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UNRISD Podcast: International Conference to Debate Relationship of Religion, Politics and Women’s Rights

4 Jun 2009



4 June 2009 – In this episode UNRISD Research Coordinator, Shahra Razavi, and Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Barbara Unmüßig discuss the issues to be tackled at the“Religion Revisited: Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion”, held in Berlin, 5 - 6 June 2009.

Please use the link to the right of this page to access the podcast. (5mins 14secs, MP3 file, 2.39mb)

Transcript of the podcast:

Mei Yan: You’re listening to the UNRISD podcast, and my name is Mei Yan. Today’s episode features interviews with UNRISD Research Coordinator Shahra Razavi and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation Co-President Barbara Unmüßig, in the run-up to an international conference on “Religion Revisited: Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion”.

The conference will run for two days from 5th June in Berlin, Germany. It is hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, in collaboration with UNRISD. Scholars, women activists, NGOs and development organizations will attend the public conference.

Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Barbara Unmüßig, expects that the event will encourage a broad debate on the interrelationship between religion, politics and gender equality.

Barbara Unmüßig: Our main interest is really, first to differentiate between the different religions. I think it is very important to have a broad, a broader view and a broader perspective how far religion, politics and gender issues are intertwined.

We very much look forward to having interaction between the different regions, the different religions, so it’s very much meant to create networks amongst scholars, amongst activists, in order to get to know more about that relationship of gender, politics and democracy issues.

Mei Yan: Apart from the discussion on how religion and politics intertwine, UNRISD Research Coordinator, Shahra Razavi, says that another key question that the conference will try to investigate is what could be the best strategies to make greater gender equality possible through policy-making in different political systems.

Shahra Razavi: It’s really trying to see what the findings are saying about the key issues that we are interested in which is what happens when religion becomes present and active within the political domain? What does that do to women’s rights?

The research aims to provide some insights into the kind of alliances that are possible to make with different actors, as well as with different political parties, with different constituencies and where the challenges and risks are. Therefore, it’s trying to provide policy implications and politics implications of this research to facilitate the aim of the greater gender equality, how to get there through politics and through policies that are needed.

Mei Yan: The conference itself is part of the research project on “Religion, Politics and Gender Equality”, which was launched in 2007. It is coordinated by UNRISD, and funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The United Nations Development Fund for Women provided additional funding for three European country studies. Unmüßig agrees that the findings of the 11 country studies carried out in the project should lead to some further policy recommendations.

Barbara Unmüßig: As a political foundation, we are very much interested in promoting in-depth analysis, in order to understand political and religion processes more profoundly. And this is why we were very happy when UNRISD asked us to cooperate in a country study exercise.

But we very much would like to use it not just as a pure academic interest, but very much as a political approach, how to deal with religious movements and religious institutions, because this is a crucial question for us in the countries where we are present.

Mei Yan: This conference also means that the research project is at its conclusion stage. The final research findings will be published in Fall 2009. Razavi admits that the most challenging work throughout the project is to put together the comparative findings based on the country level studies.

Shahra Razavi: Because we’re talking about countries that are indeed not just very different in terms of the religious make-up of the society, we have countries that are majority Muslims, we have others that are, like Israel, majority Jewish, and then we have countries that are Catholic, others that are Protestant, so you have that diversity, you have regional diversities, you have diversities in terms of the political systems, some less democratic, some authoritarian, others much more democratic. And you have the diversities that have come with the levels of developments.

Mei Yan: Unmüßig in the meantime hopes the conference together with the research studies will be a stepping stone for future debates on religion, politics and women’s rights.

Barbara Unmüßig: I think we are really at the very starting point of the whole project. The studies are a start, and not the end of the whole project.

Mei Yan: That brings us to the end of this episode of the UNRISD podcast. My thanks to Barbara Unmüßig and Shahra Razavi. For more information, go to our website, www.unrisd.org. If you have any suggestions for future podcasts, email us at press@unrisd.org. Thank you for listening.

For UNRISD news, this is Mei Yan, in Geneva.