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Conference to Discuss How Religious Movements Affect Women’s Fight for Rights and Gender Equality

4 Jun 2009



Religions worldwide still affect state structures and public opinion. Strict separation of religion, on the one hand, and the state, politics and civil society, on the other, exists in only a minority of countries. For women and their right to equality, there is much at stake in how religion and politics intertwine.

An international conference on “Religion Revisited: Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion”, to be held from 5-6 June 2009, will raise the crucial question of whether religious movements are an ally or a threat in the struggle for women’s rights.

The conference aims to open discussion on how religion and politics can become intertwined, and whether there are distinct modes of insertion in different settings. The speakers and participants will also explore the social and political effects of this blending of religion and politics, particularly from a gender perspective.

The ground-breaking conference is part of the research project “Religion, Politics and Gender Equality”, funded and conducted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and coordinated by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

Scholars and feminist activists from Germany, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, the UK and the USA will shape the debate on how to deal with religions in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality. Some confirmed speakers include:

Asef Bayat, Leiden University, the Netherlands
José Casanova, Georgetown University, Washington DC, the USA
Maria Consuelo Mejia, Catholics for the Right to Decide, Mexico
Zoya Hasan, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Azza Karam, United Nations Population Fund, New York
Sindi Medar-Gould, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, Nigeria
Anne Phillips, London School of Economics and Political Science, the UK
Shahra Razavi, Research Coordinator, UNRISD
Shadi Sadr, Editor-in-Chief, Women in Iran website, Iran
Farida Shaheed, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Pakistan
Barbara Unmüßig, Co-President, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Germany

Barbara Unmüßig, Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, said: “I think it is very important to have a broad view and a broad perspective about how far religion, politics and gender issues are intertwined.”

UNRISD Research Coordinator, Shahra Razavi, noted that the conference would try to highlight “policy and political implications of this research to facilitate the aim of the greater gender equality - how to get there through politics and what policies are needed”.

The two-day conference is hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and supported by UNRISD.


Notes to Editors
  • The Heinrich Böll Foundation is a non-profit organization striving to promote democracy, civil society, human rights, international understanding and a healthy global environment. The Foundation has 28 offices worldwide. Gender Democracy is an overarching and cross-cutting theme for all activities of the Heinrich Böll Foundation which has its own Feminist Institute and international women’s program administered by the Böll headquarters in Berlin.
  • The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) was created in 1963 and is an autonomous UN agency engaging in multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development. Through its research, UNRISD stimulates dialogue and contributes to policy debates on key issues of social development within and outside the UN system.
  • The research project “Religion, Politics and Gender Equality” explores how religion and politics mingle precisely and what the concrete social and political consequences of this mixture are, particularly from a gender perspective. Research for this project has been carried out in 11 countries, including Chile, India, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia, Turkey and the United States. The research process started at the end of 2007 and the final research findings will be published in Autumn 2009.
  • Barbara Unmüßig is Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. She is responsible for the development of programmes and strategies in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East and holds the strategic and programmatic responsibility for the “Gunda Werner Institute for feminism and gender democracy”. Her work primarily focuses on issues of globalization and international climate policies, national and international gender policies as well as the promotion of democracy and conflict prevention. Before joining the Foundation, she worked as a journalist and as a research assistant for the Green Parliamentarian Group in the German Bundestag. She has been active in numerous national and international NGO networks and has co-founded the organization “World Economy, Ecology & Development” (WEED) as well as the “German Institute for Human Rights” (DIMR). She has published numerous articles in newspapers and political periodicals on issues of trade and finance, international ecological policies and north-south relations networks.
  • Shahra Razavi is Research Coordinator of the UNRISD programme area examining Gender and Development. She specializes in the gender dimensions of social development, with a particular focus on livelihoods and social policies. She has led the Institute’s research projects Gender, Poverty and Well-Being; Agrarian Change, Gender and Land Rights; Globalization, Export-Oriented Employment for Women and Social Policy; and work on Gender Justice, Development and Rights which was carried out as part of the Institute's contribution to the Beijing Plus 5 Review Process. Her most recent journal articles include “Liberalization and the debates on women’s access to land” (Third World Quarterly, 28/8, 2007); “The return to social policy and the persistent neglect of unpaid care” (Development and Change, 38/3, 2007); “Does paid work enhance women’s access to welfare? Evidence from selected industrializing countries” (Social Politics, 4/1, 2007); and The Gendered Impacts of Liberalization: Towards 'Embedded Liberalism'? (Routledge, 2009).
  • The conference language will be English, and simultaneous translation in German will be provided. For further information about the conference please click here.
  • Speakers will be available for interview during the conference. Speakers’ short biographies can be found by clicking here.
  • A pre-conference podcast featuring interviews with Barbara Unmüßig and Shahra Razavi can be found in the 'Media downloads' subsection to the top right of this page. For more information, to schedule an interview with conference participants, or to request permission to rebroadcast the podcast please contact the UNRISD Press Office using the contact details at the bottom of this page.


Please use the links to the right of this page to access the Media Downloads related to this Press Release.