Gender Studies

Globalization, Gender, and Religion:The Politics of Women’s Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts

Jane H. Bayes and Nayereh Tohidi, eds., New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2001. 280 pages.

Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The Politics of Women’s Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts began at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (FWCW). At this event, Jane H. Bayes and Nayereh Tohidi witnessed conservative Catholic and conservative Muslim groups unify around issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, and the control of women’s bodies. To understand the spectrum of opinions and better strategize the globalized women’s movement in Catholic and Muslim contexts, the editors brought together feminists from seven countries and one region to determine how religious Catholic and Muslim women dealt with their beliefs in equal rights, and contradictions in their religions and in the official policy of their religious authorities.

This book is divided into 10 chapters and contains an appendix that surveys the historical expansion of Catholicism and Islam. The introduction provides valuable information on how, since 1992, the Vatican has sought to unify with conservative Muslims to counter challenges to their shared religious ideals of women’s social roles. The following chapter, “Women Redefining Modernity and Religion in the Globalized Context,” is structured to answer three fundamental issues about Catholicism and Islam:

How they regard women, what historical similarities and differences exist in their responses to modernity, and what is the position of women’s religiosity and spirituality in social change and their agency in reshaping the parameters of modernity and religion. Ultimately, it gives a useful overview of how Catholicism and Islam perceive women and especially gives a fair treatment of Islam’s uniqueness. Unlike Catholicism, Islam’s lack of a singular, central, organized body makes it difficult to pinpoint the ideal female archetype. To find this ideal, the editors point to the Qur’an’s prominence as the word of God and refer to 4:34 which, by calling women the “charges of men,” is often cited to justify women’s subordination. By citing different scholars, Bayes and Tohidi articulate that cultural, social, and historical circumstances have impaired readings of the Qur’an and neglected its more egalitarian verses.

The United States, Ireland, Spain, and Latin America are discussed in the section on women’s movements in Catholic contexts. Susan Marie Maloney’s chapter on the United States gives an overview of how Catholic women negotiated space for themselves and forwarded women’s rights in the male-dominated Catholic Church. The essay on Ireland, by Yvonne Galligan and Nuala Ryan, establishes the close connection between the government, the Catholic Church, and the Catholic population. They demonstrate that despite a significant drop in church attendance, the results of two referendums in the 1990s on abortion and divorce reflected support for the Catholic Church’s official position. Celia Valiente argues that in Spain, opposition to the dictator Franco was more instrumental in creating progressive laws for women’s rights than the minor women’s right movement, because his laws on women reflected those of the Catholic Church. Laws governing violence against women, abortion, women in the workforce, and child care were expedited because of the subsequent Church–State separation.

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