Over the past couple of decades, violence against women (VAW)––and more recently, the expansive term “gender-based violence” (GBV)––has come to prominence as a highly visible and powerful agenda across a range of local, national, and global domains. By embedding gender violence in a complex matrix of international norms, legal sanctions, and humanitarian aid, the anti-VAW movement has been able to achieve a powerful international “common sense” for defining, measuring, and attending to violence against women in developing countries, particularly during conflict and post-conflict situations. Here, religion is regularly linked to gendered violence. We have seen this script play out countless times. Entire religious traditions are said to promote “cultures of violence.” Women in war are then abstracted out of their local contexts. The definition of VAW is narrowed to attacks on their bodily integrity (e.g. rape), and economic, political and structural forms of violence are excluded. Ending VAW becomes casus belli; local women’s calls for safe homes, safe public spaces, and stable governments are rendered unrecognizable as anti-violence interventions.
However, despite this powerful conflation of religion and VAW for geo-political ends, the crucial question of how religion intersects with VAW/GBV has hardly begun to be considered. Why and when is “religion” invoked in global responses to VAW/GBV? What roles are attributed to religion in these dynamic processes? How are new understandings of “religion” engineered through regimes of governance? What categories of the religious become seen as credible and acceptable, and are empowered as anti-GBV actors? What falls out? Who pays a price and who benefits from the ways religion is used to frame global understandings of VAW/GBV?
Given growing concerns about the conflation of religion and VAW for geo-political ends, the time is ripe for a project that mobilizes the collective experience, expertise, and creativity of an international group of critical feminist scholars, practitioners, activists, and journalists. “Religion and the Global Framing of Gender Violence” examines the role of religion in naming, framing, and governing gendered violence. This three-year initiative is supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and is co-directed by Professor Lila Abu-Lughod (Anthropology/Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality). Through a focus on the Middle East and South Asia, the project will open a critical global conversation with the conviction that more nuanced analyses lead both to more effective strategies for decreasing gender violence, and to more robust understandings of how certain framings of religion and violence can cloud the very diagnoses that are so essential to treating human suffering.
Project co-directors with Abu-Lughod include Professors Rema Hammami, Institute of Women’s Studies, Birzeit University; Janet Jakobsen, Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College; and Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Director of the Gender Studies Program, Mada Al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Research.