Rahila Gupta

Gender and fundamentalism: when religion muscles in on development

The truism that there cannot be real development without women’s participation needs a caveat: women’s rights cannot be achieved while religious forces are involved in development.

Seminar on Gender Fundamentalism and Development at SOAS. Ayesha Khan presents her analysis of the way religious fundamentalism impacts on gender and development in Pakistan.Photo: Rahila Gupta

Ruth Pearson, Emeritus Professor of International Development at the University of Leeds, one of the speakers at a seminar on Gender, Fundamentalism and Development, recounted how issues on which a consensus could not be reached in international conferences, such as the 1995 Beijing Women’s conference, would be placed in a square bracket.  Unsurprisingly, ‘gender’ more often than not ended up in a square bracket, usually as the result of pressure from religious, conservative governments like Iran or the Vatican because they found the idea that gender was socially constructed rather than biologically fixed a threatening one. In this interesting series of seminars, organised jointly by SOAS and UEL (University of East London), on ‘Gender, fundamentalism and… ’ the third issue changes each time to ensure that gender and fundamentalism are foregrounded whether we are looking at the government’s PREVENT strategy or development issues. There was a truly international dimension to the discussion with some speakers zooming in on countries as diverse as Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan and Jordan, while others roamed the globe more broadly at a dizzying speed.
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