Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are crucial for young girls and women to be able to control their bodies, access health services and realise their full potential. SRHR is not just the right to health but is fundamentally interlinked with several human rights like the rights to education, work and equality, as well as the rights to life, privacy and freedom from torture, bodily integrity and autonomy.
However, women’s SRHR are affected not only by poverty, systemic inequalities and inequities, lack of access to opportunities and resources, poor governance, education but also by religion, especially when the State and other groups misuse religion for political power and to exert control over people.
Strict patriarchal interpretations of religious texts limit human rights, especially women’s SRHR, perpetuate patriarchy and result in discrimination. Most often, interpretations of religion put forth an underlying assumption that women and men are not equal. Religion is interpreted to form views on women, their role in society, on how women should act and behave and to regulate women’s conduct or bodies in order to ‘guard their honour’ and that of the family.
Religious rights ideologies use discourses of religion and culture to maintain and extend power over the public and private domains. Religious fundamentalists impose their worldviews and apply religious law to all aspects of life.
“Religious fundamentalisms and extremisms” have regressive connotations and is often used in relation to Islamic militancy activities, Protestant ideology, anti-Americanism and fanaticism. Our use of the term does not signify one religion, but illustrates how the political (mis)use of religion may limit rights, including SRHR, of young girls, women and marginalised groups.
This edition of ‘Our Stories Ourselves: Women Speak Out About Religion and Rights’ is an effort by the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) in collaboration with seven of its partners from Asia, Latin America and Middle East and North Africa to share a collection of heart-rendering, brave and inspiring personal stories written by women from different communities
Religion, traditional practices, cultural values and beliefs have been historically cited time and again by religious leaders, politicians and society to limit rights and oppose equality for women. For instance, the presence of deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs and patriarchal power structures is evident in Nepal, where antiquated Hindu customs like the recently criminalised Chaupadhi – a practice of isolating menstruating girls and women to sheds – or excluding women from inheritance, continue to prevail.
Whilst strong Catholic and conservative beliefs dictate the legal framework in several Latin American countries and restrict access to abortion, religion and family beliefs are used to justify female genital mutilation (FGM) and infringement of bodily integrity in the Middle East and North African region. In 2010, Human Rights Watch found that due to the restrictions on legal abortions in Argentina a staggering half a million abortions were taking place clandestinely every year, meaning that women were forced to turn to unsafe methods.
Everyday these women, and many others like them around the world, continue to be violently repressed but they still attempt to stand up to fight for their rights
The impact of rising religious fundamentalism on women’s rights across the globe has been a worrying trend. Extremist ideologies thrive on asserting control over women’s bodies, autonomy, sexuality and their daily lives. This confluence, of conservative religious, cultural and customary practices is not confined to any one religion or region and is often interlinked with the pursuit of power. Political groups aspire for homogeneity based on ethnicity, race and religion to fuel a false sense of ethno-nationalism, patriotism and support for fundamentalist and right-wing policies.