Women's Human Rights-And Religion

By Mitchem, Stephanie Y. | Cross Currents, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Women's Human Rights-And Religion


Mitchem, Stephanie Y., Cross Currents


I was invited to give a paper at the Women, Religion, and Human Rights conference held in Sweden June 2011. Women and men from around the world, scholars from a variety of fields, gathered to share experiences and ideas. Two questions occurred to me at that event. Near the end of the conference, some of the participants began to define "religion." I knew that many of the scholars attending the conference were from history or sociology or political science, some field other than religious studies or theology. If religionists' absence indicated that theologians had ceded the arguments about human rights, this was very disturbing to me. After all, most religious traditions claim an anthropological view that humans have meaning beyond apparent economic or social value. It would seem that such a human rights focus could also have the added benefit of engendering deeper interfaith dialogues. Following this line of thought, my question was: "Why aren't more religion scholars thinking through issues of human rights and women?"

Second, I was struck by the fact that I was one of the few Americans present. My second question became: "In a global conversation, why were so few Americans involved?" I'm aware that there is a belief that United States' women are secure in their human rights. However, this belief is a fiction that, in global comparisons, is consistently proven untrue. The number of women in political leadership; the social efforts to end domestic violence; achieving equal pay and economic strength as well as the leadership of various religious bodies--in such markers as these, women in the United States do not take the lead among nations, but fall far down the list. We've long needed to have substantive conversations about these women and human rights from the perspectives of religious scholars.

During and following that 2011 conference, women's status and wellbeing in the United States were brought into sharp relief. Throughout the presidential election cycle, birth control and contraception were challenged by some church groups, using proposed legislation to outlaw each as a form of abortion. Religious freedom has been a battle cry that has served to reinscribe male dominance over women's bodies, and in doing so, reinforce the subsequent economic inequalities. …

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