Confronting fundamentalism

Kaberi Gayen

Kaberi Gayen

EPISODE-SIX     People are talking about and confronting fundamentalisms very openly at the global level. As mentioned earlier, NGOs met at the Cairo and Beijing conferences to discuss and, in many crucial areas, defeat fundamentalisms. Since Beijing, there have been numerous projects, publications and articles that address fundamentalisms. Following the Beijing conference, WAF issued WAF Journal No. 7, which addresses the Beijing conference, fundamentalism and reproductive rights. Reproductive Health Matters dedicated an entire issue to fundamentalisms and women’s reproductive rights (Number 8, November 1996). In May 1998, the International Rule of Law Center at the George Washington University Law School organized a conference on religious fundamentalisms and the human rights of women. As a result of this conference, the book entitled Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women (1999) was published.                  To be continued

In 2000, the Twenty-third Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the document, “Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action.” Even though there was a significant amount of fundamentalist pressure during negotiations, for the first time in an international document so-called “honour crimes” and forced marriage were addressed. The final document lists among actions to be taken at the national level that governments develop, adopt and fully implement laws and other measures as appropriate to eradicate harmful customary or traditional practices including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and so-called honour crimes.

With these success stories, there are currently two major campaigns running at world scale that target prominent religious fundamentalist movements: The “See Change” campaign seeks to change the status of the Holy See at the United Nations, and the “Stop Agenda Apartheid” campaign seeks to end human rights abuses against women and girls in Afghanistan. Besides, every country has their respective feminist movements.

Though feminists (not the followers of patriarchal feminism) are quite vocal against religious fundamentalisms, the voice against globalisation and neo-liberal economy is not that strong. Even if there is any protest against this neo-liberal economy, the voices do not spread very much. This agenda could not be the mainstream agenda very often. The reason may be that women’s access and control over information technology is very little as is their access to other resources. According to Jenkins (2008), women, who comprise nearly 52 percent of the population, own less than 3 percent of radio and television stations. Not coincidentally, women hold the same proportion – 3 percent – of “clout” positions in the media. Fully 97 percent of the decision makers in the newsroom, the publishing house and the studio lot are men.

However, Socialist International Women (SIW) started their campaign for better economic opportunities for women in their resolution on “Women and the Globalisation of the World Economy” in 1997. Socialist International Women urgently calls on the trade union movement, both at national and international levels to actively work for the protection of the rights of those victimised by migrant, informal and flexible work.

SIW calls on states to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Women Workers and their families and to fulfil their commitment as enshrined in the documents of UN conferences such as the Fourth World Conference on Women, the World Summit on Social Development, the International Conference on Population and Development and the Conference on Human Rights.

SIW calls for collective political action at different levels- supranational, national, local etc to adopt gender-sensitive policies and programmes of economic and social development that include:

i)   redefining the international system of accounts to take into consideration women’s work;

ii)  women’s equal participation in decision-making using quotas at this stage;

iii)  regulating transnational corporations to ensure the protection of labour rights and human rights, explicitly women’s rights;

iv)  pursuing international co-ordination of national economic policies in order to create new jobs and to uphold and protect workers’ rights;

v)  ensuring equal pay for equal work;

vi)  giving women full and equal access to economic resources, to credit and the right to own land and to inherit;

vii) restructuring and targeting the allocation of public expenditure to promote women’s economic opportunities to education, training, the sciences and new technologies;

viii) stimulating and assist fertility management programmes in order for women to secure their reproductive rights;


Stoned to death

promoting and developing the means by which women communicate and share information throughout the world, and within countries.

Islamist economy, mainly charitable money donated by rich people from Saudi Arabia and Middle-Eastern countries and distributed by international Islamic NGOs, is rising as a challenge to this free-market economy and attracting women of low income category. Many educated youth are also being attracted with this economy with the illusion that an Islamist economy would free their country from the orbit of the IMF and the imperialist powers, solve the problems of high unemployment and under-employment and offer the male heads of households both better educational opportunities and a more generous income for their families.

Western feminists wrote hugely on the projection of women in the media. Through these writings an intellectual awareness has been spread, especially among academia and activists, it has led to the formulation of courses like women and media in universities, but it could not change the situation very much because the ownership of media and access to other economic resources is still very little among women. The protests against the commercialisation and commoditisation of women in mass media are mainly issue-based rather than consistent structured movement. These protests could hardly be fervent in the mainstream media or in the public sphere. The philosophy of maximisation of capital hardly cares about this kind of unstructured protests. So, the growth of the beauty industry and the business exploiting the unattainable beauty image is at its hype. However, the foundation of activist groups like The Feminist Association of Iceland (founded in 2003) who fight against sexist and negative images/advertisements, arrange meetings with politicians after the election in Iceland and opening of an wandering exhibition “Alternatives of Beauty” about protest against beauty contests in Iceland initiates hopes. There are numerous of such kind of organisations throughout the world without networks.

As a response to the extreme exploitation of women’s body, ‘veil’ and ‘hijab’ got popularity among the educated, unmarried, Muslim women as a symbol of empowerment.  Islamist women –unlike secular and other feminists – strongly reject the influences of westernisation and the sexual images of women that they say are produced by modern capitalism and popular consumerist culture. The objectification of woman’s body – whether in popular aesthetics or subliminal and explicit sexual terms – is offensive to both the secular and Islamist women. Islamist women who claim to be liberated and feminists suggest that the hijab will protect her from being disturbed or from the common sexual harassment that a woman often faces in the anonymous and alienating urban space. Thus the Islamic mode of dress would ultimately enforce societal respect for a woman especially when she is in a public space (Hassan, 2004).