Influences of Religious Fundamentalism on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women

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Post 2015 Women’s Coalition
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Introducing Religious Fundamentalism
The world is less than 500 days away from the targeted day to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight goals and 18 targets set by the United Nations and governments to tackle some of the worst problems that have impeded developing nations. While there has been much debate on the suitability of these targets since they were first launched in 2000, after the Millennium Summit, the culmination in 2015 and the Post 2015 Development Agenda are opportunities to call for greater attention to the issues that the MDGs strived to address. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are critical to achieving the MDGs, in developing the Post 2015 Development Agenda, and, in general, ensuring a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and where the marginalized, including women and girls, are empowered. Even before the MDGs, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, and the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 which resulted in the Program of Action (PoA) and the Beijing Platform for Action, advocated the essentiality of these needs and rights internationally, regionally and nationally.

Priority to SRHR in the Post 2015 Development Agenda means comprehensively addressing universal access to SRHR, beyond considering family planning. Further, SRHR should be embodied in relevant goals and targets, such as gender, health, education, environment and others, because not doing so will limit the achievements expected from these broader areas. The benefits include healthier and longer lives, education opportunities for girls, economic gains for the household, community and country, and dealing with major diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Finally, SRHR and gender equality are inextricably linked. Inequality and power over women, their bodies, and their sexuality endangers health throughout the lifecycle.

The context in which SRHR is ensured is critical to consider. In doing so, the challenge posed by religious fundamentalism, which has been growing in many parts of the world over the past decades, is important. This brief provides an overview of this in the context of achieving SRHR for marginalized groups, particularly women, so as to inform global processes striving to achieve these rights, including the ICPD Beyond 2014 review and Post 2015 Agenda.

The term ‘religious fundamentalism’ has connotations of regression and backwardness and has been used in debates, Islamic militancy activities, Protestant ideology, anti-Americanism and fanaticism. The use of the term in this brief does not signify one religion, but illustrates how the political (mis)use of religion may limit rights, including SRHR, of women and marginalized groups.

Religious fundamentalism misuses religion for political power, and selects specific aspects of modernity as going against religious identity and rejecting others. It is associated with conservative authoritarian policies. Religious right ideologies use discourses of religion and culture to maintain and extend power over the public and private domains. Religious fundamentalists impose their worldviews and apply religious law to all aspects of life. Women are often considered the custodians of family norms and honor and religion is used to control them in direct and indirect ways. As a result, their bodies and sexualities, as well as freedom of movement, reproduction, and dress, become sites of religious control. Extreme interpretations of religion have also impacted people of diverse sexuality.

For the full issue brief prepared by the Asian-Pacific Research & Resource Centre for Women (ARROW) for the Post 2015 Women's Coalition please download the free pdf attached.