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During ARROW's strategic planning process of 2006, our NGO partners from across the Asia-Pacific region identified three critical issues to be prioritised for action within the next five years. Of these, one of the most challenging has been the impact of religious and political conservatisms and fundamentalisms on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). (1) The main obstacle continues to be the lack of a coordinated response by civil society organisations to counter the curtailment of access to SRHR information and services, as a result of justifications drawn from religious sources, in conjunction with prevailing belief systems and cultural practices.

As part of our commitment to action on this issue, ARROW suggested the idea of organising a symposium at the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSH)2 on religious fundamentalisms and its impact on SRHR. We were fortunate to find partners in the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as well as the Global Fund for Women, both of whom generously supported and helped facilitate the realisation of the symposium. The event itself was oversubscribed with a maximum capacity crowd within the symposium venue, and eventually led to over 12 different media articles reporting the issue in both local and international media.

The initial discussion around the content of the symposium and the selection of speakers was a learning process. There was a clear need to build alliances with progressives who were committed to promoting feminist interpretations of religion. However, it proved difficult to do so without first defining what exactly the challenges were, why they occurred, and under what circumstances they flourished or became prominent in resisting full and fair access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The process of obtaining consensus on the use of terms was also difficult, as we strived to accurately describe what we were against, yet also satisfactorily represent both the commonalities as well as the differences in the various religious movements that were actively working against the fulfillment of women's SRHR. There was expressed interest from various stakeholders not only on secular frameworks, but also on the work of those where were exploring feminist approaches or interpretations of religious texts that challenged prevailing patriarchal understandings of religion, towards a more rights-based and gendered practice of spirituality within society. This area is certainly one that warrants further attention.

It is our hope that this book will contribute toward the increased effectiveness of civil society, in terms of countering that which is detrimental to women, while at the same time seeking new paths of consensus that involve women and generate the opportunities that will create a better tomorrow.

We are greatly indebted to our eminent panel of presenters--Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, Jashodhara Dasgupta, Kalpana Kannabiran, and Zaitun Mohammad Kasim (Toni)--all of whom have developed their presentations into papers articulating eloquently the impact of religious fundamentalisms in their countries and sub-regional contexts, and begun the discussion on strategies.

We are also thankful to the chairperson of the panel, Michael Tan, who contributed the overview of this book, drawing out clearly the convergences around the various types and forms of religious fundamentalisms across the region.

We are also grateful to Rashidah Abdullah, the co-chair of the panel, for writing the conclusion of this publication. Rashidah offers some ideas and ways of moving forward toward meeting the challenges of religious fundamentalisms, while at the same time ensuring that our advocacies are contextualised in the very spiritual lives of a large majority of women who live in this region.

Saira Shameem

Executive Director, ARROW


(1) The other two issues were the impact of neo-liberal globalisation and related health sector reforms on sexual and reproductive health and rights; and the need to de-maternalise the concept of maternal mortality and morbidity, and develop a feminist analysis to the issue so that women are not marginalised based on such categorisations as age, class, caste, the legal status of abortion in the country, marital status, sexual activity, sexual orientation, or other sociopolitical and economic constructs. We are presently referring to this approach as "Pregnancy and Childbirth-related Morbidity and Mortality."

(2) The 4th APCRSH was held on 29-31 October 2007 in Hyderabad, India. The symposium was held on 30 October, from 11.00am--12.30pm.
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Author:Shameem, Saira
Publication:Surfacing: Selected Papers on Religious Fundamentalisms and Their Impact on Women's Sexual and Repro
Article Type:Work overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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