Religion Revisited - Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion


Religion Revisited - Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion

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. Religious and political leaders often mobilize religious beliefs in political interventions to constrain women’s rights and gender equality. However, religions also play an important role in the lives of many people. They often open up new spaces for women’s societal participation, and religiously grounded claims about the fundamental equality of all human beings have provided important inspiration to emancipatory movements for human rights and democracy.

Allies or threat in the struggle for women's rights?
Is the strict separation of religion and politics a requirement for women’s rights and gender equality? Or can they be realized in the context of public religions? Are religious movements allies or threat in the struggle for women’s rights? The Heinrich Boell Foundation has invited scholars and feminist activists from Germany, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, UK, and the U.S. to discuss the question of how to deal with religions in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality.

The conference is part of the research project "Religion, Politics and Gender Equality", conducted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). 

Date: Friday and Saturday, June 5 - 6, 2009
Venue: Heinrich Böll Foundation, Schumannstraße 8, 10117 Berlin (location plan)

Please note that you cannot register anymore!

Conference language is English, simultaneous translation to German will be provided.

Further information:
Jill Scherneck
Phone: +49 (0)30 - 285 34-318

Anne Jenichen
Phone: +49 (0)30 - 285 34-317

Agenda of the Conference

Friday, June 5, 2009

16.30-17.30 Registration

17.30-18.00 Welcome addresses

  • Barbara Unmüßig (Heinrich Böll Foundation)
  • Shahra Razavi (UNRISD)

18.00-20.00 Keynote addresses and public discussion

  • José Casanova (Georgetown University, Washington, DC): „The Politicization of Religion: Public Religions Revisited”
  • Anne Phillips (London School of Economics and Political Science, London): „Religion: Ally, threat, or just religion?”

Discussants (10 min each):

  • Farida Shaheed (Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Pakistan)
  • Agnieszka Graff (Warsaw University, Poland)


  • Renate Wilke-Launer (Freelance Journalist, Hamburg)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

10.00-11.00 Lecture
Secularisms, Citizenship and Gender Equality: Contested Approaches

  • Deniz Kandiyoti (University of London, UK)
  • Chair: Shahra Razavi (UNRISD, Geneva)

11.00-12.00 Introduction of working groups 

  1. Religious Feminists – Allies in the struggle for women’s rights? 
    (Facilitation: Homa Hoodfar, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
  2. Welfare provision by faith-based organizations – danger to women’s rights or necessary addition to the state?
    (Facilitation: Asef Bayat, Leiden University, the Netherlands; Azza Karam, UNFPA)
  3. Multiculturalism and Muslim immigrant women’s rights and choices in Western Europe 
    (Facilitation: Gökce Yurdakul, Humboldt-University Berlin
    Rapporteur: Riem Spielhaus, Humboldt-University Berlin)
  4. Religious fundamentalisms – feminist understandings and counter strategies 
    (Facilitation: Cassandra Balchin, Consultant for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, UK
    Rapporteur: Sina Nadine Tegeler, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin)
  5. Religion, politics and family laws
    (Facilitation: Mariz Tadros, Institute of Development Studies, UK; Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, CEDAW Experts Committee and Bar-Ilan University, Israel)

12.00-13.00 Lunch break

13.00-15.15 Parallel working groups (only in English)

15.15-16.00 Tea and coffee break

16.00-18.00 Final discussion
How to challenge politicized religions in favor of women’s rights and gender equality?

  • Beate Blatz (Protestant Women in Germany)
  • Anka Grzywacz (Catholics for Choice, Poland)
  • Homa Hoodfar (Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Canada/Iran)
  • Facilitation: Annette Riedel (Deutschlandradio Kultur)

18.00-18.15 Concluding remarks

  • Barbara Unmüßig (Heinrich Böll Foundation)
  • Shahra Razavi (UNRISD)

End of conference


The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is an autonomous agency engaging in multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development. Its work is guided by the conviction that, for effective development policies to be formulated, an understanding of the social and political context is crucial.

The Institute attempts to provide governments, development agencies, grassroots organizations and scholars with a better understanding of how development policies and processes of economic, social and environmental change affect different social groups. Working through an extensive network of national research centres, UNRISD aims to promote original research and strengthen research capacity in developing countries.