was forced to stay in
women's willing participation.
the house for three weeks with vomiting and
Conflict and compliance: Christianity and the occult in horticultural exporting 29

It is widely agreed in gender and References

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Catherine Dolan is a Visiting Lecturer at the School tural Exports Under Trade Liberalisation
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No time to worship the

serpent deities:
Women, economic change, and religion in
north-western Nepal
Rebecca Saul
Why do the inhabitants of one village in north-western Nepal still follow Buddhist customs, when
religious rituals have all but died out in the neighbouring village? Rebecca Saul outlines how the
evolution of a competitive tourist economy has affected local social structures and women's roles,
as well as women's attitude to the spiritual realm.

his article is a tentative exploration of link is my contention that the Buddhist

T the changing relationships between lay

women, and the spiritual realm, in two
ethnic Tibetan communities in Barabong in
concept of interconnection - the belief that
changes in one realm have a profound impact
on the other realms - is, in essence, a concept
north-western Nepal. It focuses on the ways which should underpin development. Just as
in which economic and social change has Buddhists believe that performing a religious
affected women's often unseen and ritual in the physical realm appeases or
unrecognised spiritual roles within both the propitiates a deity in the spiritual realm, so we,
household and the community; and on how as development practitioners and academics,
these roles have in their turn influenced the are aware that an irrigation project affects not
course of such change. I am drawing on 15 only agricultural productivity but can also
months of doctoral research in Nepal, which have an impact on the division of labour, land
set out to look at how individuals in two rights, social dynamics, and so on.
communities faced, initiated, and resisted
change. I found that in the world view of the
inhabitants of Kag and Dzong, the social, Background
physical, and spiritual realms are not distinct, Mustang District is located in north-western
but intricately and inextricably connected. Nepal, and shares its northern border with
What is the link between gender and Tibet. No motorable roads extend into
development and this research? First, Mustang but the district capital, Jomsom, can
development interventions are themselves be reached on foot from the city of Pokhara in
part of a wider process of constant change, mid-western Nepal - a five-day walk up into
and the impact of change, be it the product of the Kali Gandaki River Gorge - or by a short
'development', political upheaval, economic plane journey. From Jomsom northwards, the
re-orientation, or other forces, has related local people are described anthropologically
consequences for gender relations within as ethnic Tibetans, and within Nepal as Bhote.
households and communities. The second The people of Baragong in lower Mustang,

who are the focus of this article, speak a local development along 'modern' lines, Dzong
Tibetan dialect (referred to as Southern remains - in the words of people in Dzong
Mustang Tibetan) and officially follow various and other villages in Baragong - 'true to the
Buddhist sects, of which Sakya is currently old ways'. Rituals and practices which have
the predominant one. Marriage practices, been abandoned in Kag and other villages in
social ranking, religious rituals, and general the area not only survive in Dzong, but are
cosmological understandings are similar to seen by many Dzongba1 as the raison d'etre
those found in areas of Tibet, and among of being Dzongba, the things that define them
other ethnic Tibetan groups in the Himalayas. as Dzongba.

Kag village has a population of about 360 Living in Baragong
people in 63 households. It is a minor admini- Like many of the peoples who populate the
strative centre for the area of Baragong, high mountain regions of Nepal, the
boasting a health post, a police checkpoint, Baragongba2 have a three-pronged subsis-
several development offices, and a post office. tence strategy of agriculture, pastoralism, and
In addition to all of these 'modern' amenities, trade. Kag and Dzong, like most villages in
a large Buddhist monastery and the remains Baragong, are socially stratified. Although
of an impressive castle suggest that Kag was there are numerous ways in which the social
an important religious, economic, and admi- status of individuals and households can be
nistrative centre. Today, with a dozen tourist judged, the main social groupings are those
lodges and several camp sites, Kag is one of of noble, commoner, and sub-commoner. The
the most popular tourist destinations for middle of these three 'grades' is the most
trekkers journeying to and from the Muktinath numerous and, in some villages, the only
Valley and north into upper Mustang. strata. These hierarchical grades had far more
In general, many of the people of Kag importance in the past than they do today.
village have embraced 'modernisation': it was In Baragong, as in other ethnic Tibetan
the first village in the area to receive societies, there exists an ideal form of
electricity, the first to respond to the arrival of household organisation which is linked to
tourists by building guest houses, and also ideas concerning landholding, inheritance,
the first village to abandon several of the residence, and marriage, as well as being
more important village rituals in Baragong. located in the domains of symbolism and
ritual (Phylactou 1989). Although households
Dzong vary greatly in composition and economic
From Kag, several thousand feet up the standing, the ideal, and the most common
Muktinath Valley, lies Dzong village. Dzong structure for commoners and sub-
is described both by the people who live commoners , is the corporate estate house-
there, and by other villagers in the area, as a hold, called drongba. A drongba estate is
place where the old ways are kept alive. The collectively owned by an extended family
population of Dzong is slightly smaller than group. At the core of the drongba household is
that of Kag, with about 250 inhabitants. a patriline (group of men related by blood): a
Because Dzong is located within a semi- man and his wife, or a group of brothers and
restricted area, tourists can travel to the their wife, the father(s) and mother of the
village for a day, but are not permitted to man or brothers, and their children.
spend the night there. Dzong does not have a Historically, being part of a drongba meant
police post, health centre, or post office. high status. Drongba households paid tax and
While many of the inhabitants of Dzong performed labour for the noble households,
participate fully in a market economy, and and as a result gained certain privileges, such
have embraced the ideology and practice of as first access to irrigation water. Drongba
No time to worship the serpent deities: Women, economic change, and religion in north-western Nepal 33

households also were the backbone of religious Decision-making in the household

life in the communities of Baragong. Until The household in Baragong is a corporate
recently, the wives of male drongba heads, unit. All money, land, and household goods
called kimpamo, had certain rights, including (except dowry goods, which are the wife's
the right to attend the mid-winter festival of property) are jointly owned by the
Dokyap. While noble women rank above all husband(s) and wife. Husbands should not
other women in the village including the dispose of property without their wives'
kimpamo, they had no special ritual roles or consent; nor should wives without their
responsibilities. During the festival, only husbands'. Couples who are apart because of
kimpamo women danced the traditional dances business make independent day-to-day
in the monastery grounds and the village decisions. According to couples interviewed,
square. Apart from the obvious honours (and my own observations confirmed this),
bestowed upon these women, they were power relations between husband and wife
generally more active in village life, and more are relatively equally balanced. Couples
highly respected than non-kimpamo women. stated that this depended more on
personality than gender. The ideal is for
disputes to be talked through, and a solution
Gender relations agreed upon mutually. Indeed, the power of
Women in Baragong have significant domestic the head of household is narrowly limited: all
and civic power. Women are resource- household members - even the children - are
holders - they inherit and own land, and runt involved in forming opinions and in
their own businesses - and decision-makers - executing decisions. While the eldest brother
they choose their marriage partners, obtain still has the highest status in the home and
divorces, control their own fertility, and the community as household head, within
participate in village-level politics. the household he cannot overrule unilaterally
the wishes of any other household member
Marital forms (see Levine 1980, 287).
Baragongba households are ideally based on
the Tibetan 'monomarital principle': in each Gender division of labour
generation of a family, one and only one The division of labour between the sexes is
marriage can be contracted. In theory, the generally relaxed: both men and women
practice of fraternal polyandry (brothers farm, herd, trade, and practice business.
sharing one wife), ensures that the family Women tend to work harder than men,
inheritance is kept within one household, however, as they have primary responsibility
since all the sons remain in the household for running the household, cooking,
into which they were born and share the collecting water and firewood, looking after
inheritance, rather than allowing inheritance children, and performing many of the more
by one child only. If there are no sons, a laborious agricultural tasks such as weeding
daughter inherits the estate and brings her and processing grain. There are few hard-
husband into the household; it is also and-fast-rules, however, and each household
possible, but quite rare, for her to marry manages its workload differently, depending
polygynously, to share a husband with her on its labour resources.
younger sister or sisters. Although her However, it is true that, as a result of their
husband is seen as a male household head, it relatively heavier domestic workload,
is the woman who is recognised as the estate women tend to have fewer social respon-
holder. In practice, Baragongba women who sibilities outside the home. Women often told
inherit their own patrimonial estate have me that because meetings are called at night
more say in household affairs than those who they cannot attend - they must cook the
share their husbands' patrimony. evening meal and care for small children.

Similarly, meetings in distant villages are In Kag, disbanding the drongba estates has
difficult for them to attend because of child- meant that kimpamo women play a greatly
care and domestic responsibilities. It is reduced role in the ritual life of the village.
usually men who attend meetings as When they do participate, they often do so
representatives of their households, and it is alongside women from households which, in
men who hold the positions of 'headman' the past, were not drongba households. Former
and 'assistant headman' in the village. With kimpamo told me that they see their ritual
the integration of Baragong into the political labour as a burden which keeps them from
system of Nepal, men's political roles have other, more prestigious economic activities,
been strengthened; women rarely hold rather than as an honour bestowed upon them
positions of power on the new 'village because of their status. These other, more
development committees' (VDCs) or at the lucrative, economic activities are tourism and
district level. other income-generating activities.

The impact of tourism

Spirituality and the Baragong was opened to foreign trekkers in
changing role of women 1974. By the late 1980s, it was attracting more
than 30,000 tourists every year. In Kag,
In Baragong, women have always been
tourism is an important part of the village
integral to the spiritual maintenance of the
household and the community. However, economy; in comparison, Dzong has no tourist
while women in the village of Dzong continue economy. While tourists visit year-round, the
to play an important part in the spiritual life peak period - September to November -
of their households and the community, the coincides with the harvesting and processing
importance of women's spiritual role in Kag of buckwheat and the planting of barley and
has diminished. Why this difference between wheat, as well as with the large regional
the two communities? In order to answer this harvest festival held in Muktinath. The
question, we must look more closely at how second most popular time to trek in the
the lives of women in Kag and Dzong differ. I Annapurna region is in the spring: a time of
will discuss three major changes to women's reunion, local archery festivals, communal
roles and status brought about by changes in work, and preparation for the harvest.
land-holding, tourism, and development. Running a tourist lodge denies the household
the labour of at least one member during
Land-holding periods when their contribution is most
First, and perhaps most importantly, the needed, and further limits both the social and
system of drongba estates in Kag was spiritual roles of these household members.
disbanded several years ago. This means that The first tourist lodge in Kag was built in
all people within the village have the same 1976; by 1995 there were ten, and a further
rights and responsibilities. There are no ritual two planned. It is primarily women who run
roles, or political offices, that are open only to lodges. Male and female lodge-owners cited
heads of drongba households. In Dzong, several reasons for this: cooking, cleaning,
however, the titles of chuktwa (male and hospitality are tasks typically taken on by
household head) and kimpano still exist, and women, and thus local people feel that
ritual, though not administrative, importance women are naturally more capable of running
is attached to them. Men from all households lodges. Second, it is generally women who
in Dzong can hold the offices of headman and stay in the village year-round, and hence they
assistant headman, but only male and female tend to take on the primary responsibility for
heads of estate-holding households can the least seasonal economic activities. Third,
participate in certain religious festivals and women are judged able to look after small
retreats, such as Dokyap. children and run lodges simultaneously.
No time to worship the serpent deities: Women, economic change, and religion in north-western Nepal 35

However, women who run lodges have neighbouring district of Manang]. She knew
less free time to engage in community rituals, that people coming from Manang, tourists
festivals, and monastic retreats. Pema Dolkar, and locals, would be thirsty and need a drink
a woman lodge owner in Kag, complained so it was a good business idea. But this
that she often 'felt like a prisoner' in her own woman - man kalo chal [black soul or heart] -
home: ' . . . I would like to go to Yartung [a she would not even give away one glass of
harvest festival in the neighbouring water. Local people should always receive
community of Muktinath] in the autumn, but one glass of tea free, even in a lodge; but she
I have not been now for five years because would even charge for water! She was very
there have been so many trekkers. Sometimes greedy and made much money ... After she
it is so busy that I cannot even go to Tse chu died, about two or three years ago, her soul
[a village ritual on the tenth day of each did not find the path [to 'heaven', where
month] and have to send someone else from souls are weighed to determine their next
the household instead' (personal incarnation]. She still wanders this world,
communication, 1995). haunting and possessing people. She has
While many female lodge owners find that possessed ... [a certain woman from Dzong],
their movements beyond the village are as well as Baragongba in Kathmandu and
restricted, tourism and business have both Assam ...' (personal communication, 1996).
enabled and encouraged men (and non-lodge
owning women) to spend longer periods The impact of 'development'
away from the village. Whereas in the past With the opening of Baragong to tourists,
women played an important role in both 'development' was not far behind. Develop-
regional trade and the salt-grain trade ment ideology and practice in Kag and Dzong
between Nepal and Tibet, women who have have proceeded in very different directions.
the responsibility of running a lodge rarely Villagers in both communities have radically
participate in business outside of the village. different views of what development is and
Women who run lodges also tend to visit should be at the village level.
other households in the village less often, and There are stories of failed projects and lack
participate less in the sharing of food which is of local participation in Kag. I heard
so common between kin, neighbours, and divergent views of development between the
friends. While it is still customary for lodge younger and older generations. While
owners to offer tea to neighbours and friends younger people adhere to the bottom-up
without charge, the sharing of vegetables and model of development held in Dzong, older
other desirable foods now bypasses the people in Kag are oriented towards
lodges. As one woman, whose female cousin dependence on the outside. This idea of
runs a lodge, commented: 'Why would my development as a top-down redistribution of
sister [cousin] give spinach to me when she resources from the state, sees development as
could sell it to the tourists for money? We a gift which 'has or has not come' and the role
used to share food between our households of villagers as passive recipients in this
all the time here [in Kag], but now many process (Clarke undated). One woman in
people keep things to themselves so that they Kag stated: T do not know the names of any
can make money.' of the development projects here, only the
People also say that the Buddhist ethic of police office and the office that my son works
hospitality has suffered since the advent of with [ACAP]. I don't know what he does,
tourism. The following tale, told throughout something with trees ... Some office people
Baragong, illustrates this point. 'There was a came and planted some trees, but no one has
woman ... who set up a travellers' rest house watered them and most have died.... I don't
a little way up the Thorong La [a frequently know what will happen to the trees after they
travelled pass between Baragong and the have grown, whether the development people

will sell them, or whether they will even be passes the painted rocks along the trail
used by the Kagpa ... Up to now, ACAP has leading to Kag, announcing that this lodge or
done nothing but make garbage tips. They that lodge has a hot shower, the tastiest apple
make tourists sign their names when they pie, the best views.
arrive in Kag'. Some of the accountability for Because most lodge-owners are women,
failed projects must, of course, lie with the the main conflicts are between them rather
development projects themselves. than men. The fact that gender and develop-
One old Kagpa woman expressed the ment literature and practice has paid much
dissonance between old ideas of 'goodness' attention to women's cooperative develop-
and the ideas held by those who wish to ment efforts may mean that the lack of coope-
bring development to the village: 'In the old ration in Kag is more noticeable than similar
days, we used to drink water right out of the behaviour would be on the part of men.
Dzong River. The water out of the river is Unlike the highly competitive market of
very good for you. Some people still drink tourism, business ventures in Dzong,
from it [even though there is a clean water especially those which require villagers to
project]. We old people say that walking travel further afield to East Asia, often require
through the river makes the water choko the labour and financial resources of several
[clean], not jutho [polluted]. We did not hear households working together. Because of their
that the river water was bad for us before the relative isolation, and the lack of a tourist
Nepalis and development came! Mountain economy, the people of Dzong have had to
water is colder and tastier.' seek support from government agencies and
Many Kagpa feel that development in NGOs to improve life in the village; a key
their village has a bad track record because element of this relationship is that they also
people are too busy with their own work and show commitment in the form of labour and
there are too many poor people: 'If there was other inputs into the projects. 'Our own
enough money in the village, people could village, we must build ourselves' is the
cooperate and do their own development.' development slogan heard throughout
Many of the meetings called by project staff Nepal. (In the past, labour obligations were
to discuss the village's future development fulfilled by drongba households only. This has
were attended only by lodge-owners; non- been a powerful catalyst for changing the
lodge-owners said they felt that development drongba system to limit it to ritual activities,
was for tourists, rather than for villagers. rather than political and economic ones.) The
According to NGO staff, this low level of villagers have often worked with the people
interest has led to many projects pulling out of their neighbouring villages Chongkhor
of Kag. During group discussions, interviews, and Putak in order to attract expertise,
and in casual conversations, villagers listed a materials, and money for their projects. In
number of reasons for this lack of interest in sum, the Dzongba seem to have been
development projects. Lodge-owners rarely relatively successful in making development
cooperate with each other, and because of work for them, without losing control over
their high social and economic status, few important village decisions; the moral ideo-
other villagers are willing to participate in logy of equity and a commitment to 'commu-
community projects. Those who had enough nity' have been strengthened in Dzong.
money to install solar power for showers do When the Dzong villagers decide that a
not want electricity for the whole village, project is needed, the village leaders sit down
because then all lodges would be able to with the headmaster (who writes Nepali) and
provide hot showers. Tourism has furthered draft a letter to the appropriate agency.
competition rather than cooperation, Several projects applied for in this manner
especially between lodge-owners. Competi- have now been completed. For example,
tion for tourist money is evident when one Dzong is supplied with limited electricity in
No time to worship the serpent deities: Women, economic change, and religion in north-western Nepal 37

the winter months by a hydro-electric project Celebrating Dokyap

supported by the government of Nepal. The ceremony of Dokyap is intended to enlist
Numerous small projects which the villagers the aid of benevolent Buddhist divinities and
initiated have been carried out with the help regional gods and goddesses in the protection
of development funds, including the of the village. A grandmother in Dzong told
construction of a new mill. CARE agreed to me: 'The performance of Dokyap pleases God.
supply the necessary materials; the labour It keeps sickness and death away from people
was supplied by all households. and livestock. It ensures good harvests and
stops torrential rain and wind storms. For the
welfare of the village, Dokyap must be done'.
Lay women and their Historically, Dokyap has been an extremely
spiritual roles important event for the political and religious
People's relationships with the spiritual realm unity of the area and the hegemony of the
are influenced by social, economic, and poli- local ruling class. While in Dzong the ritual
tical change. In particular, the changing eco- has survived to this day, in Kag it declined
nomic role of women in Kag has had profound and eventually died several decades ago.
effects on their role in religious practice. In Dzong, Dokyap is still an important event:
large fines are imposed on male and female
Caring for the lu drongba household heads who are absent
Lu are serpent spirits which, when pleased, from the village or who fail to participate in
bring wealth and prosperity, and when any of the events during the seven-day ritual.
angered, bring illness and misfortune.4 Daily Villagers consider the festival vitally important
rituals of offering food and burning incense for the preservation of local culture, the accu-
are enacted to propitiate the household lu; mulation of religious merit, the expulsion of
these are almost exclusively performed by evil, and the social unity of the village.
household women. The differences in Each day, at noon, a large drum calls the
household rituals enacted in Dzong and Kag female heads of drongba households away
reflect what is perceived as necessary for the from their drinking party in a house near the
prosperity of the household. In Dzong, daily monastery (village women take turns hosting
offerings to the serpent deities are still viewed the party each year). Everyone gathers in the
as a vitally important part of household village square where the women sing and
ritual, appeasing potentially harmful serpent dance in traditional lines. Only women born
deities and enlisting their aid, while in Kag or married into Dzong can participate; single
prosperity is seen as less dependent on the lu. women and widows are excluded. All of the
My Dzong landlady explained that '[I]f the lu women wear shuli, the ceremonial head-
ritual is not done the household will become dresses which mark them as married heads of
poor, sick, and inharmonious. It will be a commoner estate-holding households.
"dirty house".' However, in contrast, many The songs sung by the women are vitally
houses in Kag do not worship lu or perform important for the efficacy of the exorcism
rituals for them any longer. A significant ritual; the women singers carry the ritual
number of households in Kag give offerings effigies, and lead the procession of villagers to
only once a week rather than daily, as is the monastery and to the far reaches of the
recommended by monks and devout village. Four masked young men chase and
villagers alike. During the winter, many beat the women if they do not sing loud
women in Kag do not feed the lu at all; they enough, ordering them to 'sing for the
claim that the lu are sleeping, and therefore protection of the village'. The seven Dokyap
do not need to be appeased. This is songs can only be taught by women, and only
convenient for women who leave the village then; they must never be sung at any other
during the winter for sunnier climes. time, and should not be revealed to outsiders.

The events which preceded and followed head-dress conferred status on her house-
the cessation of Kag's Dokyap reveal much hold. To sell a head-dress in the 1920s or
about the importance of women in maintai- 1940s would have been unthinkable, since a
ning the community's spirituality, and about commoner woman without one had no real
how and why these roles have changed. A status and could not participate in communal
host of social and political tensions ritual events. As modern clothing and
contributed to the dissolution of Dokyap in consumer goods have replaced local dress and
Kag, and this is still the cause of much jewellery as signs of household prosperity,
discussion and tension within the village. many family heirlooms have been sold.
The first version of events that I heard was The cessation of Dokyap in Kag has
told by a noblewoman in Kag, who has a obvious religious implications. Singing the
good knowledge of history but also a vendetta traditional songs is an important part of
against the man she names as the villain in communal cleansing and accumulation of
the scenario. 'Dokyap stopped in Kag 22 years merit. In Dzong, this is still seen as so
ago, when Dhundup [not his real name] was important that female heads of household
the big man. He had two wives. His first wife who are absent from the village during
wanted to leave him so she arranged for her Dokyap (usually because they have travelled
younger sister to marry him. At this time, south for the winter and are unable to return
when he took his new wife, they did not like because of illness or heavy snows) pay a large
the Dokyap because we [the nobles] did. We fine, and are forbidden to participate in the
loved it, so they went against it just out of ritual the following year, causing great shame
spite ... and maybe because they were for a household. In Kag, this is not the case.
embarrassed about the family situation'. The
idea that Kag's Dokyap stressed the divisions
between nobles, commoners, and sub-
commoners was confirmed as part of the Few Kagba women of the younger generation
reason why many commoners in Kag ceased wish the ritual of Dokyap to be revived, and
to participate; villagers said that they 'did not many of the old songs have been forgotten.
want to beg for food from the nobles' and that What are the implications of the changes in
'dancing for food and drink was degrading'. religious observation and in economic activity
Another reason given for the decline of the in these communities for women, and for
ritual is the rise of economic development. As development policy and practice? A broad
economic considerations for many villagers analysis of women's roles and women's work
have begun to outweigh cultural or religious is needed, which includes spiritual roles and
ones, people travel south in greater numbers responsibilities. Do development researchers
during the winter, and thus are absent during and workers include all dimensions of
Dokyap. Rice and barley, the staple foods of women's work in their information-gathering
the festival, have begun to be seen as cash and policy-formulation? Do they recognise
commodities: why contribute as much as 63 women's 'unseen' spiritual maintenance roles
pounds of rice and barley (the contribution of within their communities, which could be
a large household for the entire festival), enhanced or undermined by development?
when that grain could be sold for a profit? In How do women's spiritual, reproductive,
addition, many ceremonial head-dresses productive, and community roles support (or
used for Dokyap were sold to tourists in the weaken) each other? Most importantly - and
1970s, and the cash invested in lodges and this is certainly not the first time that this
other business ventures. question has been asked - are 'economic
development' and 'purchasing power' the
This also reveals a shift in perceptions of
only yardsticks by which household and
status. In the past, a woman who wore a
community well-being should be measured?
particularly beautiful and richly adorned
No time to worship the serpent deities: Women, economic change, and religion in north-western Nepal 39

Kag women who run lodges and spend will be of great help to me in business. Why
many months away from the village are would I marry a woman who had no head for
perceived by others to have neglected their business?' The qualities of independence and
social, and hence spiritual, obligations. individualism are becoming more prized;
Women's cooperative groups (so common however, the older generation mourn the loss
among ethnic Tibetans in Nepal), and the of social cohesion and community spirit.
practice of sharing household resources among
neighbours, friends, and kinswomen, have Rebecca Saul works for CARE International UK
virtually ceased in Kag. As the story of the as a programme officer for South Asia and Latin
dead lodge-owner whose soul wanders this America. She lived in Nepal for three years
earth illustrates, economic and social changes conducting research and working as a consultant,
have consequences for the spiritual life of the and has a PhD in Social Anthropology.
Baragongba. Although the Dzongba are as Contact details: CARE International UK,
successful in business as the Kagpa, and indeed 8-14 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7HA. E-
travel abroad more frequently, they still mail
consider it vitally important to be a partici-
pating member of the village. Sharing food,
labour, and goods between households rein- References
forces village solidarity, and expresses local Clarke, G (undated) 'Development (Vikas) in
ideas of morality and social obligations. Full Nepal: Mana from Heaven', draft paper
social and physical participation in village life prepared for the Asian Studies Association
also maintains spiritual harmony within the Fourth Decennial Conference, Oxford.
village. Dzongba women do not seem to feel
Levine, N (1980) 'Nyinba polyandry and the
the same conflicts as Kagpa women.
allocation of paternity' in Journal of
For women in Kag today, there are '... Comparative Family Studies 11:3.
paradoxes, conflicts and ambivalence Mumford, SR (1989) Himalayan Dialogue:
surrounding the apparent contradiction Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in
between enduring religious values and current Nepal, University of Wisconsin Press.
trade practice, between those who aspire Phylactou, M (1989) Household Organisation
toward indigenous (Buddhist) notions of and Marriage in Ladakh - Nepal Himalaya,
'goodness' and those whose imaginings lean unpublished PhD Thesis, London School
toward the glamour of "life in the fast lane" of Economics and Political Science.
...'(Watkins 1996, 6). The negative impact on Watkins, JC (1996) Spirited Women: Gender,
individuals and the community of Kag women and cultural identity in the Nepal
women's neglect of traditional social and Himalaya, Columbia University Press:
spiritual responsibilities should be weighed New York.
against the possible benefits to individual
women, their households, and to women's
collective status in the community of increased Notes
female economic contributions to their house- 1 People of Dzong
holds. Women are gaining respect for their 2 People of Barabong
business acumen and their ability to earn 3 Noble households were excluded from
money. My research assistant in Dzong, the drongba system, as it was they in the
Khandro, offers an excellent example. In the past who benefited from it.
first year of her marriage, her parents-in-law 4 The beliefs of the Baragongba about where
wanted Khandro to stay in the village, but her the lu live and how they must be treated
husband encouraged her to accompany him translate into practical rules concerning
on a business trip. He stated to family and hygiene and health, as well as rules which
friends that 'she [his wife] is very clever and protect the environment (Mumford 1989).

Gender relations,
'Hindu' nationalism, and
NGO responses in India
Stacey Burlet
This article explores the strategies that non-government organisations (NGOs) are using to
challenge the right-wing nationalism presently dominating Indian politics. Development workers
must be sensitive to the importance of religion, but also avoid getting caught up in religious
conflict. Gender issues, which straddle religious and political boundaries, can end up marginalised.

n India, approximately 30,000 NGOs are the 'majority', have framed political debates

I providing training and tools to improve

people's living conditions, and to build
sustainable livelihoods (http://www.anand.
in India since the late 1960s.1 Nationalist
actors have taken this one step further. A
variety of organisations which claim that
to/india/ngo.html). However, their ability to Hindus are 'one people' and 'one nation'
do this is increasingly affected by right-wing linked by blood, belief, and belonging, are
nationalist ideologies which dominate national working in many sectors such as education to
politics, and by escalating levels of violence at bring this goal to fruition. During research for
local level. There often is a thin line for NGOs this article2,1 was told: 'Hindus are not only a
between acknowledging the importance of community, ... they are a nation and
religion in people's lives, and avoiding Hinduism is a way of life. Hindu unity is a
collusion with political factions which seek must. In the past we were disunited, in the
power through asserting religious identifi- future we will be united' (interview with the
cation above all other criteria. This balancing General Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu
act has often diminished NGOs' ability to Parishad, a cultural organisation, 1996).
define their own agendas in areas such as However, the accuracy of 'Hinduism' as a
gender relations. As a result, women's rights term which denotes a single religious tradition,
have been marginalised at national level, based on which people express their political
unless they are directly linked to the status of desires, is questionable. According to the 1991
communities defined in terms of religion. Census of India, 82 per cent of the Indian
population are Hindu (http://www.census
The Hindu tradition: source india.netreligion.html, 1999)3. Yet, unlike other
religious traditions, Hinduism encompasses a
of repression and resistance diversity of belief and ritual practice (Oberoi
The concept of patriotism, the requirement 1994). Originally used to denote the geogra-
that citizens prove their allegiance to the phical location of a people who lived beyond
'nation', and debates on the rightful place of the river Indus (Sindhu), the term's meaning
Gender relations, 'Hindu' nationalism, and NGO responses in India 41

fundamentally altered during British colonial Patriot games and party

rule, when it was used to describe all politics: politicising religion?
religions evolving from within the Indian
subcontinent, including local traditions, as However, since the mid-1980s, political
well as Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, debates in India have pivoted on identity
despite their distinctive histories, beliefs, and issues. Right-wingers argue that India can
socio-cultural practices (Flood 1996). only maintain its territorial integrity and
This 'catch-all' religious definition also internal cohesion if it establishes a state-
acquired political meaning. The British colonial society system which reflects the 'national
authorities awarded communities defined in majority's thinking'. This argument is rooted
terms of religion a new role in administrative in the belief that successive governments have
affairs, creating politically ambitious elites cynically misused the policy of secularism, in
who established new alliances with others of attempts to gather votes and secure power
the same religion in an attempt to harness bases among minority groupings. This
power and resources. At the same time, social strategy is believed to have encouraged
reformers and political activists such as corruption and violence, and to have plunged
Gandhi used the term 'Hindu' to describe the Indian society and the economy into deep
common religious beliefs and socio-cultural crisis. For example, the 1998 manifesto of the
practices which, in their view, linked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) states:
majority of Indians during their struggle for 'minorities have been cynically used for the
national independence. purpose of garnering votes these past 50
years, but socio-economic problems have
This linking of religious identity to
been unattended', and suggests this situation
political issues led to a hardening of
can be remedied by 'energiz[ing] the vision of
boundaries between groups defined
every patriotic Indian to see our beloved
according to religion, particularly between
country emerge as a strong, prosperous and
those who were defined as part of the
confident nation, occupying her rightful place
majority - Hindus - and the largest minority
in the international community' (http: / /
grouping - Muslims, who feared that Indian / manifes / manifes.html, 1999).
independence would result in their
Organisations using such arguments often
subjugation within a Hindu-dominated state.
simultaneously employ exclusive or inflam-
Polarised demands between those who
matory statements. For example, some
wanted freedom for all in a united state, and
minority groups, especially Muslims, are cast
those who wanted freedom and the
as impeding 'national development' through
establishment of a Muslim homeland, led to
their demands for 'special' rights, and
escalating levels of Hindu-Muslim violence
because their religious affiliations extend
during the latter days of the independence
beyond India's boundaries (Graham 1990).
struggle (Oberoi 1994). Although indepen-
This fractured political climate has also been
dence was marked by the partition of India
characterised by growing Hindu-Muslim
and the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim-
violence: while before the 1980s, incidents had
majority state, India opted for a secular
primarily occurred in 'sensitive' urban areas,
constitution, reflecting its desire to build a
previously 'safe' areas have been increasingly
nation in which all would be regarded equal,
affected (Fox 1990). Similarly, analysis of the
irrespective of their religious, caste, or ethnic
1992-93 Bombay 'riots' indicates that
identity. Until recently, political parties and
Hindu-Muslim violence is also occurring in
the populace largely complied with the
middle class areas (Kishwar 1993), and
commitment to a secular state; political actors
commentators stress that Muslims are being
who sought to formalise the relationship
killed in disproportionate numbers during
between Hinduism and the state were
such incidents (Fox 1990).
consistently marginalised.

Key reasons for this growth have been religious tradition and make commitments
attributed to, first, politicians being more to women's socio-economic upliftment (http: / /
open about their use of extra-constitutional / manifes / manifes.html, 1999).
tactics, such as paying criminals to initiate a However, it is also clear that women's rights
riot with the aim of securing votes (Kishwar have been increasingly interpreted and
1993). Second, law and order mechanisms understood within a framework in which
seeming increasingly unwilling or incapable religious identification, and the 'proper' place
of dealing with those who participate in of the 'national majority' and minority groups
violence. Official sources acknowledge that in Indian society, take prevalence over gender
the police often participate in or openly identity. This means that women's dis-
condone the use of violence against Muslim, advantages and problems as a social group
and non- and 'low' caste groupings (Tambiah are neglected, unless an issue directly linked
1990). In the light of these factors, a view to religious identity emerges. Usually,
widely expressed throughout India is that the these cases are controversial, and involve
current violence against minority groups is nationalists depicting women as potential
politically motivated, rather than the result of victims of Muslim men who are represented
Hindus and Muslims being drawn into an as engaging in polygamous, callous, and
inevitable cycle of conflict (see, for example, barbaric behaviour (Kapur and Cossman 1996).
Anklesaria and Swaminathan 1990). For example, one leaflet recently disseminated
by the nationalist VHP-Bajarang Dal Sanjeli
This argument seems to have validity as,
in Gujarat stated: 'What attitude do Muslim
during the 1980s and early 1990s, a coalition
loafers adopt towards adivasi women going to
of Muslims and 'low' and non-caste Hindus
fill the river with mud ? How do these loafers
launched a political challenge in the national entrap helpless adivasi women and elderly in
arena. Their campaign promised the allevi- the name of helping them ? ... Let us save our
ation of inequality, and emphasised the sisters and daughters being sold to Arabs
disproportionate social disadvantage which from the claws of these people' (quoted in
many groups face in comparison to high-caste CPI(ML)- New Democracy, 1998).
Hindus. Such an alliance has highlighted the
faultlines of the nationalist ideology of a
unified Hindus community, and stressed the NGOs, Hindu-Muslim
common socio-economic challenges which cooperation, and local
cross religious boundaries.4
The impact on women NGOs opposed to the current political climate
have evolved a variety of strategies, depend-
Indian women of all social strata have been ing on their links with Northern NGOs or
affected by the nationalist ideology which international organisations such as the UN,
permeates political debates and by esca- and on their reliance on foreign funding5.
lating levels of Hindu-Muslim violence. Organisations which have links with the
Nationalists have developed effective stra- international NGO community primarily
tegies for 'tapping' women as an electoral express their opposition to the current
resource. These include holding women's political climate through consciousness-
prayer meetings, celebrating religious imagery raising and networking strategies. In January
in which female power is celebrated as the 1993, for example, groups working in the area
source of India's greatness, and promoting of 'development' came together to pledge
female politicians (see Llewellyn 1998). their solidarity and support for each other, to
The attraction of such strategies is exchange their experiences of working in a
reinforced by policies which simultaneously hostile political climate and to formulate a
acknowledge the importance of the Hindu long-term plan of action for securing true
Gender relations, 'Hindu' nationalism, and NGO responses in India 43

secularism in India (VANI News, 1993). abates when it is discovered that the bags
Motivated by the belief that religion should contained human flesh (Mullick 1987).
have no role in public affairs, networks have However, for many people, participation
thus been established to lobby state institu- in direct action is an unlikely or an impossible
tions to conduct themselves in accordance option. Personal opinions and religious
with constitutional norms. beliefs can take second place to the need to
In contrast, networks such as the National survive; many women and men who do not
Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), support nationalist ideology cannot afford
which primarily represent community-based the time or the potential trouble which
organisations (CBOs), oppose the BJP's opposition might attract. In the early 1990s,
modernising programme. This is couched in subsistence workers in Hyderabad and
the language of swadeshi ('India first') and Bombay were frequently unable to work
protectionism, but it also makes clear commit- during the curfews imposed on localities
ments to liberalisation, integrating India into experiencing violence. As a result, many
the world economy, achieving an annual faced starvation and had to borrow money or
GDP growth rate of 8-9 per cent, and appeal for patronage to buy food and replace
rationalising the public sector (http:/ /www. stolen items. Their subsequent economic, 1999). CBO dependence made it hard for them to involve
networks argue that this programme will themselves in activities which potentially
contribute to the breakdown of communi- challenged the money-lenders and local
cation and socio-economic ties between politicians on whom they relied (Bharatiya
Hindus and Muslims at local level. They thus Janwadi Aghadi 1993).
aim to promote cooperation between Tackling this powerlessness, brought
communities defined in terms of religion, about by impoverishment and economic
through devolving government power: local dependency, is therefore prioritised by those
people's joint decision-making can ensure NGOs with appropriate sources of funding.
appropriate socio-economic development A typical strategy is to set up cooperatives
and maintain productive local relationships. and cross-community initiatives to encourage
Because NGOs' activities at national level as well as build on historic relationships of
have the potential to attract the attention and socio-economic and political interdependence
anger of nationalist actors (see India Today, between Hindus and Muslims. By empha-
1993), many choose to operate at a local level sising economic interdependence, these
for fear of harassment (personal interviews, strategies seek to strengthen people's aware-
1996). Some get involved in initiatives such as ness of the distinction between personal
direct-action campaigns which spring up spiritual beliefs and the true character of
when violence breaks out in a locality, or India's composite culture, and of the religious
immediately afterwards. For example, street- rhetoric being disseminated by nationalists
theatre groups perform 'anti-communalism' for the purpose of securing political power.
plays which show how religion is used to However, these approaches have limi-
sever local ties and secure political power. tations. For example, efforts are frequently
Often, the drama exposes the role of concentrated in extremely impoverished
politicians and community 'representatives' communities. This often inadvertently re-
in organising violence. One play, performed inforces arguments that poor people indulge
by Nishant Natya Manch, depicts how vio- in violence because their lack of education
lence is incited and inflamed for specific ends: makes them excitable, and that this is the
a mercenary is paid to throw bags of beef and fault of successive governments which have
pork into a temple and a mosque; religious failed to implement the majority's will,
leaders use the language of 'religion in resulting in under-development and a lack of
danger' to trigger riots; and tension only national integration. For example, Muslims

are frequently depicted as educationally between Hindus and Muslims often lack
'backward' and thus responsible for commu- awareness of the specific repercussions which
nal riots: 'Muslims have been slower to take nationalist ideology and Hindu-Muslim
up on education ... [They] are aggressive and violence have in women's lives (Hasan 1994).
believe anything that the mullahs tell them. My own research indicated that many
Recently the mullah said you should not have organisations work mainly with men because
television sets in your house, and 95 per cent they are seen as most likely to participate in
came home and threw out their television sets. violence; others view women's oppression as
Whatever you tell them, they will do. They do a secondary issue compared with the need to
not think, they follow' (personal interview, counteract the nationalist agenda. Other
1996). Because such views are widely held, reasons given by NGOs for their unwilling-
nationalists have been able to suggest that ness to tackle the gender dimensions of
NGO strategies are an irrelevant response to nationalism include the belief that they
the overall need for 'national development7. already risk attracting the hostility of people
The importance of NGOs' work has been and groups with vested interests. They argue
challenged further by nationalists, who portray that incorporating consciousness-raising
them as corrupt and elitist, and rooted in elements into their work which draw
Western thought. Here, nationalists are attention to the way in which women are
primarily referring to branches of Northern targeted by nationalist actors in their
NGOs, but also to 'indigenous' NGOs which initiatives, might invoke male resistance and
are seen to represent non-Indian views. limit the credibility of their demands to
Often, such arguments are supported by challenge nationalist ideology. These NGOs
CBOs. A Gandhian activist stated: 'We must advocate that initiatives aiming to empower
stand up to the secular class who are women should remain separate, and con-
enslaved to secularism, a secularism that is centrate on alleviating their socio-economic
wrong, impedes national integration and the deprivation through the promotion of micro-
development of India as a nation ... They are credit schemes, education, and health-care
a class that act like third party intervenors, services (personal interviews, 1996). NGOs
with their own agendas, who will not allow thus often purposely marginalise gender
us [Hindus and Muslims] to sort our issues, and the particular restraints which
relationship out. They have taken over the women face as a result of Hindu-Muslim
place of the Britishers ... We should ... start conflict remain untackled.
again from our own civilisation' (personal
interview, 1996). Given that some NGOs rely
on foreign funds and others are part of global Women's resistance to
networks, this type of accusation is difficult to nationalist ideology
challenge. As a result, the activities of those
NGOs which have global links tend to be A portrayal of the Hindu community as
primarily recognised in the communities in forward-looking, and the Muslim community
which they work; their alternative visions of as backward-looking, has gained credence in
Indian culture remain at the periphery of the current political climate. As a result,
national debates. women's ability to challenge issues of
common oppression by working together has
been limited (Saghal 1992). This is partly
because women's knowledge that they share
NGOs, nationalism, and
many problems in their daily lives has
gender issues decreased, and partly because control over
A further limitation of the strategies pursued their activities has intensified as a result of
by NGOs with international links relates to escalating levels of violence, which have
the fact that initiatives promoting cooperation fostered suspicion about those who belong to
Gender relations, 'Hindu' nationalism, and NGO responses in India 45

'other' communities, and which have made it [Krishna devotees and Muslims] share a wall.
physically difficult for women to work There is a tree where flowers are grown in the
together in some areas (Chhachhi 1991). It is mosque complex, which we use for worship
also because the Indian women's movement [in the temple]: every day the Muslims gather
has often made its demands for gender the flowers and give them to us. Around us,
equality on the basis of universal definitions half are Hindu, half Muslim, and we have not
of women. In the current political climate, fought. Women talked. We talked. We
this has invoked criticism from Muslim decided we wanted peace and to live together
women, who argue that this indicates a lack ... We have let no outside influences disturb
of cultural sensitivity at best and prejudice at this peace. Political parties have not got
worst, because it compromises their religious anywhere in this town because we have
identity (Kapur and Cossman 1996). decided that we will live by this decision'
Some feminist activists have taken note of (personal interview, 1996).
these criticisms, and have altered their Women's motivations for such activities
strategies to ensure that participants in their are often based on the belief that although
organisations can simultaneously assert there are differences between Hindus and
themselves as women and as members of Muslims, this should not justify unequal
communities defined in terms of religion. To treatment or be the measure by which justice
do this, they have concentrated on criticising is meted out. As one woman told me, 'for me,
the portrayal of majority-minority relations my religion, your religion, everybody's
as conflictual. In addition, programmes have religion is sacred, there is no difference - we
been set up to establish contacts with women are all humans, rich or poor, brother or sister,
across the country, especially with those Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi - all the
affected by violence, and to form support same. But for politicians and bad people, they
networks for women's groups working to use these things to divide us. They pick on
achieve reform on sensitive issues from something sore and go away when people
within their own communities. Contempo- fight' (personal interview, 1996).
rary campaigns have been confined to issues Women also justify their resistance on the
which focus on the socio-economic realities of basis of socio-economic arguments. For
women's lives (Butalia 1996). example, in 1993, a number of slum-dwelling
Despite these problems, and the communities in Bombay formed self-defence
marginalisation of women's rights issues by militias to protect local Hindus and Muslims
many NGOs, women have devised their own from the effects of nationalist activity in their
resistance strategies. For example, during area at the behest of older women (Bharatiya
incidents of Hindu-Muslim violence, women Janwadi Aghadi 1993). They legitimised the
often intervene to protect and save people action was by arguing that nationalist actors
from other communities (Confederation of were promoting divisiveness and encouraging
Voluntary Associations 1995). Many also use violence in trying to secure political power for
their power within their neighbourhood to themselves and their allies. As local people
counteract stereotypes and positively considered their religious and socio-cultural
influence reactions towards the 'other' traditions to be as much based on community
community (personal interviews, 1996). In involvement and cooperation as on distinctive
addition, women often lobby their husbands religious beliefs, this political strategy was
or sons to set up meetings so that discussions interpreted as disrespectful and unjust.
take place on how nationalist activity and Examples such as these indicate that
violence can be prevented from infiltrating although the dominance of nationalism in
their area. The priest of a temple dedicated to India's national political arena is affecting
Lord Krishna in Maharashtra described how attitudes at regional and local level, people
violence was prevented in his area: 'We are employing resistance strategies to

maintain political and social autonomy. Society Monograph 2: Chicago.

NGOs working in such situations need to be Graham, B (1990) Hindu Nationalism and
better informed about these strategies, and Indian Politics: The Origins and Development
the role which women play in them. of the Bharatiya Janata Sangh, Cambridge
Moreover, they must develop an awareness University Press.
of the specific problems which women face as Hasan, Z (1994) 'Introduction:
a result of nationalist ideology targeting their Contextualising Gender and Identity in
activities. Not to do so constitutes collusion in Contemporary India' in Forging Identities:
the destabilisation of women's previously Gender, Communities and the State in India,
won citizenship rights, and the privileging of Westview Press: Colorado.
religious affiliations over other aspects of, 1998
women's and men's identity. http: / / / manifes.html
http: / / / religion.html,
Stacey Burlet is a lecturer in South Asian Area 1999
Studies at the University of Bradford, UK. Her http:/ /,
address is Department of Social and Economic 1999
Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, West India Today, 'Psychological Warfare', 15
Yorkshire, UK, BD7 1DP. E-mail sdburlet September 1993. Kapur, R and Cossman, B (1996) Subversive
Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in
India, Sage Publications: New Delhi.
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referred to as 'untouchables', harijans
(Children of God), or 'scheduled castes',
Notes which make up 16.48 per cent of the
1 Since the late 1960s, a crisis of government population (1991 Census of India). Some
has been growing since the realisation that among this group have increasingly
the goal of creating a state with criticised high-caste Hindus, arguing that
opportunity for all remained unfulfilled. they have no right to represent 'low' and
This led the Congress Party, which had non-caste peoples as part of the same social
ruled India for the most part since 1947, to grouping if they continue to treat them as
increasingly devise and rely on nationalist 'different' and marginalised from India's
and populist arguments to maintain their cultural and social life (Searle-Chatterjee
power. When these strategies failed, and it 1994). They have also organised politically
lost its dominance over the national in an attempt to secure socio-economic
political arena, a framework had been equality, and to voice their opposition to
established in which it was acceptable to atrocities which continue to be perpetrated
discuss the possibility of 'majority' rule against them by high castes in both rural
and the future direction of the Indian state. and urban areas (Kohli 1988).
5 It has been estimated that only 41 per cent
2 The data on which this article draws was
of the NGOs currently operating in India
collected over a two-year period during
are registered with the Ministry of Home
which personal interviews were conducted
Affairs under the Foreign Contribution
and oral histories collected from NGO and
(Regulation) Act, while a further 3 per cent
community-based organisation (CBO)
are officially recognised as receiving
activists, politicians and government
government funds or foreign donations
representatives, social and religious
(http: / / / india / ngo.html).
leaders, and people living in rural and
The remainder are CBOs, operating at a
urban areas of India.
grassroots level.
3 This figure excludes data from the region
of Jammu and Kashmir.
4 Clear socio-economic divisions continue to
exist among Hindus. These primarily relate
to caste, which, from birth, determines a
person's status within a hierarchical
system, and their duties towards others,
depending on his or her gender and stage
of life. Caste is determined by a person's
jati (occupational specialisation) and their
varna (whether or not they belong to one of
the four main categories which make up
the caste system). These categories are
Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors
and rulers), Vaisyas (artisans), and Sudras
(servants). Traditionally, those ranked
lower down in the system were seen to
pollute the ritual purity of those higher up.

Religion, male violence,

and the control of women:
Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford, UK1
Marie Macey
This article examines Pakistani Muslim male violence in the public and private spheres in
Bradford, UK, and explores the relationship between this and ideas of culture and religion. It
contrasts male and female attitudes to Islam: some men are using it to justify violence against
women, while women of all ages and backgrounds are using it in a very different way, as a source
of strength and to negotiate (with ingenuity and humour) the cultural and religious requirements
which men try to impose on them.

Introduction accused of colluding in women's oppression,

as manifested in mental breakdown,
'My message is to everyone, the community depression and suicide as well as disappear-
and the service providers. The needs of Asian ances and murders:' ... there are many cases
women must be recognised and accepted and of daughters, wives or sisters being beaten to
they should be supported so that they do not death, burned or grievously harmed by their
return to the vulnerable and dangerous kin...'(Afshar 1994,133).
situation that they were originally escaping Bradford, located in the North of England,
from. Service providers must take respon- is the fourth largest urban area in England. Its
sibility for addressing the issues and putting population is young - 23.6 per cent are under
the needs of individual Asian women before 16 years old - and growing; it is set to
the needs of the community' (Keighley increase by 6 per cent by the year 2011. The
Domestic Violence Forum (KDVF), 1998). largest minority ethnic group, of Pakistani
The above statement was made by a origin, is projected to increase by 57.7 per cent
Pakistani woman survivor of male violence at between 1998 and 2011 (City of Bradford
a conference, Domestic Violence in Asian Metropolitan District Council (BMC) 1998).
Communities, held in Bradford in 1997. The One in five people in Bradford lives in an area
conference enabled Asian women to express of multiple deprivation characterised by
their anger at the general failure of social poverty, unemployment, poor education,
service providers to acknowledge gender over-crowded housing, crime, drug dealing,
differences in working with Asian communi- the presence of firearms, and prostitution
ties. Academics, community workers, doctors, (BMC 1993 and 1998). Unemployment,
lawyers, nurses, the police, politicians, policy- currently at 6.4 per cent, is particularly
makers, social workers, and teachers were concentrated in the inner city among young
indicted for prioritising 'anti-racist' or people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin
'ethnically sensitive' policy and practice over (BMC 1996a and b). The violence discussed in
women's needs. In so doing, they were this article takes place in such socio-
Religion, male violence, and the control of women: Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford 49

economically deprived 'Muslim residential nisation Women Against Fundamentalism, a

zones' (Lewis 1994), where people of young Pakistani woman asked the non-
Pakistani origin are in the overwhelming Pakistani women present: 'Where were you
majority (Ballard 1994). Ethnicity and religion when I was being harangued and threatened
acquire an independent status, both because [by extremist Islamic men]; why weren't you
the perpetrators of violence explicitly use standing beside me?' The second memory,
both to justify their actions, and because more vivid still, is of the misery in the eyes of
comparable white areas are not marked by another young woman, who told me that she
similar levels or types of violence. was seriously considering suicide because of
The men referred to in this article con- her mother's determination to force her into
stitute only a tiny percentage of the local an 'arranged' marriage.2 She related that
Pakistani Muslim community. The vast nearly every night a man came to the house to
majority remains, as they have always been, 'inspect' her: 'I feel like I'm in a cattle market;
strictly law-abiding in public and non-violent they look me up and down and undress me
in private. However, the violence described is with their eyes; I feel like a whore.'3
of sufficient magnitude to constitute a serious
problem to all residents of the city. The young The research and
age of the perpetrators and the fact that
increasingly, drugs are involved, give further
cause for concern (Khan 1997). The material used in this article was collected
over a four-year period from students
and staff in further and higher education
Writing on sensitive topics institutions; from working women
I acknowledge that some may question the (prostitutes); from survivors of domestic
legitimacy of a white, Western woman writing violence; from police personnel who work
about Pakistani Muslim men's violence in with Asian women fleeing domestic violence
Bradford. Cultural relativists might suggest or forced arranged marriages; from the staff
that the practices of a minority ethnic group of a drugs project for young Asian men; from
cannot be criticised by anyone outside that the staff of an agency for Asian women who
group. Anti-racists might argue that my suffered domestic violence; and from staff of
writing deflects attention from the oppression a children's society working with teenage
of racism, and perpetuates stereotypes. While prostitutes. Methods included participant
I acknowledge such dangers, I am unwilling and non-participant observation at meetings,
to accept the male domination of the conferences, Islamic society events, lectures,
discourse on culture, religion, and violence seminars, focus groups, and interviews.
which renders women's needs - and their Much key information was gathered through
suffering - invisible. Women from minority conversations which enabled speakers to
ethnic groups are seeking alliances with discuss sensitive and sometimes painful
women from other groups; I find myself issues and experiences.
unable, as either social scientist or woman, to Data from small-scale empirical research
ignore their pleas for help. As a social conducted by students of Pakistani origin has
scientist, I agree with Haleh Afshar that a also been used. Like my research, this was
climate of fear and oppression has been conducted in such diverse settings as
created in this area which extends to research informants' homes, schools, domestic violence
and scholarly pursuits (Afshar 1994, 144). units, psychiatric hospitals and day centres,
This has far-reaching implications for the maternity hospitals, drug abuse centres, and
adequacy of academic analysis, social policy, on street corners. One of the most striking
and practice. As a woman, I am motivated by aspects of the research is the high level of
two memories. At a meeting of the orga- congruence between accounts produced by

very disparate informants; so material which Hanmer's argument that it is not only actual
may at first sight appear impressionistic is in violence, but/ear of violence which constrains
fact grounded in the lived reality of Bradford and controls women's behaviour (1978). One
people, particularly Pakistani women.4 young woman gave up her full-time degree
course because she could not cope with the
daily harassment by gangs of about a dozen
Pakistani Muslim male youths. They prevented her reaching her car,
violence in Bradford5 jumping on it, and calling her names such as
'slut' and 'slag'. Her parents were telephoned
The public sphere and harangued as 'bad parents' and 'a
From the 1960s to the present time, there has disgrace to the community'.
been a significant shift from orderly public
protest to overt violence as a response to the The private sphere
situation of the Pakistani community. In the The existence of male violence against women7
1960s and 1970s, Pakistani and white people in the Pakistani community in Bradford is not
united in peaceful protest against the growth surprising, since domestic violence transcends
of right-wing politics in the area and the all social divisions (Hanmer 1978; Hanmer and
'bussing' of immigrant children to schools in Saunders 1993); however, it has been denied
the suburbs. In the 1980s, the focus of protest by religious leaders and other male members
changed to demands for recognition of of the community.8 Nor is it surprising that
religious difference (for the provision of halal traditionally closed communities which feel
meat in schools, for instance). In 1989, the under siege from racism and anti-Islamic
'Rushdie Affair'6 involved a ritual public sentiment from outside (Khanum 1992) should
burning of Salman Rushdie's novel, The seek to preserve an image of themselves as
Satanic Verses, followed by demonstrations harmonious. However, what is shocking to
which degenerated into public disorder. In women in and outside the community is the
1995, gangs of young Pakistani men roamed collusion of religious leaders and employees of
the streets during the local elections, harassing racial equality organisations in the situation.
political rivals and residents. This was Survivors of domestic violence have reported
followed by a campaign against the sex trade that the former tell them to go home and
which started as an organised peaceful protest behave as dutiful wives, and the latter state
but degenerated into gangs violently that interference in domestic issues is outside
harassing working women (prostitutes). The their remit (KDVF1998).
men succeeded in driving the prostitutes(both
black and white, and mostly teenagers) out of Crossing the public-private divide
the area, demonstrating their ability to Violence which crosses the public-private
organise over a wide geographical area and divide is organised and structured through
using Islam as a mobilising force. This Pakistani male networks (termed 'the mobile
'success' may have built on the gang activity phone mob' by Asian women). This is tar-
during the elections to become a contributory
geted at Pakistani people, centres around
factor in encouraging young Muslim men
izzat (family and community honour),9 and
subsequently to engage in the public disorder
involves assertions of misdemeanour or
known as the Bradford Riots (see note 5).
offence on religious grounds. The tactics
Today, violence in the public sphere in deployed include threatening young women's
Bradford is perpetrated by gangs of Pakistani parents in anonymous telephone calls; putting
youths and directed at all sectors of the aggressive pressure on young women to stay
population. However, a favourite target is at home; organising searches for women who
young Asian women, many of whom now have fled home and issuing death threats to
refuse to walk in certain areas. This supports gays and lesbians; and circulating leaflets
Religion, male violence, and the control of women: Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford 51

exhorting Muslim men to rape Sikh women and oppression, it tends towards one of two
and murder homosexuals10. One young extremes: the highly orthodox (reactionary)
woman said that she cannot go out in or the radical (revolutionary).
Bradford to socialise because: 'the harassment
got too much for my parents and my dad Male violence, religion, and the policing
eventually asked me to go outside Bradford of women
for nights out because he couldn't take any All the above factors apply to Pakistani
more'. Others explain male pressure on Muslim men in Bradford, and may go some
women to stay in the home as rational self- way towards explaining their simultaneously
interest. One explained, 'we'd see what they're defensive and aggressive behaviour. One
up to - and what they're up to is adultery, aspect of religion which seems almost immune
having fun and making money from drugs to social change is its disproportionate impact
and prostitution. Obviously, they wouldn't on women relative to men. This is partly a
want their wives to know what's going on, consequence of patriarchy, but also a result of
would they?' (personal conversations). women's central role as transmitters of the
faith to subsequent generations. In Pakistani
communities in Britain, women are central to
Society, culture, and religion cultural, as well as religious, reproduction:
they must be guarded as both custodians of
Religion can be used by individuals, groups, the faith and as carriers of responsibility for
and societies in a variety of ways; it can serve the very survival of a community which sees
to oppress or liberate, to comfort or kill. It is itself under threat. When survival is felt to be
an extremely powerful resource which has at issue, violence often follows.
been intimately involved in the construction
of our world (Allen and Macey 1995). In the It is not entirely surprising, then, that
UK today - partly as a result of the links young men in Bradford police 'their' women
between modernity and secularisation - so rigorously (Alibhai-Brown 1998). In
religion tends to be regarded by the state and Pakistani communities throughout Britain,
other institutions as a personal matter. Muslim men display great concern over
However, this ignores the reality of multi- 'appropriate' female dress and behaviour,
cultural societies containing minority ethnic because these are taken to signify not only
groups to whom religion is a central element women's honour, but that of their families
of identity (Yinger 1986; Rex 1991). It also and of the wider community (Afshar 1994;
ignores the reality of Islam as a significant Kassam 1997). The importance attached to
force in the post-modern world (Kepel 1994; 'appropriate' women's clothing may also
Lewis and Schnapper 1994): it is a source of symbolise the deeper fear of corruption by the
community cohesion, not just of personal West and the threat to traditional values and
strength and hope, to believers (Afshar 1989; morals.11 Even university students are under
Modood 1989; Lutz 1991; Macey 1992). constant surveillance as their male peers form
The form and focus of religion varies and 'intelligence networks' to report inappropriate
is strongly influenced by its wider social dress, immodest behaviour or unapproved
context, so that culture and religion are almost relationships to the community (Ali 1992,119).
inseparable (Afshar 1989; Allen and Macey The relative freedom of university comes at a
1994). The speed and extent of change is an price. However, it is a small price compared
important influence on religion. Fundamen- with that paid by their less privileged peers,
talism tends to gain popularity in situations including those who are forced to flee family,
of rapid change or conflict, and among people friends, and community to escape domestic
in a state of social transition (Macey 1991; violence, those suffering breakdown, and
Neilsen 1984; Robinson 1988). Where religion depression and those who kill themselves.
is involved in struggles against inequality They also include the women who simply

vanish, and those on whose suspicious deaths Young women, particularly those educated
the Coroner's office is unwilling to release in Britain, are able to use both religion and
information (Alibhai-Brown 1998). culture to challenge patriarchal norms and
Like religion, violence is also a powerful achieve their own goals. One young woman
resource. Ann Campbell (1993) argues that recounted how she had demanded access to
male violence bestows rewards including university as a right enshrined in Islamic
social control, normative approval, and an teaching, supporting her statements with
established masculine identity. In Bradford, Qu'ranic references: 'It took me two years,
some young Pakistani men have constructed but in the end they [parents] gave in. I think it
a form of Islamic identity which affords them was mainly to shut me up!' Another
peer-group status, community approval, and postponed an unwanted marriage and gained
control over women. As their female additional education by manipulating
counterparts observe, this enables them 'to Pakistani culture: 'I just kept telling my
have the best of all worlds': 'Western' in their parents how much more I'd be worth in the
attitudes to clothes, alcohol, drugs, and marriage market with a Master's degree'. A
prostitution; 'Muslim' in dealing with service third woman used British culture to defer an
providers and Pakistani women. arranged marriage: 'I've just used what I
learned on the [assertiveness training] course
Women's attitudes to religion, peace, and to handle my Dad. We used to have
transformation screaming rows every night; now I just say to
Women involved in this research were highly him 'I hear what you're saying... however ...
critical of men's (ab)use of Islam to justify ' and I stay really calm ... and he can't hack it,
violence, seeing this as the antithesis of he just doesn't know what to do'. These
religious and cultural teaching. They them- women are constructively combining argu-
selves use religion in a very different way. ments derived from cultural and religious
For example, women's involvement in the practice to achieve some degree of autonomy
Bradford Riots was restricted to two peace- in a potentially highly restrictive situation.
making initiatives. Some women organised a
petition, signed by 172 women, which stated:
'As women we feel sad about what happened Conclusion
at the weekend. We want everybody to listen Notwithstanding the above examples of gains
to each other. We want peace'. Four Asian and by, and for, Muslim women, many pressures
four white women, from the group Interfaith are put on them by both the Pakistani and
Women for Peace, marched through the white communities. Instances of the former
disturbances, carrying candles and a banner may stem from culture, religion, patriarchy,
saying 'Peace' in Arabic, English, and Urdu or any combination of the three. They include
(Allen and Barrett 1996). Such women, far coercion to marry kin from Mirpur; domestic
from being passive victims of community violence; increasing vigilance in policing (and
oppression, confirm Alibhai-Brown's obser- young men's demonstrated ability to track
vation that: 'acts of defiance ... occur daily in down offenders via networks across the UK).
the lives of Muslim women in Northern Examples of pressures rooted in white society
England. Even in the tightest, most vigilant of stem largely from the complex interaction of
communities, women make love, or their own sexism and racism, as well as a genuine desire
form of war, practice "illicit" contraception in not to offend. Whatever the motivation, this
a variety of relationships, make unlikely leads to essentialising minority ethnic com-
friends, have abortions. At the same time the munities and perhaps prioritising 'anti-racist'
men proclaim that such things cannot happen or 'ethnically sensitive' perspectives. The
in Muslim communities, their own hypo- outcome is gender-blind policy and practice
crisies ... conveniently forgotten!' (1992,120). which operate to disadvantage women.
Religion, male violence, and the control of women: Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford 53

For example, when women seek police Pakistani Women in West Yorkshire' in
protection against forced marriages, there is a New Community, Vol. 15, No. 2.
stark choice between responding either to Afshar, H (1994) 'Muslim Women in West
men's demands for the return of 'their' women Yorkshire: Growing up with Real and
or to women's demands for refuge. The two Imaginary Values amidst Conflicting
are not reconcilable. This seems self-evident in Views of Self and Society', Afshar, H and
relation to white people, but racism (some- Maynard, M (eds.) The Dynamics of 'Race'
times in the guise of anti-racism or respect for and Gender: Some Feminist Interventions,
cultural differences) leads to the treatment of Taylor and Francis: London.
black and Asian communities as undifferen- Ali, Y (1992) 'Muslim Women and the Politics
tiated entities unmarked by social divisions of Ethnicity and Culture in Northern
such as class and gender. This approach may England' in Sahgal, G and Yuval-Davis, N
satisfy political and pragmatic expediency, (eds.) Refusing Holy Orders: Women and
but it constitutes a denial of women's human Fundamentalism in Britain, Virago: London.
rights. Pragna Patel blames the dominance of Allen, S and Barrett, J (1996) The Bradford
multi-cultural ideology for the widespread Commission Report, The Bradford Congress,
failure to cut through community obstacles to HMSO: London.
address the needs of Asian women. Her Allen, S and Macey, M (1995) 'Some Issues of
message needs to be heard - and acted on - Race and Ethnicity in the 'New Europe':
by development workers, service providers, Rethinking Sociological Paradigms' in
social scientists, and policy-makers: Brown, P and Crompton, R (eds.) The New
' . . . what multi-culturalism does (in return Europe: Economic Restructuring and Social
for information and votes) is to concede some Exclusion, UCL. Press Ltd: London.
measure of autonomy to community leaders Alibhai-Brown (1998) 'God's Own Vigilantes',
to govern their communities. In reality this The Independent, 12 October 1998.
means that community leaders have most Ballard, R (1994) 'The Emergence of Desh
control over the family, women and children. Pardesh' in Ballard, R (ed.) Desh Pardesh:
Together with the state, community leaders The South Asian Presence in Britain, C. Hurst
define the needs of the minority communities and Co.: London.
then limit and separate progressive voices on Campbell, A (1993) Out of Control: Men,
the grounds of these being inauthentic and Women and Aggression, London: Pandora
westernised. More radical elements of our Choudry, S (1996) Pakistani Women's Experience
community are labelled as extremists. This is of Domestic Violence in Great Britain,
the result of multi-cultural policies. They have Research Findings No. 43, Home Office
had an enormous and devastating impact on Research and Statistics Directorate: London.
women's autonomy and rights ...' (1998,22). City of Bradford Metropolitan District
Council (1993) Areas of stress within Bradford
Marie Macey is a senior lecturer in Sociology in District, Research Section: Bradford.
the Department of Applied Social Studies, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
University of Bradford, BD7 1DP. Fax: +44 (1996a) Bradford and District Economic Profile,,
(1274) 235 690. E-mail: Economic Information Service: Bradford.
City of Bradford Metropolitan District
Council (1996b) Bradford and District
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Political Quarterly, 63:5. 1 The term 'Pakistani' is inaccurate: most of
Macey, M (1995) 'Towards Racial Justice? A the young men referred to in this article
Re-evaluation of Anti-Racism' in Critical are British and, if not actually born in
Social Policy, Vol.l5:2/3, Autumn 1995. England, have spent most of their lives
Macey, M and Moxon, E (1996) 'An here. I retain the term because official
Examination of Anti-Racist and Anti- documents, statistics, and the men them-
Oppressive Theory and Practice in Social selves use it. Their origins, in the Mirpur
Work Education' in British Journal of Social region of Kashmir, remain an important
Work, 26. influence, as does Islam (Afshar 1989;
Modood 1988). Culture and religion are
Modood, T (1989) 'Religious Anger and
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Neilsen, JS (1984) Muslim Immigration and
Religion, male violence, and the control of women: Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford 55

2 This example illustrates the fact that the Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses,
distinction between arranged and forced on the grounds that it was blasphemous.
marriages is not always clear-cut. The Many Muslim men in Britain engaged in
former are traditional among communities widespread protest, including threats of
from the Indian sub-continent and are arson and death against retailers who
widely accepted by young South Asian stocked the book, and public support was
women (Afshar 1989). The latter go against proclaimed for the fatwa issued against
Qu'ranic teaching and are said by Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeni. In
Choudry (1966) to be rare and decreasing. contrast, Muslim women, along with other
However, in Bradford young women are Asian and black women, mainly demon-
put under intense pressure to accept strated in support of the right to free
arranged marriages which sometimes take speech. For a discussion of the longer-term
place without any prior meetings between effects of the 'Rushdie Affair' on Muslim
the partners or after only one meeting in women, see Khanum 1992.
the presence of family. The local Area 7 Women are also implicated in violence
Community Officer (a police-funded post) against women, as both instigators and
currently carries a caseload of 750 Asian perpetrators and, although this is publicly
women fleeing their homes to escape denied, it is testified to by women
violence or forced marriages (KDVF1998). survivors, workers in domestic violence
3 For a more detailed discussion of these agencies, social workers, and health
issues, see Allen and Macey 1995, on social visitors (KDV 1998).
science research; Macey 1995, on anti-racist 8 It is not dear whether domestic violence is
social policy; Macey and Moxon 1996, on increasing or whether it is simply that more
anti-racist social work; and Spadacinni and women are willing or able to speak out
Nichols 1998, on cultural relativism. about it than in the past. What is clear is the
4 It is notable that students of Pakistani association between domestic violence and
origin have considerably more difficulty suicide and the fact that Asian women's
in obtaining information from Pakistani suicide rate in Britain is three times the
people than I do. Some reasons for this national average (Patel 1998).
are touched on in the article, but the fact 9 Although izzat is central to Islamic
is revealing of levels of oppression in culture, the burden of upholding family
Bradford. It also has implications for the and community honour rests solely on
conventional wisdom on matching women (Khanum 1992) and is maintained
ethnicity in research. by 'guarding' women (Afshar 1994).
5 This section rests heavily on The Bradford 10 These are traceable to extremist Islamic
Commission Report, an inquiry into the organisations operating in the UK but
public disorders in Bradford in 1995 (Allen funded from overseas (see Rex 1991 for a
and Barratt 1996), when 300 youths burned broader discussion of the resurgence of
barricades, looted shops, wrecked cars, Islam and its power as a mobilising force).
fire-bombed businesses and issued death 11 All migrant communities ossify and idolise
threats at knife point. The Commission's ideas about their past (Afshar 1994; Shaw
task was to understand why a minor 1994) but change occurs over time. The
policing incident was followed by two Bradford Pakistani community has taken
nights of public disorder, involving steps to resist change, including arranged
violence by young Pakistani men against marriages with close kin from Mirpur
other ethnic groups. To this end, public (around 700 such families are established
meetings were held and evidence taken every year in Bradford) and importing
from about 300 people. Imams who preach a particular version of
6 This refers to demands to ban the sale of Islam (Lewis 1994).

A double-edged sword:
Challenging women's
oppression within Muslim
society in Northern Nigeria
Fatima L. Adatnu
Islamic development NGOsfind it difficult enough to finance their work, because Western donors
are often reluctant to sponsor NGOs with religious affiliations. Muslim women activists working
to achieve development with gender equity face an even greater challenge: they must secure
funding as well as justify their goals to those within their societies who see feminism as a threat.

ntil recently, there has been a muted be elected to the secular central government

U relationship between 'gender and

development' and religion, in spite of
the importance of religion in the lives of many
is being challenged in the name of Islam.
Consequently, Hausa women of Muslim
faith in Northern Nigeria are being left far
women who are the beneficiaries of gender behind, compared with their sisters from the
and development (GAD) programmes. As a South (ibid.).
Muslim woman activist involved in work on Nigeria is a secular state, but the majority
gender issues in Northern Nigeria, I consider of the population in Northern Nigeria are
the issue of religion to be particularly relevant Muslims. The Hausa people are the dominant
to the policy and practice of GAD in Muslim ethnic group in the region. It is estimated that
societies. Because gender issues are both Hausa is the largest ethnic group in Africa,
religious and political concerns in many with a population of 50-60 million (Furniss,
Muslim societies (Hale 1997; Mernissi 1996), 1996). Islam reached Northern Nigeria via
any attempt to reform gender relations that trans-Saharan trade routes, about the eleventh
excludes religion is likely to fail. and twelfth century. By the nineteenth
Currently, Muslim women in many century, Islam had become part of the cultural
communities throughout the world are re- identity of the Hausa (Imam, 1991). The
defining Islam as a legitimate tool for impact of Islam on the Hausa people society
engaging with and tackling gender issues in was deep and widespread, and it is difficult to
Muslim societies (Baden 1992). It is true that separate the two cultures: the Jihad move-
interpretations of Islam have been used by ments of the early nineteenth century, which
leaders in the past, and are still used today, aimed to 'purify' Islam and prevent it mixing
as grounds for refusing women their rights with indigenous traditional beliefs, had a far-
as individuals, including access to secular, reaching impact on Northern Nigeria.
'Western' education and the right to Few attempt to underplay the centrality of
participate equally in politics (Callaway and Islam in determining the position of women
Creevey 1994). In Nigeria, women's right to in Muslim societies, and its impact on the
A double-edged sword: Challenging women's oppression within Muslim society in Northern Nigeria 57

everyday lives of women. In such societies, on women and development in Muslim

ideas about gender relations are derived from societies from Western academic researchers
interpretations of Islam, and these ideas are and media commentators shows a lack of
enacted either through legislation or public understanding and bias (Callaway and
opinion. Matters of central concern to women Creevey 1994; Toynbee 1997), GAD is viewed
such as inheritance, marriage, child custody, with suspicion by some Muslim scholars as
divorce, and other marital relationships are offering a means to the West to wipe out the
governed by Islamic rules in many Muslim values and beliefs of Muslim societies. Some
societies. In Northern Nigeria, the Shari'ah Western writers do indeed suggest that
courts, which practise Islamic personal law, Muslim women may be used to attack Islam
remain the most relevant and widely used and undermine Islamic values. Mervyn
legal system, despite the option of using the Hiskett, for example - a British scholar who
civil court. Legal matters which concern has spent years in Northern Nigeria and who
women in their role as wives and mothers - has written on how to deal with the expansion
for example, disputes over inheritance, of Islam in the West - describes women as the
marriage, divorce, and child custody - are 'Islam's Achilles' heel'; his solution is the
therefore commonly conducted or resolved assimilation of Muslim women into 'Western'
within the Islamic legal system rather than culture (Faruqi 1994).
the parallel Nigerian civil legal system. Bugaje, a Nigerian Islamic scholar, who is a
In questioning such issues, Muslim liberal on gender issues, echoed these
feminists have found themselves in the middle suspicions in his 1997 discussion of women's
of a conflict between Islam and the 'Wesf, empowerment: 'these two decades, during
facing a double-edged sword. The importance which the UN championed the globalisation
and relevance of women's participation in the of women's issues, happened to be the two
Islamic movement, and the emergence of decades during which the UN became
Islamic women's movements in the Muslim increasingly a tool in the hands of a few
world, have been interpreted by some as 'an Western nations who were using it to achieve
ambiguous political struggle', where women their selfish political goals. ... This left many
are on the one hand 'fighting actively against Muslims unsure about the role of the UN in
their inequality, but on the other [are] respect of women's issues' (Bugaje 1997, 9).
accepting or supporting their own sub- While I would wish to challenge such general
ordination' (Duval 1997, 39). But despite suspicions on the part of Muslim scholars,
conflicting interpretations of our struggle, the they are borne out to some extent by certain
fact of the matter is that Muslim women UN documents dealing with women, which
activists are confronting issues of concern to emphasise individual rights more than
the generality of Muslim women; and we are responsibilities and community rights.
doing so in our own way. This article is my Moreover, the incompatibility of the docu-
personal reflection on this struggle. What are ments with some Islamic values - especially
the consequences for women who attempt to regarding inheritance law, moral values and
reform gender relations in Muslim societies? practice, and the role and nature of the family
What problems do we encounter, and how do - is apparent. For instance, Article 15.4 of the
they relate to the ideas, plans, and UN Convention on the Elimination of all
programmes of GAD? Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW) says: 'States Parties shall accord to
men and to women the same rights with
GAD, Islam, and the West regard to the law relating to the movement of
GAD can be seen as a battlefield in which the persons and the freedom to choose their
conflict between Islam and the West is played residence and domicile'. While this may seem
out in Muslim societies. While much writing reasonable, problems arise in practice for

Muslim women, since it is incompatible with in orientation, and contrary to Islamic

Islamic ideas of household relations, and the principle. Perhaps more importantly, it is
division of responsibility between husband unrealistic. The lives of. women in many
and wife. Once a marriage contract is fully Muslim societies, including those of Northern
concluded and enacted, it is the husband's Nigeria, challenge the idea of considering
responsibility to provide the material and gender issues separately from religion: Islam
sexual needs of his wife. In return, the is not just a religion to which we claim
movements and activities of the wife outside allegiance, or which we mark through
the household need the consent of the performing rituals. It is a total way of life, and
husband. In Hausa society, the principle of we aspire to conduct our lives according to its
male responsibility for maintenance is teachings. In her study of the influence of
reinforced by the fact that it is seen as socially Islam and Western education on women in
appropriate for a wife to seek divorce if her Sokoto, northern Nigeria, Knipp (1987)
husband fails to support her. Records from identifies three categories of women: non-
courts in Sokoto from 1988 to 1998 shows that Western-educated women, young women,
53 per cent of the civil cases brought before and professional women. Some of their
the court (not all of which are concerned with words are presented here.
divorce) are maintenance-related. A non-Western-educated woman says:
Other principles adopted in international 'Islam is a great influence on what I say and
documents carry similar messages. In the do, what my relation is supposed to be with
Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advance- my husband, my family1 and my children'
ment of Women, agreed at the Third World (ibid., 407). Another woman explains: 'Most
Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1991, the things that you do in life are guided by the
50th paragraph agrees that women should religion: whatever you do, you do for God's
have equal rights with men in matters of sake. ... Islam is my religion ... it guides one
inheritance. This is incompatible with the as to how he's going to lead his life' (ibid.,
Islamic law of inheritance, which gives 139-140). A young university student says
women half of what men inherit due to the that '... every single thing, how to enter a
laws regarding men's responsibility to toilet, how to stay with others, how to acquire
maintain women. knowledge, everything is in the Qur'an ...
Moreover, UN documents do not recognise personally, to me, Qur'an is everything'
the abuse of women's economic rights (ibid., 277). One professional women states:
inherent within the current Western devel- 'Islam is a way of life, not a part of life;
opment model. They therefore fail as an whatever I do, I hope it conforms with the
instrument for Muslim women to use in religion, so more or less all my behaviour, all
fighting the mismanagement and exploi- my acts, I'm praying they conform with
tation of resources in the developing world, the religion. It is more or less my own way of
both by the elites within those societies, and life' (ibid., 406). It can be seen from these
those in the West. words that any GAD initiative which is
based on the idea of a separation between
women's religious and gender identities
The practical implications will risk alienating and excluding many
of ignoring Islam for GAD Muslim women.
work An example from my own experience of
Even if such suspicions are unfounded, and an initiative which tried to operate in this
GAD programmes are not in principle way is the Family Economic Advancement
intended to undermine Islamic values, the Programme (FEAP), part of the Nigerian
exclusion of religion from development government's poverty-alleviation programme.
discourse and practice is in itself Western Since 1996, the government has designated
A double-edged sword: Challenging women's oppression within Muslim society in Northern Nigeria 59

millions of US dollars to assist women with 'Partnership', donors, and

credit to improve their income-generation religious NGOs
activities. In order to receive this credit,
people are required to form cooperative My concern as a Muslim gender activist has
societies. By this condition, those Muslim increased in the course of interaction with
women in the north who practise purdah some funding organisations. Much has been
(seclusion) are excluded. In 1998, when I was said about the idea of 'partnership' between
conducting research in Sokoto state, northern donors and local NGOs. Although it is an
Nigeria, many Muslim women in this improvement upon the previous relationship
situation asked me to assist them in forming between donors and NGOs, we still need to
cooperative societies, in order to meet the make progress. The organisations and sectors
credit requirement. The volume of such of work which are successful in attaining
requests overwhelmed me; I contacted the funding are still chosen almost exclusively by
relevant authorities about this matter, and the donors, who define their areas of interest,
they promised to look into the case. We while local NGOs struggle to fit in. In
started to discuss the idea of getting around desperate need of money, some NGOs re-
the problem of seclusion by forming a adjust their areas of interest to accommodate
cooperative society within an extended or the donors' interest, even if this means their
polygynous household (which is the work is less useful in responding to the
dominant household form in this area). This pressing areas of need in the community.
idea would depend on whether women In the 1980s, my experience was that many
wished to work with each other in this way funding organisations chose not to work with
within a household; it would also involve Islamic women's organisations because of
visiting individual households in order to their religious orientation. Although this has
make them aware of the opportunity to gain changed somewhat, this reluctance still
access to credit, in addition to discussing the resurfaces regularly when interacting with
usual difficulties and problems that may some of them. For example, in March 1998 I
arise. I left the country to study abroad attended a workshop on capacity-building
shortly afterwards, and do not yet know the and possible partnerships for northern
outcome of the discussion and the authority's Nigerian NGOs, as part of a project run by
final decision. If my research had not the British government's Department for
coincided with the implementation of International Development (DFID).2 When
FEAP, these women might have been the NGOs were divided into groups,
overlooked, as was the case with other according to the workshop methodology, a
women's development programmes. disagreement erupted over a request from
Many GAD programmes are substantially some participants that there should be a
funded by international funding organisa- group of religious NGOs (some of us were
tions, the majority of which are from Western representing Islamic and Christian organisa-
societies. For Muslim women activists, who tions). Those opposed to our being grouped
need money to fund our programmes, this together argued that we had been invited
presents a challenge: we must strike a balance not because of our religious affiliations, but
between meeting the requirements of the in our capacity as NGOs involved with
funding organisations and carrying out our women's development initiatives. We wanted
work, as well as balancing this with the to know what was wrong with being a
opposition we encounter from some quarters religious NGO, and who should define the
of our societies. This is an enormous and identity of NGOs - themselves, or funders?
difficult task; at the centre of it is our concern Do NGOs with a firm rooting in a religion
for the condition of the women with whom have to appear to change their identity in
we are working. order to satisfy the donors?

Even after an area of work is mutually for a fairer society. However, many question
identified by a donor and a local NGO which GAD programmes on principle, viewing
is based on religion, and after funding is them as illegitimate because they are
agreed, other problems concerned with the 'Western'. In line with this, Muslim women
issue of religion may arise in the activists, including myself, may be branded
implementation. For instance, in 1994, the Western agents, funded by foreign powers to
director of a US-based funding organisation undermine Islam. As a result of this attitude,
visited the state where I worked, in search of and funders' mistrust of organisations which
NGOs with whom to work. During his visit, have a religious affiliation, the concerns of
he made a presentation to representatives of Muslim women remain unacknowledged
different NGOs on the areas of work for and unaddressed. As it is said, 'when two
which funding would be provided. Our NGO elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers'.
looked at the areas and - although we were A weakness of many so-called 'gender
not comfortable with some components in and development' programmes is that by
many of them - in consideration of our local targeting women and women's issues only,
needs, we decided to collaborate with the and by excluding men and other issues of
donor in the area of health-care. One of the wider social interest from the gender/
uncomfortable aspects of this area was the development discourse and practice, an
funder's expectation that we would integrate impression is created that women are the
a family-planning component. Our NGO's only sex vulnerable to Western influence. In
stand on the issue has been that family- my experience, this may increase Muslim
planning is a private affair, with no imposi- communities' suspicion about what 'gender
tion from any organisation or authority. We issues' mean, and harden their stand against
duly expressed our concern to the funders, interventions which promote women's
and a consensus was reached in principle. interests and needs. Focusing on women's
However, in practice it was a challenge to rights is seen as a means of diverting
work with the donor because the project, attention from the pressing economic and
consisting of all the components that the political problems facing many members of
donor expected to see, and its funding, Muslim societies, especially in the South and
operated as one system; as one part was East. Not only are international economic
affected, so also were the others. and political bodies involved in this, but local
While we were having difficulties in elites are also implicated. In the name of
dealing with the funding organisation, we preserving 'tradition', they use the issue of
had to face another problem of opposition women the debate about women's rights to
and resentment from the community in legitimise their position, and to divert the
which we were working. In particular, the attention of ordinary people from the soaring
presence of a vehicle that belonged to an unemployment and political oppression that
American funding organisation on our characterise their lives.
organisation's premises was misinterpreted Finally, the difficult and fragile relation-
by visitors as an indication that we might be ship between Islamic women's organisations
bought or used by the USA against Islam. and international donor organisations, which
are predominately from Western societies
Lessons and conclusion with a Christian heritage, perpetuates the
marginalisation of Muslim women activists
In my experience, few women or men in in the transformation of their society and
Muslim communities disagree with the religion. Since, as I have discussed, Islam is a
content of GAD programmes which address religion which embraces all aspects of
women's practical needs and interests, or Muslim women's lives, and shapes their
even the reform of gender relations, aiming experiences, any GAD initiative that
A double-edged sword: Challenging women's oppression within Muslim society in Northern Nigeria 61

attempts to exclude religious concerns from Hale, S (1997) Gender Politics in Sudan:
its planning or implementation is likely to Islamism Socialism and the State, Westview
exclude Muslim women, and to record a low Press: Boulder.
level of success in addressing their practical Knipp, M (1987) Women, Western Education
needs and long-term interests. and Change: A Case Study of the Hausa-
Fulani of Northern Nigeria, DPhil
Fatima L Adamu is a lecturer in Sociology at Dissertation, North Western University.
Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, Mernissi, Fatimah (1996) Women's Rebellion
Nigeria, currently studying for her PhD at the and Islamic Memory, Zed Books: London.
University of Bradford. She is Secretary of the Thiam, A (1991) Speak Out, Black Sisters:
women's health research network in Nigeria, Feminism and Oppression in Black Africa,
Sokoto state, and has served on many translated by Dorothy S Blair, Pluto Press:
government committees on family, women, and London.
education. You can contact her at the DPPC, Toynbee, P (1997) 'In defence of Islamophobia',
University of Bradford, BD7 1DP, e-mail: The Independent, 23 October 1998, p. 23.; or at the Dept. of
Sociology, Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University,
Sokoto, Nigeria, tel. ++234 (60) 234315, e-mail:Notes ng 1 When a Hausa woman says 'family', she is
referring to her parents' family, not her
marital family, hence the reference to
'husband and my children' as different to
Baden, S (1992) The Position of Women In 'my family'.
Islamic Countries - Possibilities, Constraints 2 The theme of the workshop was 'Capacity
and Strategies for Change , Briefing on Building for Decentralised Development'.
Development and Gender, Report No. 4, It took place in Kano, 10-12 February 1998.
prepared for special programme, WID,
Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(DGIS), 1994.
Bugaje, U (1997) 'Women's empowerment
and Islam', paper presented at a
symposium on Islam and contemporary
issues, organised by the Movement for
Islamic Culture and Awareness, Nigeria.
Callaway, B and Creevey, L (1994) The
Heritage of Islam, Women, Religion and
Politics in West Africa, Lynne Rienner
Publishers: London.
Duval, S (1997) 'New veils and new voices:
Islamist women's groups in Egypt' in
Ask, K and Tjomsland, M (eds.) Women
and Islamisation - Carving a New Space in
Muslim Societies, Chr. Michelsen Institute
report series No. 3.
Faruqi, MH (1994) 'Turning xenophobia into
social policy - a review of Some to Mecca
Turn to Pray: Islamic Values in the Modern
World by M. Hiskett (The Claridges Press)'
in Impact International, Vol 24, No 3.

Gender and development

from a Christian
Experience from World Vision
Linda Tripp
Following the example of Christ, who fed the hungry and clothed the poor, the staff and managers
of World Vision attempt to incorporate religious faith into their development work as well as their
organisational practice. Linda Tripp argues that a spiritual message, combined with practical
support, can be more effective in improving the lives of poor people than purely technical help.

n North America, and (I presume) much of

orphaned or abandoned. Deeply moved, he
Europe, while many still describe them- wrote in his Bible, 'Let my heart be broken
selves as Christian, the outward expression with the things that break the heart of God'.
of faith and the role of spirituality in daily life His motivation led to the setting up of the
have become almost non-existent for most World Vision Child Sponsorship Programme.
people. The role of spirituality and religion is Expanding from that early work with Korean
deliberately and vigorously kept separate orphanages, World Vision now works at
from the 'real' work of development. However, community level in 100 countries, in
where faith is an integral part of daily living partnership with local organisations.
for women and men in communities, and for Both the organisation's core values and its
many development workers, such a separation mission statement confirm that World Vision is
is not so easily established or maintained. a Christian organisation (Core Values, 22
Giving biblical evidence of Jesus' positive September 1989); our work includes 'transfor-
attitude to women's status and needs is a key mational development1, emergency relief,
strategy in promoting our policy on gender and promotion of justice2, public awareness,
with our own staff, partner organisations and and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ'
with communities in the countries where we (Mission Statement, 17 September 1992). The
work. I also discuss how World Vision itself policies of World Vision reflect a desire to be
has developed its organisational position on Christ-like in the world. In Christ, we have a
these issues. role model who healed the sick, fed the
hungry, clothed the naked, and comforted the
outcast, and whose message was about
The organisation restoring relationships and reconciliation.
World Vision was founded in the US in 1950 To protect and preserve this Christian ethos
during the Korean War. World Vision's and ensure that our work remains grounded
founder, Bob Pierce, witnessed the terrible in our faith, prayer, and Bible study and
plight of thousands of children who were teaching are elements of various meetings
Gender and development from a Christian perspective: Experience from World Vision 63

and discussions. World Vision staff around In one particular discussion, I stated that
the world participate in daily devotions and World Vision would not be the evangelists of
weekly chapel services. CIDA's doctrine. When my startled govern-
World Vision is not affiliated with any one ment colleague demanded clarification of my
denomination or church; it is trans- comment, I explained that CIDA wants NGOs
denominational, with staff representing all to focus only on the physical aspects of
Protestant denominations as well as the development - food, water, health-care,
Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. agriculture, and so on. Yet the vast majority of
Staff around the world, including leadership, people with whom we work in development
are predominantly nationals,3 who demon- regard the spiritual realm as equally relevant
strate that, whether you are from Africa, Asia, to daily life, whether they are Christian,
Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, or Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Animist. To have
North America, you need not give up your a relationship with these people, to respect
culture to be a Christian. their culture, their wisdom, and their expe-
rience, demanded that we also acknowledge
However, while Christianity defines our
the spiritual dimensions of their lives. To
organisation's ethos and values, we believe
promote a secular approach to life would be
that Christians cannot exclude the possibility
an insult to them, and inconsistent with our
of working with groups of other religious or
commitment to holistic development.
spiritual beliefs. Our work brings us into
contact with every major religion throughout In his paper Rethinking a Christian Response
the world, and with hundreds of different to the Poor, Jayakumar Christian, a senior
cultures. World Vision forges partnerships, as member of World Vision India, argues that
appropriate, with women's groups, commu- 'the very nature of poverty demands a spiritual
nity leadership, local government, other response' (Christian 1995). He sees poverty as
religious groups, NGOs, international bodies, the result of broken relationships, a distorted
and the local church. In addition, in countriesinterpretation of history, an inadequate world-
where the Christian population is very small view of people, exploitation, of poor people's
and local staff are likely to be non-Christian,marred identity, and their entrapment in a
it is important that they feel comfortable withweb of lies. He says, 'Breaking the poverty
the values and practices of the organisation. cycle - whether economically, socially or
spiritually - is a threat to those who benefit
by keeping the poor underfoot. Being an
Words and deeds: active Christian organisation requires that
linking Christianity and World Vision embraces a wide definition of
justice and injustice. This can take the form of
spiritual injustice as well as physical' (ibid.).
In 1993, the Canadian International Devel- We argued that, where a strong spiritual
opment Agency (CIDA), the government belief sustains a practice which is harmful,
agency which distributes and monitors only a spiritual response is appropriate. For
Canada's overseas development assistance, example, in a relatively isolated area of Haiti
initiated a dialogue with Canadian Christian in the 1970s, World Vision found out why a
NGOs with a view to establishing clearer high number of babies were dying of tetanus
guidelines for working together. The shortly after birth. Midwives were applying
Christian NGOs welcomed this opportunity, mud to the cut umbilical cord to prevent evil
and for the next two years participated in spirits from entering the new-born. Talk of
lively debates, presented thoughtful papers germs and infection fell on deaf ears: the
and invited field partners to explore together practice had a spiritual basis, and needed a
with CIDA the role of spirituality in the spiritual response. World Vision staff shared
development process. their experience of a loving God who was more

powerful than the evil spirits. They explained human rights, or sustains misconceptions or
that the mud was unnecessary, since with ignorance, is not tolerable. At least half of
proper care and love the baby would be those living in poverty are women and girls.
strong; but the decision was left to the Their poverty is perpetuated by the denial of
women. For many of them, the message of a access to resources and services, including
God of love, not fear, was a liberating one, education and health-care, and justified by
and they decided to stop the practice. culture and tradition. A concern for gender
In a bold move, CIDA strongly endorsed issues and women's poverty is therefore a
the role of Christian NGOs, and the role of concern about the roles and relationships
spirituality in the development process. which regulate women and men in their daily
These are two of the 22 points contained in lives and about how these relationships
the final CIDA document, Christian NGOs and support or subjugate, empower or deny the
CIDA: Guiding Principles, Understandings and individual to engage fully in life - physically,
Affirmations (October 1995): socially, and spiritually.
In Tanzania during the early and mid-1990s,
'CIDA recognises that faith-based organ-
World Vision implemented a Child Survival
isations and institutions are an integral
Programme. During the final evaluation,
and legitimate part of a healthy and
carried out by Tanzanian staff, various
resilient civil society, and have an
important role play in the development members of the village were asked what
process. impact the programme had on them. An old
woman, gave a startling response. She said
'Christian NGOs believe that spirituality, that as a result of the programme, old women
belief systems, values and religion play an were no longer being killed. In that region,
important role in the development process. when a child died, the parents paid a witch
CIDA also recognises that there is a
doctor for advice, who would blame the
spiritual dimension to the development
death on an old woman in the village, and
process, and accepts that Christian NGOs
state that unless she was killed other children
and their southern partners often integrate
in the family would be afflicted and die.
this dimension into their relief and
development programming' (CIDA 1995). Because the Child Survival Programme had
greatly enhanced children's health and
The 22 statements in the document address survival, very few old women were
religion and development, evangelism and subsequently blamed and killed.
development, culturally sustainable devel- Staff in Tanzania felt they had to make a
opment, partnership, women and visible choice. Should they simply be thankful that
minorities, and development education. the children were healthier, and that as a
While other governments, including the result, old women were no longer persecuted
United Kingdom and Australia, followed this and killed? Or should they address a belief-
dialogue with interest, to my knowledge none system that killed innocent and vulnerable
has initiated a similar process. old women? They decided that the belief
required a spiritual response. World Vision
workers then began a dialogue with the
Integrating gender issues
leaders and people of that region, addressing
into our work the question of the value of a belief that
The ways in which World Vision's Christian required that old women be sacrificed to
faith plays a part in the development process, appease a spirit or break a curse. It is out of
and more specifically in gender and develop- shared experiences and respect for one
ment, are as varied as our programmes. Most another that we can explore the root causes of
development practitioners would agree that a many of the attitudes and traditions that keep
situation where culture or attitude denies basic women in a kind of bondage.
Gender and development from a Christian perspective: Experience from World Vision 65

Integrating gender issues in Development at the international level was

World Vision and beyond an encouraging milestone: the incumbent is a
woman, and she is from India. World Vision
During the 1980s, many initiatives in all areas still has a long way to go in terms of creating
of World Vision's work aimed to address a fully integrated organisation with respect to
women's particular needs and issues, both at women in leadership and programmes.
the programme level as well as within the However, the policies are in place, and we are
organisation's structure. But it was not until working on getting it right.
1989, thanks to the vision - and tenacity - of a
few people, that gender issues became a
priority for World Vision's Council and Using biblical evidence to
International Board. A Women's Commission promote gender equality
was appointed. This was a body of ten staff,
Going through the process of developing a
women and men drawn from field offices,
policy on gender issues did not guarantee
senior management, and programme support.
that this would be enacted across the
I had the privilege of being a member. Our
organisation. Achieving an understanding of
mandate was threefold: first, to develop a
gender issues, and acting accordingly, is
policy that addressed the lack of women in
about more than legislating certain criteria or
leadership both in programming and organ-
quotas. It is about a change in attitude. Given
isational structure; second, to develop a
the diversity in cultures and Christian
strategy to implement the policy; and third,
expression within the organisation, it would
to write a theological reflection paper that
have been naive to assume that everyone
would provide a biblical foundation for the
everywhere shared the same understanding.
policy. We wrote a devotional guide on
But given our common acceptance of Jesus'
women in the Bible for use in daily prayer
life and teachings as central to our
groups, and produced a video and discussion
organisational ethos, we could appeal to his
guide that was sent to every office and Board
treatment of and engagement with women as
with a draft policy for discussion. We invited
a basis for mutual discussion and learning.
feedback, and received volumes of responses.
Clearly, we had touched a nerve. Jesus is widely recognised, among
Christians and others, as a wise and profound
Within two years, the Women's teacher. But he is rarely referred to as a
Commission had fulfilled its mandate. We feminist. However, he did repeatedly defy his
developed a gender policy, and designed a own culture to support, heal, teach, and act as
strategy for implementation that acknowl- an advocate for women - often at his peril.
edged the diversity of cultural and legal He exposed the hypocrisy of those who
systems within which World Vision offices would keep women subjugated,
operate. Our theological reflection paper was marginalised, and silent. His treatment of
published as a study guide, Women as Leaders, women challenged the status quo and put
based on the work of Katherine Haubert, a him at odds with Jewish traditions and laws.
theological student at the time. Both the
policy and the study guide were distributed Jesus challenging existing gender relations
throughout the World Vision Partnership.4 In the Book of Mark, the Bible gives us an
Implementation of our gender policy account of Jesus as a healer, curing a woman
continues to be a slow process, involving who had suffered from uncontrollable
awareness-building, attitudinal change, and bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5, 25-34). It is
resource-allocation, to ensure that the barriers likely that this woman lived in the shadows,
and prejudices that prevent women from full bowed down, ashamed, avoiding the sneers
participation are dismantled. The appoint- of pity or disgust. It must have taken great
ment last year of a Director of Gender and courage for her to work her way through the

crowd, to touch the hem of Jesus' robe in the (chapter 10, 38-42). In this account of Jesus as
hope and faith that this action would heal teacher, Mary and Martha are sisters who
her. This story demonstrates how Jesus often opened their home to Jesus. Martha is
defied Jewish laws on gender relations to anxious that Mary is spending time with Jesus,
meet a woman's needs - Jewish men were listening to his teaching, rather than helping
forbidden to speak with strange women in her to prepare the meal. Jesus' response to her
public, and any Jewish man touched by a goes against the grain of gender norms in his
woman who was menstruating was required society. Women were normally denied the
to cleanse himself because women in this lively debates that occupied men and
state were considered unclean. religious leaders. In this story, Jesus says that
In Mark's account, Jesus calls the woman what Mary has chosen to do, is not only
to him, sensing that his robe had been necessary and positive, but that 'it will not be
touched. Frightened and trembling, she denied her'. In other words, she had a right to
approaches. Falling before him, she admits it sit at the feet of the teacher. By declaring that
was she who touched him - but says that she Mary should be allowed to learn, to explore,
has been healed. Jesus addresses her with and to expand her mind, Jesus was again
tenderness, calling her his daughter, and tells setting a different course for women.
her to 'go in peace, and be healed of your This account gives a powerful signal to
affliction'. Mark states that Jesus was on an Christians in modern society to promote
important mission at the time of this education and participation in public life for
encounter, going to the home of the ruler of women. The vast majority of children who
the synagogue to heal his sick daughter. But are denied an education are girls, and the
he took the time to speak, to offer affirmation majority of illiterate adults are women (Leach
and encouragement to a woman who was 1998). Yet not only is education a human right
without status or means. Culture and of girls, it is a crucial means of breaking the
tradition do not take precedence in this story poverty cycle. It has been stated many times
over giving a poor, outcast woman both the that investing in girls' education is the most
physical healing she needed, and the spiritual important investment the world can make.
affirmation that her faith was important and During 1998 World Vision had at least 75
that she should know peace in her life. projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the
In line with this story, for over 25 years, Middle East, and Eastern Europe which
World Vision has supported the Fistula focused primarily on the girl child, or where
Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the girl child was one specific programme
young women are healed of injuries and component. These projects aim to enable
incontinence which are caused by protracted thousands of girls to enrol and stay in school,
labour, and associated with early marriage avoiding early marriage and exploitative
and immature body development. The work, while developing skills that will allow
hospital is led by staff who believe that the them a greater degree of independence than
surgery, as well as the emotional and mental their mothers.
support which they offer to fistula patients, is
a practical act of love. They see themselves as Jesus addressing women's sexual
being the hands and feet of Jesus, and doing exploitation
what he would do. The Book of John (chapter 8, 2-11) offers an
account of Jesus' advocacy on behalf of
Jesus promoting women's involvement in women involved in sexual activity which
the 'public sphere' would normally be condemned by society. A
An example of Jesus' attitudes to women's woman caught in the act of adultery (sex
education, and their involvement in activities outside marriage) is brought to Jesus;
beyond the home, is given in the book of Luke tradition dictates that she should be stoned to
Gender and development from a Christian perspective: Experience from World Vision 67

death. Jewish religious leaders wanted to use important thing Alice taught me is that God
this occasion to trap Jesus into a direct loves me. And now I know that when he
challenge to this tradition. However, John looks at me he sees a beautiful flower.'
tells us that Jesus turned the tables on the This ability to overcome external obstacles
religious leaders. He refused to exonerate the and to discover one's inner strength, beauty,
woman, but at the same time demanded, 'he and dignity is what transformational
who is without sin should cast the first stone'. development is all about.
In doing so, he saved the woman's life. Then
he went on to say that since the men no
longer condemned her, shamed by the
Questioning misogyny
recognition of their own guilt, neither did justified by biblical
Jesus. He ends the encounter by telling the evidence
woman to 'go and sin no more'. One would be ill-advised to discuss the role
When girls or women are forced into of women in a Christian context and not
earning money by selling sexual services to mention the apostle Paul. Many of the
survive, or are deceived and trafficked into arguments against women in leadership stem
such work, many lose their sense of dignity from particular interpretations of Paul's
and self-worth. In working with street teaching. Much emphasis has been given in
children and girls rescued from the sex trade, the past to Paul's statements about women
World Vision becomes their advocate against submitting to husbands, keeping silent, and
pimps and racketeers. Often, their emotional not teaching. However, for many women
and psychological healing is enhanced by the who are gifted and called to a ministry of
knowledge of a loving and personal God. An teaching, preaching, and leadership, the
example of this that will always stand out in growing body of literature interpreting Paul
my mind was an encounter I had with a as a supporter of women is vindicating.
woman from Labadi, a slum in Accra, Ghana, Many scholars now argue that Paul acknowl-
where World Vision funded a women's edged the role women played both in
group to generate income through activities leadership and as friends and followers of
including baking bread, tie-dyeing textiles, Jesus, pointing to statements such as, 'there is
and making charcoal. At one meeting I no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male
attended, this woman told her story: nor female - but we are all one in Christ'
'When Alice Yerenki came from World (Galatians 3, 26-29). The debate will continue
Vision offering to teach various skills that in many fora - but in World Vision it is stated
would allow us to abandon prostitution and in key documents, including the Policy on
earn money to feed and educate our children, Gender and Development, that we accept the
I just laughed. This would be one more giftedness of women equal to that of men and
empty promise. All I had known was neglect, seek to benefit from all that women and men
violence and abuse. Only my children kept have to offer the work of bringing help and
me from suicide. Who would care for them? hope to suffering people.
It took some time to convince me, but I finally
decided to risk it, to believe that Alice really
cared. It was like a small seed was planted Conclusions
inside, and I felt both hope and fear. But Alice Having gone through the process of
kept her word. She taught me how to bake developing our gender policy, I would offer
bread. Now I am earning money and I no two observations. From the outset, the
longer prostitute myself to men who treat me governing bodies of the organisation agreed
like trash. My children are in school, and they that the starting point for the policy was that
are happy and healthy.' Then, as tears flowed God created women and men in his image -
down her scarred face, she said, 'But the most gifting both with skills to lead, teach, and

preach. Having this fundamental position to perceptions of themselves, including of

work from spared the Women's Commission their value and worth as human beings.
and the organisation long and painful Development changes both external cicum-
debates about the role of women and their stances and internal mind-sets, freeing
right to lead. We could get on with the task of people to realise their true potential.
actually developing policy and strategy. 2 Advocacy has become a significant focus
The tension between policy and attitude is of World Vision's work campaigning on
common to most efforts to achieve gender issues such as the land mines, child sexual
equality - Christian and non-Christian. But exploitation, the needs and rights of
for management and staff working to children of war, child soldiers, and girl
promote gender issues within World Vision, children, and debt-forgiveness or debt-
being able to use Jesus' teaching and example reduction of highly-indebted countries.
has given credibility and strength to the 3 World Vision's total staff globally number
organisation's commitment to gender just over 9000. Of these, only 402 are
equality. World Vision will continue to expatriates in their countries of work.
implement good development practices and 4 Copies are available from World
gender-sensitive programmes. The combi- Vision/MARC Publications, 800 West
nation of being Christian and struggling with Chestnut Avenue, Monrovia, California
the issue of gender equity allows World 91016-3198. Phone: 626-301-7720;
Vision to play a unique role in development,
fax: 626-301-7786. Web site: http://
addressing the spiritual dimensions as well as
the social and political. Christian beliefs are
not a detriment to pursuing gender equity. In
fact, they can be an asset.

Linda Tripp is Vice President of Advocacy and

Government Relations at World Vision Canada.
You can contact her at: World Vision Canada,
6630 Turner Valley Road, Mississauga, Ontario,
Canada L5N 2S4. Phone: +1 (905) 821 3033
ext. 2713. Fax: +1 (905) 821 1825. E-mail:

Christian, J (1995) 'Rethinking a Christian
response to the poor', paper written as
part of a PhD thesis, Fuller Theological
Seminary, California.
Leach, F (1998) 'Gender, education, and
training: an international perspective' in
Gender and Development Vol. 6, No. 2,
Education and Training,, Oxfam GB: Oxford.

1 Here defined as development which
addresses not just the physical circum-
stances of people's lives, but people's own

Islam and development:

Opportunities and constraints for
Somali women
Sadia Ahmed
Economic and social crisis can force communities to seek refuge in religious faith; in such
situations, communities become more susceptible to the influence of groups which use religious
beliefs as a means to gain power. Sadia Ahmed describes the effects on women's lives of the rise of
Islamic extremism in Somalia since the early 1990s.

n 1991, after 21 years of Siyad Barre's dicta- transactions, and women's role in the economy

I torial regime, sodal and political upheavals

brought Somalia to its knees: civil strife
shredded the country into factions and the
seemed less significant than was actually the
case. However, when it became difficult for
men to travel for fear of government troops,
government finally collapsed, with disastrous the task of marketing livestock and buying
consequences (for an account of the conflict, foodstuffs and other goods for the family was
see Bradbury 1994). The conflict had a increasingly - and continues to be - left to
profound effect on the lives of the Somali women (Warsame 1998). In urban areas, too,
people by destroying traditional economic women's role in the economy became more
systems, thus challenging women and men to visible. Today, although their incomes are
change their respective economic roles. generally low and the majority of female
Over the past two decades, extreme entrepreneurs have little or no education,
Islamic movements have gained momentum women are increasingly forced to become the
in Somalia (as elsewhere). I will examine some main breadwinner. The collapse of govern-
of the consequences for women of the rise of ment has led to widespread unemployment
such groups, based on research carried out in among civil servants, and has forced more
1996 by a coalition of grassroots women's women into the market-place, pressurised to
organisations in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. meet their families' needs. The government
was the main employer in Somalia; the volun-
tary and private sectors are relatively small.
Challenges to gender
The rise of religious
Somalia's economy is mainly dependent on
pastoralism. In the rural areas, livestock trade
continues to be the backbone of the economy. The rise of religious extremist groups in
Before the war, women from pastoralist groups Somalia began in the early 1970s, when the
were not usually directly involved in market communist regime introduced the ideology of

scientific socialism. A rebel movement pro- Throughout the conflict and afterwards,
moting Islamic values arose; this was generally Somali women's organisations in different
welcomed by people, who saw it as shoring parts of the country have been active in both
up 'Somali' religious values and culture, and development work and advocacy for peace.
who felt a deep antipathy towards com- Currently, women's groups are challenging
munism. Government crack-downs on this both the government and NGOs to recognise
movement created further sympathy among and promote the role of women in society,
the public, but over the years, support for and to resist threats to their rights. Challenges
Islamic groups has waned. Judging from my have been made by religious extremists to
own conversations with Somalis, these groups women's rights within marriage and the
are commonly perceived to be foreign-funded family, to their economic and political
participation outside the home, and to their
and programmed. People also think that their
freedom of dress and behaviour.
agendas are incompatible with the interests of
the Somali state. Extremists' mistakes, such as In 1996, a coalition of women's grassroots
openly showing disrespect towards well- organisations in Mogadishu conducted a
respected religious institutions, have led to study on Somali women's rights from the
further disillusionment on the part of the perspective of Islam. The study was motivated
public. It has not proved easy to impose an by a concern about the increasing number of
extremist agenda on people who have been fundamentalist movements mushrooming
practising Muslims for centuries. throughout the country, and the implications
of this for women and development; about a
However, extreme Islamists do retain much
perceived low awareness among Somali
support among certain social groups. Over women on women's rights in Islam; and
the past decade in particular, they have found about the tendency of groups of educated
a large number of young male and female men to retain information or blatantly
supporters who have grown up with little mislead women about their rights and duties.
experience of life beyond conflict, with high The study was conducted using question-
unemployment rates and a lack of alterna- naires of mainly closed-ended questions,
tives due to the destruction of schools. It is a designed to explore the level of respondents'
well-known fact among Somalis that some awareness regarding women's rights. 120
extremist religious groups create business people (80 women and 40 men from local
and employment opportunities for loyal communities) were interviewed. The findings
followers (personal communication, 1998). confirmed that many women are confused
about their rights, obligations, and duties as
The impact of articulated in Islam. It also highlighted the
fact that wholesome and unwholesome
Islamic extremism on traditional practices tend to be associated with
Somali women Islam, and with women's rights as defined in
Hasan (1991) lists the central Islamic principles Islam. It reconfirmed that violations against
which have been compromised by extremist Somali women's rights are culturally rooted,
groups in their quest for popularity and power, and that such practices continue unchecked
and suggests that the issue of women's roles (
and women's rights is the only one on which
such groups will not compromise: 'for them, Marriage and the family
women's liberation movements (or associa- The widespread practice of relatively late
tions) are the central enemy, because the entire marriage in Somalia is under threat. The
patriarchal society, whose existence fundamen- national planning statistics of 1988 recorded
talism has gone to the defence of, is built upon the average age of marriage as 21 for girls, and
the oppression of women' (Hasan 1991, p35). 25 for boys; as more young people sought
Islam and development: Opportunities and constraints for Somali women 71

university education, the age of marriage was increasingly evident that unless parties free
further postponed. However, this trend has from clan politics are established, and the
been reversed by the collapse of the educatio- present strategy of fostering clan represen-
nal system. As fundamentalism strengthens tation, common all over Somalia, is revisited,
its hold on the community, boys and girls are women's participation in politics will continue
encouraged to marry ever earlier. to be severely hampered. In Somaliland, as in
The Islamic principle of male responsibility Somalia, groups in power are using religion
for the family's maintenance, as outlined in as the basis for excluding women from
the Q'uran (Afshar 1998), is being seriously politics. A colleague who chairs the Umbrella
undermined by young men being encouraged Women's Organisation in Hargeisa, Somali-
to marry one or more wives without econo- land, recounted to me that every time they
mic means. The research confirmed that many organised a workshop, the Minister of Justice
young girls are ultimately either deserted or and Religious Affairs came to interrogate
divorced. Since young couples sometimes participants about their activities, until he
marry without the parents' consent, deserted was officially asked by Parliament to stop
or divorced wives cannot always count on the this. He stated that his actions were based on
support they could have otherwise relied on his belief that women can be easily influenced
within the extended family system. by foreigners, and hence felt they needed
The research also suggests that ignorance protection (personal communication, 1998).
of what the Q'uran says regarding polygamy
is creating a problem for women. In 1998, I Veiling and control of behaviour
personally heard of a young girl under 20 In Somalia, a society at war with itself, and
with three children and little means, who was where sexual violation has also become a tool
informed that her husband had married of war, the tendency towards more extreme
another woman; she calmly listened and religious practice has been reinforced by the
defended him, saying 'it is his righf (personal perceived need for protection and protective
communication, Sept 1998). In fact, the clothing. The number of veiled women in
Q'uran sets out men's responsibility in single Somalia has visibly increased since 1991.
or polygamous marriages: polygamy is only Somali women's traditional dress is modest,
permissible under strict social circumstances; but allows them freedom of movement and is
it is therefore a conditional permission and thus more practical than the veil. As a Somali
not an article of faith or mortal necessity woman, I have seen that the recent increase in
(Sheck et. al. 1996). veiling has been accompanied, for the first
Another development issue affecting time in Somali history, with extreme forms of
women in their role within the family is censorship of women's behaviour, as extreme
fertility and family-planning. Spacing versions of Islamic interpretation have found
children is not a subject entertained by funda- fertile ground. Women who refuse to
mentalists, despite the fact that the Q'uran conform are harassed by both sexes, and peer
encourages it; Islam gives women a wide pressure is exerted on them to veil.
range of rights, and does not oppose family-
planning, especially when women's health is
at stake. Early and frequent child-bearing
Religious education and
increases young women's health risks. women's rights
Lack of religious education among the public
Political and economic participation allows extremists to use Islamic texts against
Since the end of the war, Somalia has seen a women. Hadiths' are among the strongest
decline of women's power in formal politics. weapons used to justify the marginalisation
The new political structures are principally of Muslim women from religious and social
based on clan relationships; it is becoming power. Although a significant portion of the

accounts of the Prophet's comments and deeds References

was recounted on the authority of women,
(Ahmed 1990), the Hadiths were written by Ahmed L, 'Women and the Advent of Islam'
men. Many Hadiths that undermine women's in Women under Muslim Law, Dossier 7/8,
freedom actually contradict the actions and France, 1991.
philosophy of the Prophet Mohammed; the Al Bushra, J and Piza-Lopez, E (1994)
misogyny employed in the collection of such 'Gender, War and Food' in War and Hunger:
Hadiths has been discussed elsewhere Rethinking International Responses to Complex
(Mernissi 1991, Ahmed 1990). In addition, the Emergencies, SCF and Zed Books: London.
fact that Arabic is not widely spoken in Baden S (1992) The Position of Women in
Somalia helps religious extremists to maintain Islam Countries: Possibilities, Constraints
their hold over communities: for example, and Strategies for Change, report prepared
they justify ideas about the weakness of for special programme, WID, Netherlands
women by arguing that the Arabic word al Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), Bridge.
nisaa (the female) is synonymous with the Bradbury, M (1994) The Somali Conflict:
Arabic word nisf (half). Through such prospects for peace, Oxfam GB: Oxford.
arguments, women and men are made to Hasan, M (1991) 'On fundamentalism on our
believe that women are less intelligent in the Land' in Women living under Muslim Law,
eyes of Allah, and that the limitation of their Dossier 11/12/13.
rights is therefore justified. Until Somali http: / /
women receive a better education, and better WOM, Musjid Tuscon, USA, 1998.
religious education in particular, this Mernissi, F (1991) The Veil and the Male Elite:
situation looks set to continue. Women's A Feminist Interpretation of Women's rights
organisations are the only part of civil society in Islam, Addison-Wesley: UK.
to attempt seriously to redress the extremists' Ragab N (1997) The Record Set Straight:
strategy of marginalising women on the Women in Islam Have Rights, an internet
grounds of religious 'evidence'. report, Islam (Submission to God) Web
While the challenge of research and work page, Musjid Tuscon, United Submitters
by women's organisations is significant International, USA.
enough to cause concern to religious Sheck, M, Ibrahim, H, Abdi A, Mohamed, F
extremists and their supporters, their work is (1996) Report on Somali Women's Rights
hindered by the lack of a coherent shared from the Perspective of Islam, NOVIB
policy, and lack of access to the growing report, Mogadishu.
literature by Islamic scholars of both sexes, Warsame A (1998) The Civil War in Somalia:
which challenges the denial of women's Differential Impact on Women and Men,
rights using religious texts. Women's paper presented at a workshop on
organisations must bring about coherence in Resource Competition in Eastern Africa
policy and achieve improved cooperation in organised by the Institute of Social Studies
designing and implementing strategies to (ISS) and OSSREA, 12-13 August 1998.
challenge the erosion of women's rights.

Formerly the Director of the Women's Research
Unit at the Somali Academy of Sciences and 1 Reported accounts of the life of the
Arts, Somalia, Sadia Ahmed now works as Prophet Mohammed.
gender co-ordinator for the Pastoral and
Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa
(PENHA). Contact her at PENHA, PO Box 494,
1 Laney House, Portpool Lane, London EC1N 7FP.
E-mail: uk.

'The way to do is to be':

Exploring the interface between values and
Sharon Harper and Kathleen Clancy
A project run by the Canadian International Development Research Centre brought together a
wide variety of specialists in order to explore the links between gender, science, and development,
and to shape holistic, 'being-oriented' approaches, where values based in religion and spirituality
inform the perspective and choices of methods of development researchers and practitioners.

'People have to see with new eyes, and a Canadian federally-funded research for
understand with new minds, before they can development organisation. The SRD project
truly turn to new ways of living. The most aims to illuminate other realms of knowl-
important change that people can make is to edge which we believe to be complementary
change their way of looking at the world. We can to gender, science, and development
change studies, jobs, neighbourhoods, even perspectives, and to show the links between
countries and continents, and still remain much these perspectives. The SRD project might
as we always were. But change our fundamental also be considered a step in the evolution of
angle of vision, and everything changes - our emerging approaches on development and
priorities, our values, our judgments, our research, which we call 'being-oriented'1, and
pursuits. Again and again, in the history of which are characterised by their reference to
religion, this total upheaval in the imagination religion and spirituality.
has marked the beginning of a new life ... a In this article, we attempt to show how
turning of the heart, a "metanoia," by which men many of the values that underlie the use of
[sic] see with new eyes and understand with new gender analysis as a tool in research for
minds, and turn their energies to new ways of development are similar to values behind
living.' (Barbara Ward, as quoted in these 'being-oriented approaches.' It is well-
Commission on Global Governance, 1995) known that new ways of understanding the
social construction of people's roles, expe-
Barbara Ward's insight, like the title of this riences, and relationships can lead to new
article, 'the way to do is to be,' (attributed to ways of doing research (Kirby 1989). For
the ancient Taoist master Lao Tse), offers an example, by emphasising the importance of
intriguing challenge to traditional the socially-constructed relations between men
development methodologies. This article and women, gender-sensitive approaches
describes the Science, Religion, and have enabled researchers to consider
Development (SRD) project of the International different realms of experience, and this has
Development Research Centre (IDRC), opened up new possibilities for study (see F

Steady "The Inadequacy of the Dominant economic interests, and any value system in
Research Methodology/ as quoted in research for development2 can be applied
Connelly et al. 1996). We suggest here that judicious or injudiciously. We believe that the
'being-oriented approaches' offer similar new values behind the 'being-oriented
possibilities for researchers. As we discuss, approaches' we explore here could enhance
however, there are also some essential differ- the quality of development research and
ences between gender-sensitive approaches practice, by offering access to expanded sets
to research and being-oriented approaches; we of values and points of view.
attempt here to show how the broader context
and the additional values offered by 'being-
oriented approaches' have the potential to The SRD project
transform research for development. The Science, Religion, and Development
(SRD) project stems from preliminary
research carried out by William F Ryan, an
Our background economist and a Jesuit priest (Ryan 1995). In
We are, respectively, the project and pro- an attempt to move beyond economistic
gramme officers of the SRD project, but the understandings of development, and to
opinions and observations expressed here are identify the conceptual and practical linkages
our own. While we personally both recognise between science, religion, and development,
a spiritual dimension to living, and carry this Ryan travelled to developing countries and
into our work in the SRD project, we also interviewed more than 180 informants, who
recognise that religion can be associated with combined one or more of the roles of scientists,
some of the worst abuses in human history, development workers, and people of faith.
and a number of current situations of war Based on this initial research, an international
and civil strife. Religions can reinforce workshop was held in August 1995 in Val
fatalism, encourage division (some religious Morin, Quebec. Participants agreed that the
groups use development work as a weapon issues uncovered were significant factors in
in the competition for adherents), and impose the effectiveness of future development inter-
rigid dogmas on attempts at change (Lean ventions in their countries, and they urged
1995). Religions have not necessarily been the IDRC to continue the research3. The SRD
mouthpiece or friend of marginalised groups, project has three phases.
including women, and have on occasion been In the first phase, IDRC brought together a
instrumental in suppressing those voices and core group of four individuals: experts in
in paving the way for oppressive regimes. 'science, international development, or
Nor, in considering the issue of religion in theology, each from a different cultural and
relation to science and development, do we religious background. Together and
give up the 'mantle of reason' regarding our separately, this core group has worked to
commitment to methods of experimentation reflect, from their different cultural, religious,
and observation. Rather, we are questioning and professional positions, on the
whether an important perspective has been relationship between the moral/ spiritual
left out of the debates on, and methodologies realms of life and the technological/scientific
for, research for development; and we models of development. Consider this
question what consequences this may have interaction, they have attempted to identify
had for the quality of interventions made in the effect that this interaction has had for
the name of development and/ or in the development discourse and practice.
advancement of science. Like gender studies, Questions of how development can be
science, religion, and development studies environmentally sustainable, and achieve
are all informed by value-systems which equality between women and men, are
serve particular social, political, and central to these discussions.
'The way to do is to be': Exploring the interface between values and research 75

The core group found that their initial Remnants of our own struggle with the
reflections had led to a focus on different terms and concepts of religion and spiritu-
aspects of development; however, each group ality have remained throughout the project,
member had amalgamated the personal and and provide an example of its evolutionary
the professional, using their individual faiths and participatory process. For example, at its
to question and illuminate their separate inception, the project was called 'Human
areas of scientific enquiry. The core group Values and Belief Systems'; Ryan's book
saw their research papers as experimental explicitly uses the term 'spirituality' in the
steps towards a new type of integrated and title. The value of 'spirituality' is that it allows
engaged scholarship, and towards the for the consideration of belief systems,such as
introduction of a new perspective in broader the animistic beliefs prevalent in many
debates on international development. These countries, which do not fit within the category
reflections included considerations such as of organised religion. However, focusing on
the ambiguity of religion4 and the role of organised religion allows us to consider
religion in promoting humility and self- thought-structures and approaches which
limitation on the part of researchers and can be compared with scientific methods, and
workers within science and development. we can distinguish at a basic level between
The second and third phases will include personal interpretation, historical ethos, social
the publication of these reflections in book organisation, and religious tenets. However,
form. In addition, in conjunction with the the project's emphasis on the participants'
core group, IDRC plans to widen the circle reflections and their internal synthesis of
involved in the project to an extended science, religion, and development ensures
network of researchers who write and that spirituality is not excluded or over-
practice in relevant areas of development. whelmed by the formality of religion.
The aim will be to stimulate further debate
about the questions addressed in Phase 1, and 'Being-oriented' approaches:
to elicit further reflections from the points of
view of other faiths and scientific
a comparison with other
backgrounds. The extended network will add methodologies
legitimacy to the work and provide access for Many of the underlying values in approaches
its concepts into other areas of development. based on ethics, social justice, and gender-
awareness are shared by 'being-oriented'
approaches. In this section, we use the case of
Religion, institutions, and the SRD project to illustrate a few points of
belief systems similarity, and highlight some differences.
In the SRD project, we aim to deal with By presenting evidence which supports
religious content, not religious institutions. the aim of transforming inequitable relations
Religion as content 'has to do with the idea of between women and men, gender-sensitive
the supreme, the supernatural which research is designed to feed into an agenda
organises the world and connects people for change (Kabeer 1996). This research agenda
through language and practice to what is displays a strong concern for the values and
considered the inviolable, the sacrosancf principles articulated in the Universal Decla-
(Haynes 1996). As a result of the legiti- ration of Human Rights, including equality,
misation of unequal power structures often justice, solidarity, inclusion, diversity, inter-
associated with religion, however, a number connectedness, social awareness, personal
of people who encounter the SRD project integrity, and the dignity and worth of every
reject its premise outright, or prefer to use person regardless of his or her differences.
terms such as 'spirituality' or 'human values', These values inform gender-aware researchers'
to dissociate the project from these injustices. choice of areas of study and methods.

In examining social roles and relationships researchers collect field notes which monitor
of women and men, most gender-sensitive their own reactions to the research process.
research considers other criteria such as race, (Kirby 1989; Holland 1995; Bell 1993). Here,
class, religion, caste, age, physical/ mental all assumptions and beliefs regarding the
abilities, marital status, sexual orientation and research throughout the research cycle are
attributes which describe, to the fullest extent recorded and contemplated. Where relevant,
possible, the vast diversity of the human these notes can be included at the recording
condition. Inclusion of different perspectives stage of the research. Through this process,
in the research process is an overt value, as researchers are required to question and
well as a goal in itself, of gendered research. articulate clearly their own standpoints and
Participatory methods also espouse the values assumptions; this also allows them to be
of inclusion and the dignity and worth of challenged, by the researchers themselves
every person, and aim to ensure that typically and, ultimately, by others. Reflexivity can
marginalised perspectives are included in the help the researcher engage more fully with
research process (Holland 1995; Kirby 1989)5 the people with whom they work, going
Similarly, the values and methodology of beyond the interaction characteristic of
the SRD project display a concern for traditional academic research. (Yano 1997)
inclusion and authentic dialogue (although A reflexive approach emerged for the SRD
this commitment is far from perfectly enacted). project, because questions of faith usually
The SRD research agenda was collaboratively operate at a personal level. The project
set, through open-ended enquiry with required a methodology that would allow
participants. IDRC consciously tried to participants to put personal beliefs into
decrease the power differential that usually words, and make this explicit for other
exists between donors and researchers; the researchers. Participants encouraged each
core group of researchers, to a large extent, other to reflect upon, and write, accounts of
determined the process and decided to use how their faith operated in their own
non-conventional research techniques. professional lives, and thus in the
Particular attention was given to the mechanisms of their development work.
importance of women's voices, voices from Their personal and subjective experiences vis-
the South, and representation from a variety a-vis the project's research questions were
of religions in convening the core group for explicitly valued and sought out during the
Phase 1; as the project progresses, these process. We from IDRC became conscious,
concerns for inclusion and participation will during this process, of our situation within
continue as new participants are invited to the group's dynamics, and tried not to
join. Participants in the SRD project also bring impose our own ideas and concerns about
these concerns for inclusion and solidarity how the research should proceed. In this way,
with them, from participating in social justice IDRC tried to be open when the researchers
causes, and working with groups which questioned cherished assumptions, values,
address the needs of the marginalised.6 and approaches of the research for
The SRD project also shares with gender- development community.
sensitive research a commitment to
transparency about the assumptions and Values specific to 'being-
biases that are present in all research.
Transparency by the researcher contributes to
oriented' approaches
clarity about the research questions, goals, In the process of preparing for this article, we
and methods, and can be instrumental in also tried to identify some assumptions and
avoiding the perpetuation of inequalities. values that could be said to be specific to
One controversial research method which 'being-oriented' approaches (of which the
embraces this value is 'reflexivity', in which SRD is an early example). We were looking
'The way to do is to be': Exploring the interface between values and research 77

for values that could be specifically attributed in faith has two outstanding advantages. It
to the researcher's experience of faith (whether builds on a community's deepest sense of
through organised religion, or personal identity and belonging, and it carries within it
spirituality). We wanted to see how these the seeds of individual empowerment.' (Lean
might be manifested in the professional lives 1995,10).
of the SRD participants, and how they might 'Being-oriented' approaches to human
have informed the project itself. This was not development could therefore subtly expand a
an easy task because, in almost every case, number of the values we have identified as
one of us would mention a value that seemed underlying gendered approaches. One may,
implicit in a 'being-oriented' approach, only for example, research the causes of and
to find that it had reflections and refractions solutions to gender-based violence in a war-
in gender-aware and/ or participatory torn country, based on a desire to alleviate
research principles and techniques. injustices, inequalities, poverty, and
We did identify one significant difference suffering, without recourse to any of these
with a number of implications, although for 'transcendental' principles of reality. But, in
some it may seem a difference of degree their absence, how do development
rather than of kind. People of religious faith researchers and workers understand the need
or spirituality have a relationship with a trans- for mental and spiritual healing through
cendental reality - a perception of guiding reconciliation? Without some understanding
principles that underlie 'reality' - which of a larger purpose or context for their lives
offers a broad context for understanding and actions, how can people risk the
human actions. In contrast, approaches forgiveness and reconciliation necessary to
within development may advocate values rebuild a community out of chaos? How do
such as justice, dignity, fairness, and equality, researchers and development workers find
but these tend to be understood as operating the strength not to retreat from the realities of
only with reference to the world's political, the people with whom they are working?
economic, and social systems - the 'here and And how can they articulate these needs or
now' - and on a relatively traditional integrate these understandings into a list of
understanding of the principles of human solutions without understanding or using
interaction. Approaches drawing from this language and these concepts?
religion and spirituality might ask where one
Alternative approaches to research and
can find an ultimate reference point, or
development based in religion or spirituality
deeper principles, in which to base these
would enable us to value and work with
values, and through which these principles of
concepts that are rarely expressed in gender-
interaction can be revisualised.7
sensitive research, such as forgiveness and
The concept of human well-being that is a reconciliation, compassion, empathy, wisdom
fundamental goal of development can, and (as complementary to knowledge), non-
must, include intangible concepts such as violence, sacrifice,8 self-limitation, simplicity,
creating, connection, belonging, love, and kindness, and connection. Consideration for
hope, which are rooted in a relationship or these concepts carries practical consequences
perception of reality that goes beyond the for researchers and workers in development.
here-and-now. 'Being-oriented' approaches For example, one SRD participant pointed
take into account that people can act for out that there is a difference between the
change from a desire to attain meaning and 'preferential option for the poor' originating
fulfilment, as well as from an understandable in Latin American Catholicism and the
desire for change in their material Marxism with which it has been associated:
circumstances. As Mary Lean wrote in her Marxism, he argued, outlines a preferential
book on spiritually oriented development option for the proletariat. The difference
approaches: '[Development that is grounded between the orientations may appear slight,

but could be seen in practice after the approaches show to be useful in the
Nicaraguan revolution, when Christian- gathering of data and its analysis?
based communities did not favour A number of traditions postulate that the
punishment of Somoza's soldiers, wanting only way to effect appropriate outward,
them to be forgiven and integrated into the social transformation (or development) is
community (personal communication, 1999)9 through personal self-transformation.
Of course, there are infinite variations on Researchers and workers with a 'being-
these themes. Differences of approach and oriented' approach might engage in forms of
ethos among and within religions challenge contemplation, meditation, or prayer. The
'being-oriented' approaches to be open to goals of these activities could include
values from every tradition. For example, in inspiration, self-knowledge, and self-
certain traditions, such as Buddhism, the acceptance (leading to compassion for others)
concept of interconnectedness10 is articulated as necessary corollaries to attempts to effect
as a 'principle of non-duality': all beings, and change in others. In addition, when
the environment in which they live, are researchers have access to relevant religious
fundamentally interrelated and inter- and inspirational texts and stories, they could
dependent. Interconnectedness is both a include enquiries about rituals, myths, and
value and a basic organising principle of parables in their work, not from the point of
reality. Researchers and development view of anthropologists analysing cultural
workers could draw on this concept to manifestations, but as an attempt to challenge
recognise the networks of relationships they their own predetermined conceptions of the
find in communities and to value these research process.
connections. They might use this principle to How does the convergence of the 'being-
evaluate their methods, asking themselves oriented' values and methods manifest itself
whether a given approach will build and in the SRD project? It is a research project
balance existing relationships or increase based on what we know and how we do
conflict and create new, if different, things now. On the face of it, holding
hierarchies (Yano 1997,94-97). conferences, maintaining a dialogue, and
Choosing a 'being-oriented' approach writing papers are not unusual, but our
does not guarantee a certain way of thinking project is extraordinary in its recognition that
and acting, any more than sensitivity to something intangible, but important, is being
gender issues predicts a particular approach. left out of the development equation, and in
The point is that religiously or spiritually its openness to different processes in
based approaches can provide an awareness investigating that missing element. If the
of a frame of reference larger or deeper than experiment of the SRD project has lessons to
the visible, material world, and thereby offer offer, much of the credit must go to the two
new possibilities for response, transforming men and two women who make up the core
the researchers themselves, and their group; they have applied the rich resources of
understanding of and behaviour toward the their professional skills, their personal faiths,
communities with whom they work. and their sceptical minds to this project.
Primarily, each has worked out of love for the
ideas of the project, and out of a belief that the
Conclusion: SRD, values, project could provide valuable insights into
and methodology the achievement of a deeper and wiser
We have discussed how values based in standard for human well-being11. There were
religion and spirituality can inform the moments of serendipity when the dialogue
perspective and choices of methods of became too abstract, which IDRC could never
development researchers and practitioners. have anticipated or scheduled, but which
But what new tools can 'being-oriented' illustrate the potential for linking values with
'The way to do is to be': Exploring the interface between values and research 79

research methodology; at these times, the Kabeer, N, Ramya, S (1996) Institutions,

participants kept the process honest, Relations and Outcomes: Framework and Tools
grounded, and focussed on the realities of for Gender-Aware Planning, International
people living in extreme poverty. Another Development Studies: UK.
lesson from SRD includes the consideration Kirby, S, McKenna, K (1989) Experience,
and kindness which the participants showed Research, Social Change: Methods from the
each other, both within and outside of the Margins, Garamond Press: Toronto.
meetings; the respect they show for their Lean, M (1995) Bread, Bricks, and Belief:
different traditions even during the most Communities in Charge of Their Future,
intense dialogue; their alternative but Kumarian: West Hartford.
grounded perspectives which helped Mayoux, L (1995) 'Beyond Naivety: Women,
question the basic assumptions of traditional Gender Inequality and Participatory
development models; and the trust, Development' in Development and Change,
vulnerability, and courage they displayed in Vol. 26, pp. 235-258.
agreeing to speak and write personally about Ryan, WF (1995) Culture, Spirituality, and
their beliefs, in the face of an academic Economic Development: Opening a Dialogue,
establishment that is not accustomed to IDRC Books: Ottawa.
discussing personal, much less religious, Steady, F (1983) 'Research Methodology and
orientations. The project has demonstrated to Investigative Framework for Social
us that a wide range of opinions, views, and Change: The Case for African Women',
strongly held beliefs does not mean the end of seminar, Association of African Women for
community: in fact, acknowledging and Research on Development, Dakar, 1983.
respecting diverse views challenges our White, SC (1996) 'Depoliticising development:
commitment to unity in diversity and can the uses and abuses of participation,' in
provide us with a multiplicity of resources. Development in Practice, Vol. 6, pp. 6-15,
Carfax: Abingdon.
Sharon Harper and Kathleen Clancy can be Yano, S (1997) 'Alternative Visions of
contacted via The Editor, Gender and Development in Rural Thailand',
Development or by e-mailing: unpublished paper submitted for a
Master of Science to the University School
for Rural Planning and Development,
References University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Bell, D, Caplan, P, Karim, W (eds.) (1993)
Gendered Fields: Women, Men and
Ethnography, Routledge: New York.
Commission on Global Governance (1995) 1 We use this term cautiously and
Our Global Neighbourhood, Oxford experimentally; perhaps there should not
University Press: New York. be one term that encompasses all these
Connelly, MP, MacDonald, M, Murray Li, T, investigations into the meaning of
Parpart, J (1996) "Theoretical Perspectives existence, but simplicity of expression
on Feminism and Development,' in compelled us to try to find some term. We
Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and tested many possibilities. However, we
Development, The Commonwealth of liked 'being-oriented approaches' because,
Learning: Vancouver. while it concentrates the attention on
Haynes, J (1996) Religion and Politics in Africa, ultimate questions surrounding existence,
Zed: London. it also seems to encompass naturalistic and
Holland, J, Blair, M, Sheldon, S (eds.) (1995) supernaturalistic views of the universe;
Debates and Issues in Feminist Research and the environment and animals, as well as
Pedagogy, The Open University: Bristol. humans; and the fundamental juxta-

position between an existence based on 9 For well-known examples of human-

having and acquiring and an existence in development initiatives that find
which the imperative is to be and to inspiration in religion and/or spirituality,
become according to one's fullest see the Alternatives to Consumerism
potential. We welcome suggestions for a Network (Thailand), the Sarvodaya
better term. Shramadana Movement (Sri Lanka) and
2 See note 9. the Swadhyaya Movement (India). Other
3 The SRD project mirrors IDRCs own way examples are described in Lean 1995.
of working: within the organisation's 10 The concept of interconnectedness is not
programmes, researchers from many unknown in gender and development
disciplines are invited to bring their research and work, but it tends to focus on
particular science and experience to bear the connections between material
on managing research for development. resources and deprivation in networks of
However, the SRD project differs from this relationships such as communities and
internal IDRC experiment in one families.
important way: it is constructed to 11 The religious expression 'calling' was
accommodate and benefit from a range of applied by a few to describe how they
scientific disciplines, but it also extends were drawn to participate in the project.
beyond the scientific mainstream to
welcome perspectives based on particular
expressions of faith.
4 See note 9.
5 Although done poorly, participatory
research methods can further exacerbate
the situation of women and other margi-
nalised groups (White 1996, Mayoux 1995).
6 It is acknowledged that the SRD project is
not working directly with grassroots
groups but with individuals active within
these groups.
7 Moving away from conflictual or
competitive models of interaction towards
those which encourage community and
8 The concept of 'sacrifice' excited much
debate among SRD participants, which
points to the inherent ambiguity
surrounding some of these concepts and
values. Some participants felt that a
rationale of 'sacrifice' is too often used to
justify sacrifices on the part of the
world's poorest and most marginalised
people. Others felt that 'sacrifice' in the
sense of 'self-limitation' or 'self-restraint'
was a necessary concept for the North
to understand, given the excesses of
Northern lifestyles which are linked both
to ecological degradation and poverty
in the South.

Compiled by Sophie Dodgeon

Identity Politics and Women: cultural

.Books. reassertions and feminisms in perspective,
Valentine Mohgadam (ed.), 1994.
Through the Devil's Gateway: Women, Westview Press, 5500 Central Avenue,
Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877, USA.
Religion and Taboo, Alison Joseph, Society
Fax +1 (303) 449 3356
for Promoting Christian Knowledge, in
Considers the rise of political and cultural
association with Channel Four Books, 1990.
movements which are bidding for political
A fascinating and wide-ranging selection of
power, legal changes, or cultural supremacy,
writings based on the 1990 television series
basing their claims on notions of religious,
of the same name. Among other topics,
ethnic, and national identity. From
writers consider how women have been examining such movements' attitudes to
labelled 'impure', and look at Goddess- women, and attempts to control female
worship in India, and nineteenth-century freedom and sexuality through invoking
medicine in relation to European women. Woman as a cultural symbol, the book
They argue that religious traditions are at least moves to assess women's responses. Uses 13
able to admit the power of women's cycles case studies from Muslim, Christian, Jewish,
of fertility, while secular society maintains and Hindu societies.
an embarrassed silence about them.
Reproductive Health Matters, Number 8:
Fundamentalism and Gender, John Stratton Fundamentalism, Women's Empowerment and
Hawley (ed.), 1994, Oxford University Reproductive Rights, 1996.
Press, Oxford and New York. 20 Madison 29-35 Farringdon Road, London EC1 3JB.
Avenue, New York, 10016, USA. This is a themed issue of the twice-yearly
The book's central theme is that religious journal which concentrates on identifying
fundamentalism is concerned with social and understanding women's reproductive
structures, not with religious texts. These health needs. Among the contributions are
fascinating articles focus on Islam, an examination of how women's reproductive
Hinduism, the New Religions of Japan, rights are affected by Hindu nationalism, by
and American Christianity, revealing that charismatic and Pentecostal Christian move-
control over women is central to the funda- ments in Brazil, by Roman Catholicism in
mentalist agenda in each of these religions. Poland, and by Islam in Iran and Indonesia.

Women, Religion and Development in the Third Women as Teachers and Disciples in Traditional
World, Theodora Foster Carroll, 1983, and New Religions, Elizabeth Puttick and
Praeger Publishers. 88 Post Road, Westport, Peter B Clarke (eds.), 1993, Edwin Mellen
CT 06881, USA. Press, UK, Canada, USA.
A comprehensive study of the position of Ten essays discussing how spiritual
women in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, discipleship affects women. The essays ask
and Buddhism, giving an overview of each whether discipleship implies a model of
religion's key tenets, as well as accounts female submission, or whether it can in fact
of policies on women's education and be empowering. Covers diverse traditions,
'population' (sexuality and reproductive such as Zen Buddhism, Afro-Brazilian
rights). The book places each religious religion, and modern paganism.
tradition in its historical and social context,
Islam and Feminisms: An Iranian Case-study,
and suggests that religions could function as
agents for change, rather than forces for Haleh Afshar, 1998, Macmillan, Houndmills,
regression. Written 15 years ago, this book, Basingstoke, Hants RG21 6XS, UK.
while containing thoroughly researched and Haleh Afshar gives a detailed and scholarly
very useful information, frequently resorts account of the strategies employed by
to judgemental language which may alienate Iranian women to maintain, and regain,
some readers. their rights in present-day Iran. Afshar
argues that it is no longer possible to
Women, Religion and Sexuality: Studies on the disregard these strategies and denigrate
Impact of Religious Teachings on Women, Iranian women as powerless in the face of
Jeanne Becher (ed.), 1990, World Council of 'fundamentalism'. Feminism must learn to
Churches Publications. PO Box 2100,150 accommodate not only differences in
Rue de Ferney, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. opinion, but differences in strategy
A collection of 12 papers which were the according to women's specific geographical
outcome of a study of the main world and historical context.
religions and their attitudes to female
sexuality. Most papers are followed by a Women and Gender in Islam: Historical roots of
short response from the same faith tradition a modern debate, Leila Ahmed, 1992, Yale
which aims to increase dialogue within this University Press, New Haven and London.
tradition. Indigenous beliefs are also Explores the historical roots of the current
touched upon. A clear and accessible book debates on women and Islam by tracing the
which offers much to debate. developments in Islamic discourses on
women and gender from the ancient world
Speaking of Faith: Cross-Cultural Perspectives to the present.
on Women, Religion and Social Change, Diana
L Eck and Devaki Jain, 1986, The Women's Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation:
Press, London. Implementing the Beijing Platform, Mahnaz
Also available from Kali for Women, Bl /8 Afkhami and Erika Friedl (eds.), 1997,
Hauz Khas, New Delhi, 110 016, India. Syracuse University Press, USA.
Originally presented to a conference on the This collection of essays looks at ways of
same theme, these papers consider how implementing the recommendations of the
religion influences the kinds of social change UN Fourth World Conference on Women
which women are engaged in. They cover a in Muslim societies. The book is in three
wide range of traditions and countries, parts, examining theoretical views of
including papers on Ghandian ethics, women's rights within Muslim societies,
Japanese traditions, and witches in Ghana. It practical ways to help women exercise their
suggests that both 'women' and 'religion' rights, and the role of international
are the missing factors in development. organisations in helping women.
Resources 83

Women and Islam in Muslim Societies, Hans A multi-authored report of the process
Thijssen (ed.), Poverty and Development: described in Bridget Walker's article in this
Analysis and Policy series No. 7, issue of Gender and Development.
Development Cooperation Information
No Longer a Secret: the church and violence
Department, 1994.
against women, Aruna Gnanadason,1996,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PO Box 20061,
WCC Publications.
2500 EB, The Hague, The Netherlands.
'An unforgiving confrontation of the
Part of a series examining poverty as a global
church's silence about violence against
phenomenon, published by the Develop-
women, and a useful survey of the social
ment Cooperation Information Department
and theological issues' (Crosslight). This
in the Netherlands. With sections on women
book points to signs of hope as women and
in Islamic jurisprudence, diversity in
men in the church and elsewhere are
practice in different countries, case studies of
beginning to struggle against all forms of
six countries, a study of Muslim immigrant
violence against women.
women in the Netherlands, and the
transcript of a seminar on 'Women, Islam Women, violence and non-violent change,
and Development', held in 1993. Aruna Gnanadason, Musimbi Kanyoro and
Lucia Ann McSpadden (eds.), 1995, WCC
Religion, Dress and the Body, Linda Boynton
Arthur (ed.), 1999, Berg Publishers,
This collection of analytical essays and case
150 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX41JJ, UK
studies shows what contribution women are
Explores how people express themselves
making towards conflict resolution in many
through dress, despite religious constraints.
different contexts. Authors come from
Servants of the Buddha: Winter in a Himalayan across the world.
Convent, Anna Grimshaw, 1992, Open
The power we celebrate: women's stories of faith
Letters. 147 Northchurch Road,
and power, Musimbi Kanyoro and Wendy S
London Nl 3NT, UK.
Robbins (eds.), 1992, WCC Publications.
A personal account of an extraordinary
This book offers suggestions for empowering
winter spent in a convent in Ladakh. It looks
at the ambiguous position of women in a women to 'challenge oppressive structures in
Buddhist society from a European the global community, their country and
perspective, and gives a detailed description their church'.
of their lives and practices. Women Healing Earth, Rosemary Radford
Ruether (ed.), 1996, SCM Press, by
Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a
arrangement with Orbis books. Orbis Books,
Feminist Perspective, Judith Plaskow, 1991,
Box 302, New York, 10545-0302, USA.
Harper: SanFrancisco.
Rosemary Radford Ruether is a well-known
Refusing to believe that her Jewish and
radical feminist writing from a Christian
feminist selves cannot be reconciled, Judith
standpoint. Aiming to connect women of the
Plaskow sets out her ideas for transforming
First and Third Worlds, 14 writers from
Judaism through a feminist vision. With
around the world explore the roles of
sections on the Torah, the idea of Israel,
religion and feminism in the context of
images and language associated with God,
environmental crisis in Latin America, Asia,
and a theology of sexuality.
and Africa. They link the domination of
Living Letters: a report of visits to the churches women to the domination of nature, and
during the Ecumenical Decade - Churches in show how religion has often reinforced this
Solidarity with Women, World Council of domination. Calls for a creative synthesis of
Churches (WCC) Publications, 1997. what women find to be liberating in their
PO Box 2100,1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. religious or spiritual heritage.

Feminist Theology From the Third World: Overcoming Violence: The Challenge to the
A Reader, Ursula King (ed.), 1994,1996, Church in All Places, Margot Kassmann,
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Risk Book Series, World Council of Churches
(SPCK), Orbis Books. Publications. PO Box 2100,150 Rue de Ferney,
A collection of 38 essays looking at theology 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland.
from a Third-World perspective, using sources In a world of so much violence, this short
from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as book asks whether the churches can live out
well as Israel and the Pacific region. their conviction that war is against God's
will. It examines Christian resources for non-
With Passion and Compassion: Third World
violent resolution of conflict, and considers
Women Doing Theology: Reflectionsfromthe
the opportunities and problems faced by
Women's Commission of the Ecumenical
people committed to non-violence. Includes
Association of Third World Theologians,
a chapter on how women and children are
Virginia Fabella and M. Amba Oduyoye,
affected by violence.
1988, Orbis Books.
A collection of writings by women from the Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith and
Third World who each consider what it Gender in Roho Region in Western Kenya,
means to be a Christian and a woman in the Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton, 1996.
Third World. United in their attempts to Oxford University Press, Walton Street,
create their own liberative theology, this Oxford, OX2 6DP, UK.
book looks at the different problems faced A book tracing the role of women in the
in different regions. evolution and expansion of the Roho ('Holy
Spirit') churches of western Kenya. It uses
Sexism and God-Talk: Towards a Feminist women's oral histories to challenge previous
Theology, Rosemary Radford Ruether, 1983, histories of the Roho Church, and goes on to
1986, SCM Press Ltd, London. examine how women's roles within the
This classic book, focusing on Christianity, Church have declined in recent decades.
uses feminist insights to expose the socially
constructed roots of classical theology. It also
Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial
points to a link between the exploitation of considerations regarding the creation of
women, and human destruction of the Earth. spiritually-based indicators for development,
Baha'i Publishing Trust, 27 Rutland Gate,
Women Before God, Lavinia Byrne, 1988,
London SW71PD, UK.
1995, SPCK.
Baha'i communities operate more than 1,300
Reflects on both the past and the future of local development projects throughout the
the Christian Church, and on a Catholic world. Believers assert that what sets Baha'i
woman's relationship to the agenda of apart from other world religions is its
Christian feminism. integration of spiritual, social, and admin-
Women Divided: Gender, Religion and Politics istrative principles. This concept paper was
in Northern Ireland, Rosemary Sales, 1997. written for the World Faiths and Development
Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19
EC4P 4EE, UK. February 1998. It gives the Baha'i perspective
This book focuses on the relationship on human development and discusses the
between gender and sectarian divisions need for spiritually-based indicators of
between Roman Catholics and Protestants in development. Equality between the sexes is
Northern Ireland. It looks at the impact of seen as one of the five foundational principles
the conflict on women, and the ways in of human development, as is 'unity in
which they have developed their own diversity'; but the document remains at a
agendas for change, while largely excluded visionary level without indicating how such a
from formal politics. vision could be brought about.
Resources 85

Feminist Theology, Sheffield University Press,

Mansion House, 19 Kingfield Road, Organisations
Sheffield, S l l 9AS. Phone: +44 (114) 255
4433; fax: +44 (114) 255 4626.
An academic journal covering all areas of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, BP 23,
theology. 34790 Grabels, Montpellier, France.
Phone: +33 (467) 109 166, fax: +33 (467) 109
Womanspirit, 52 Rosemount Court, 167. E-mail:
Booterstown, Co. Dublin, Eire. An international organisation which
Includes news, articles, book reviews, poems, 'addresses itself to women living where Islam
and letters from believers of Christian and is the religion of the state; as well as to women
Jewish backgrounds throughout the world.
who belong to Muslim communities ruled by
Central themes include raising awareness of
minority religious laws; to women in secular
the oppression of women and working
states where Islam is rapidly expanding, and
towards inclusive religious attitudes.
where fundamentalists demand a minority
Women in Judaism, Dept of Near and religious law; as well as to women from
Middle Eastern Civilizations, immigrant Muslim communities in Europe
University of Toronto, 4 Bancroft Avenue, and the Americas; and to non-Muslim women,
Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 1C1 either nationals or foreigners, living in Muslim
http:/ / countries and communities, where Muslim
A new journal published exclusively on the laws are applied to them and to their children'.
internet offering scholarly debate on gender Formed in 1984, WLUML has campaigned
related issues in Judaism. Examines both internationally for women's human rights. It
ancient and modern issues on Jewish aims to create links between women and
religion, culture, and society. women's groups, increase women's knowl-
edge about their what their rights are, and
how to assert these in their particular contexts.

Women Against Fundamentalism, BM Box

Video 2706, London WC1 3XX, UK.
A feminist network, campaigning against
fundamentalism in all religions, and for
Battle for the minds, Produced and directed sexual and political freedom all over the
by Steven Lipscomb, New Day Films, world. Launched in 1989, it believes that
Dept WM, 22-D Hollywood Avenue, fundamentalism is basically political, and
Hohokus, New Jersey 07423, US. that the control of women is central to
Phone: +1 (800) 343 5540 (ordering fundamentalism in all religions. Publishes a
information); e-mail: journal, Women Against Fundamentalism, which looks at a range of international issues.
Documents the fundamentalist takeover
within the US Southern Baptist Convention, Sakyadita: International Association of
which has 40,000 churches in the US and Women in Buddhism, 16 Nun Street,
nearly 15,000,000 members. This film reveals Lancaster, LAI 3JP, UK. Phone: 01524 844
the careful political manipulation behind the 719; fax: 0181 802 0628;
takeover, as well as the repercussions within e-mail:
the denomination. At the core of the film is An international group of women active in
the question of women's proper role within Buddhism, which produces a newsletter and
the seminary and the denomination, told in organises conferences every two years,
women's own words. usually held in developing countries.

Conspirando, Casilla 371-11, Correo Nunoa, Write for news of campaigns, and details of
Santiago, Chile. publications.
A network of Latin American women
CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas
committed to eco-feminism, theology and
Development), 2 Romero Close, Stockwell
Road, London SW9 9TY, UK. Phone: +44
Sisterhood is Global Institute (171) 733 7900.
4343 Montgomery Avenue, Suite 201, Committed to addressing gender issues in
Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. Phone: +1 (301) its development and relief work in
657 4355; fax: +1 (301) 657 4381; e-mail: developing countries across the world.
Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1
A non-profit organisation promoting
7RT, UK. Phone: +44 (171) 620 4444; fax:
women's rights through human-rights
+44 (171) 620 0719
education projects. Their work focuses on
Christian Aid works throughout the world
women living in Islamic countries, and
in partnership with communities of all faiths
includes advocacy programmes, appeals
in developing countries, and campaigns on
against human-rights abuses, and partici-
issues of justice and poverty.
pation in international conferences. Their
internet site includes a newsletter, a Catholic Institute for International
publications page, and information on their Relations, Unit 3, Canonbury Yard,
human-rights work. 190a New North Road, London Nl 7BJ, UK.
CUR is part of the UK government's volunteer
World Council of Muslim Women Foundation
programme for developing countries, offering
http: / / / -Ifahlman/
technical assistance and support.
A non-profit organisation 'dedicated as a Women in Theology, 19a Compton Terrace,
living memoral to the women of Bosnia, and London Nl 2UN, UK. Phone: +44 (171) 354
other women who have suffered the 3631.
degradation of rape, torture and death. Aims to empower women in a spiritual
Focuses on education for women's rights, context. Promotes inclusive language and
global peace and interfaith education from a works to create opportunities for feminist
worldwide perspective'. theology. Looks at new forms of worship
and ministry, and also runs local groups.
The World Council of Churches, PO Box
2100,1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland.
Phone: +41 (22) 791 6111; fax: +41 (22) 791
0361; e-mail: Web resources
A fellowship of churches from nearly all the
Christian traditions, representing over 122
countries in all continents. Works towards http: / / /
justice and continuing renewal of the msub8.htm
Christian faith. Their web site can be read A site about women in the Third World
in English, French, German, or Spanish, which links users to a range of other sites
and offers information on WCC's work, relating to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and
history, publications, and events. Has a Hinduism. Also includes news, articles,
Women's Unit. letters, and a noticeboard.
Interchurch Organisation for Development Islam and Women's Rights
Cooperation, PO Box 151, 3700 AD Zeist, http: / / / ~godlas /
The Netherlands. E-mail: Islamwomen.html
Resources 87

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Describes itself as a 'moderated lisf which
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http:/ /www.teologica feminista
A Spanish language web page.
Women Active in Buddhism
An on-line magazine with details of teachers,
resources, books, and organisations of
relevance for women following the Buddhist
tradition. Accessible and fun, with lots of
useful information.
http:/ /
An American web site open to anyone who
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the Catholic Church. Visitors can post ideas
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