Gender, Development and the ‘De-Privatization' of Religion

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Emma TOMALIN , University of Leeds, United Kingdom
‘Poverty has a female face’ in many contexts, which has been exacerbated by the recent global economic crisis. Amongst the range of actors that have responded to declining levels of welfare support by the state are ‘faith-based organizations’, and international donors and agencies increasingly recognize these as significant ‘development’ partners. This ‘turn to religion’ within mainstream development policy and practice has taken place against the backdrop of a perceived ‘religious resurgence’ or ‘de-privatization’ of religion, which casts doubts upon earlier predictions that secularization and modernization are two sides of the same coin.

From a ‘gender and development’ (GAD) perspective, the ‘rise of religion’ coupled with declining levels of state welfare provision presents a threat to gender equality and women’s rights. The preference for ‘secularism’ amongst numerous women’s rights activists and GAD practitioners is no secret, and has been promoted as the best route for securing equality, freedom and security for women globally. Therefore, it is crucial to view the recent ‘turn to religion’ by mainstream development actors through a gender lens. This is not only because women are more vulnerable to poverty, but also because ‘religions have a male face’ (see also Tadros 2010; Tomalin 2011).

This paper examines the future of the ‘secular’ in the light of theories about the ‘de-privatization’ of religion and the implications this has for gender equality and women’s rights, which are central to GAD. Currently, understandings of religion that influence mainstream development policy and practice rely upon frameworks for analysis that are outdated and unhelpful for addressing the above concerns. Focusing upon examples from South Asia, I will demonstrate that distinctions between the religious and secular, the private and public, and the idea of a clearly defined thing called ‘religion’ are unhelpful in addressing contemporary questions around ‘gender, development and the de-privatization of religion’.