By Daniel C. Maguire
After having been forced by the Inquisitors to say that the world does
not move around the sun, Galileo reportedly left his interrogators,
muttering: Eppu si muove. (Nonetheless, it moves.)
A funny thing happened on the way to an apology.
Now first, let it be frankly admitted: apology has never been the Vatican's
strong suit. In general, their principle has been, "being the Vatican
means never having to say you're sorry." Sometimes under the stress
of excruciating evidence and the passage of several centuries as a cover,
they will buckle and say: Sorry about that, Mr. Galileo. The current
pope recently binged on a flurry of hedged apologies to Jews, women,
et al. (Gays, lesbians, and pro-choicers, however, may have a longer
wait than Galileo.)
All of this makes a recent mini-drama all the more enticing. At the
1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development, the Vatican
reiterated - from its unduly privileged perch there - its disapproval
of "the use of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention programmes."
This "better-dead-than-condomed" position has not been blessed
by any of the world's religions or by common sense. It is, in a word,
And so to our wondering eyes did recently appear an article in the
Vatican's own Osservatore Romano by Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau of the
Pontifical Council for the Family, no less! The article never said sorry,
but there, wrapped in convolutions was a major tilt. The Monsignor,
showing that he reads more than the Osservatore, acknowledged that the
Vatican has been accused of "lacking a sense of reality and of
being irresponsible about the HIV/AIDS epidemic...." He then stated,
"The prophylactic is one of the ways to 'contain' the sexual transmission
of HIV/AIDS, that is, to limit its transmission." Regarding sex
workers in Thailand, the Monsignor said, "the use of condoms had
particularly good results for these people with regard to the prevention
of sexually transmitted diseases."
And there was more. "The use of prophylactics in these circumstances
is actually a 'lesser evil,' but it cannot be proposed as a model of
humanization and development." In the language of Catholic moral
theology, that means such use of condoms is not ideal, but morally good
under the imperfect conditions of real life. The principle of choosing
the lesser evil explains in sound Catholic ethics such things as killing
in self-defense or using pain-killers that may have the unfortunate
effect of shortening life. The principle was even used in the Catholic
past to justify certain abortions...something you will not read about
in the Osservatore Romano. For the Monsignor to resurrect the principle
here, in this context, is news. And it is a change of course for the
This change was noted in a brief, gentle article in America (September
23, 2000) by two Jesuit scholars, Jon D Fuller, associate professor
of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, and James F. Keenan,
moral theologian at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. They described
the change with calm precision.
"Foul!" cried Monsignor Suaudeau. "The Church,"
which Suaudeau seems to think is the Vatican, "has not changed."
The article by the two Jesuits was "a pretext to relaunch the argument."
What he meant to say, I'm sure, was that their candid, careful article
blew the whistle on the Vatican's slightly obscured backtracking. Would
that the Monsignor had, instead, quoted Pilate at Jesus' trial: "What
I have written, I have written."
The fact is that Monsignor Suaudeau said many good things in his April
article. He said that HIV/AIDS cannot be fought simply by throwing condoms
at it. He cited "the condition of women, the problems of poverty,
political instability, unemployment, the growth of prostitution, the
condition of refugees, civil wars, and the urban crowding of the poor
as factors that fuel the transmission of HIV. The Jesuits credited him
for this, but then they insisted, as Galileo did, that there really
is movement: Eppur si muove!
Vatican's] "better-dead-than-condomed" position has not been
blessed by any of the world's religions or by common sense. It is flat-earth
Vatican's response to Brazil
At a recent Brazilian Bishops' Conference, the bishops of the country
with the largest Catholic population in the world, adopted the Vatican's
policy against condoms. It's a move that clearly widens the growing
divide between the Church and its people. The AIDS epidemic has left
more than 100,000 Brazilians dead and 30,000 of the country's children
orphans. Currently, there are 530,000 HIV positive Brazilians, among
them, many children, according to the country's Health Ministry. The
Ministry warns, if the Church does not change its position on condoms,
it must "respond in the future for the consequences of the spread
of the epidemic among Brazilian Catholics."
Father Valeriano Paitoni, an Italian priest who has lived in Brazil
for the last 22 years, runs three shelters in Sao Paulo for AIDS victims.
The shelters serve an estimated 33,000 people, one-third of whom are
children. A vocal critic of the Vatican's stand, Father Paitoni, has
been quoted as saying, "AIDS is a world epidemic, a public health
problem that must be confronted with scientific advances ..... Rejecting
condom use is to oppose the fight for life."
Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Claudio Hummes, labeled Paitoni's views "unacceptable"
- in conflict with Church doctrine. Father Paitoni, however, maintains
that the protection of human life outweighs all other considerations.
The priest views the use of condoms as a lesser evil.
Brazil's Health Ministry defended Paitoni, calling him an "important
partner," in the battle against AIDS.
The Right to Family Planning in 10 World Religions
Family planning - meaning contraception with abortion as a backup when
necessary -- should not be controversial. Quite the contrary, family
planning is common sense and a basic human right. It is well known that
the religions of the world were spawned at a time when the human problem
was depopulation, not overpopulation. Yet despite the modern planet's
need to worry about overpopulation, the anti-family planning views of
the world's religions are well published, particularly by the Vatican
from its unique position in the United Nations.
What is less well known is that pro-choice views exist alongside the
no-choice views in the world religions. Thanks to the David and Lucile
Packard Foundation, we at The Religious Consultation On Population,
Reproductive Health and Ethics have launched a project to shed light
on the solid, thoroughly orthodox, pro-family-planning positions in
the world's major religions. Our project aims to free the consciences
of religious people to use contraception and abortion when necessary.
We hope to deliver the pro-choice message in a couple of ways. First,
two books, produced by the scholars in our family planning project are
now in process. The popular easily accessible volume will be released
early in 2001. The scholarly version will be out late in 2001. The Packard
Foundation has also given us a grant for a professionally produced documentary
that presents the results of this project. The film will be distributed
domestically and abroad. In addition, Packard funds will enable us to
take this liberating message overseas where we will meet with policy
makers, religious leaders, NGOs working in the population/reproductive
health field, journalists, and the public.
Our goals for this project are not modest: we hope to change international
discourse on the subject of family planning. The right to contraception
is a fundamental human right as is the right to abortion when necessary
as a backup. We will show that this view is grounded in the spiritual
and moral insights of the world's religions, and we will counter the
oppressive and distorting positions espoused by the religious right
in all these religions.
Another problem our family planning project addresses
is the happy-talk of many conservatives who say that the population
problem is over. "After all," they say, "population growth
has reversed - even in places like Catholic Italy." We may run
out of Italians!! Well, the good news is we won't run out of Italians.
Italy is enjoying a demographic transition, and its population will
level off at reasonable numbers.
facts, other countries
But dismissing population problems by touting the fact that the overall
world population will peak sometime around the middle of this century
is small comfort for poor nations like Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Nigeria
whose numbers will probably triple in the next fifty years - with economic
and political effects that can hardly be imagined. Half the children
in Ethiopia today are undernourished. And if Pakistan triples its numbers,
as expected, each Pakistani would have to subsist on a piece of grain
land about the size of a tennis court - not enough to support even a
meager diet. Bangladesh is about the size of the state of Iowa, but
it has 40 times the people, and its numbers are expected to almost double
- to about 210 million - by the middle of this century.
Those who would sing songs of comfort about the end of the population
problem should first imagine 210 million people in Iowa. They should
also remember that family planning is a permanent necessity and will
continue to be a necessity even when population growth levels off.
There is some good news. Some 35 nations have stopped growing, and
the populations of some have actually declined. Even poor states in
India, like Kerala and Goa, have stabilized their populations.
But world population still grows because high mortality in developed
nations is not the threat it was in the past. A century ago, much of
the world's nutrition and sanitation were poor, and medicine was almost
absent. Yet that's still the state of a lot of the world today. People
in these nations still feel they need to make many babies because most
will die. That is family planning of a very desperate sort! In Sudan
today, many couples feel the need to have 12 or more children to see
3 or 4 survive. Often more than 3 or 4 survive. Women are looked on
primarily as potential mothers, and so early teenage marriages are often
the norm. There is a clear link between illiteracy among girls and women
and high birth rates.
In all of this, those cultural powerhouses we call religions will be
players. The goal of the Consultation's family planning project is to
broadly deliver its message - to show that religions support contraception,
with abortion as a backup when necessary. One-third of the coming population
increase will be due to a lack of access to contraception that people
want - an unmet need. Religious influence is involved in that lack of
access. Religious influence is also involved in what could be called
un-demanded need - a lack of demand often based on religious ignorance.
This project seeks to correct that ignorance.
Bangladesh is about the
size of the state of Iowa, but it has 40 times the people.
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of the Family Planning Project
Here is a list of contributors to the family planning project. We have
included their areas of expertise as well as their affiliations.
Funmi Togonu-Bickersteth, Obafemi
Awolowo University, Nigeria. African attitudes toward family planning
Jose Barzelatto, M.D. The Center
for Health and Social Policy. Specialist in reproductive health.
Mary Churchill, University of Colorado at Boulder. Native
Christine Gudorf, Florida International
University. Catholic theologian.
Beverly Harrison, Union Theological
Seminary, New York. Protestant theologian.
Riffat Hassan, University of Louisville,
Kentucky. Islamic scholar.
Ping-chen Hsuing, Academia Sinica,Taiwan.
Chinese cultural history, families, and reproduction.
Aurudh Jain, The Population Council.
Sandhya Jain, New Delhi. Hinduism
and Indian culture.
Geling Shang, Grand Valley State
University, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Chinese religions.
Arvind Sharma, McGill University,
Montreal, Canada. Hinduism.
Parichart Suwanbubbha, Mahidol
Univeristy, Thailand. Thai Buddhism.
Laurie Zoloth, San Francisco State
University, California. Jewish theologian.
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report on Beijing+5
by Christine Gudorf, Religious Consultation Scholar
As is usual at UN conferences and special sessions, the most interesting
happenings at the Beijing +5 meeting were not the "official sessions"
where the conference document was being thrashed out. The really interesting
sessions at this meeting were those held by women's NGOs.
Women's groups from all over the world held sessions, some organized
by nation, some by region, and others by issue. I chose my sessions
based on my interests in the development in the two-thirds world.
For example, I attended a fascinating session held by more than a dozen
representatives of different women's groups of China who reviewed -
among other things - recent and ongoing campaigns to improve the media
treatment of women and to protect women from sexual abuse and domestic
violence. The strategies discussed included programs that would give
women easier access to divorce and make police and prosecutors more
responsive to the needs of women. The Chinese women were very outspoken
about prevailing sexual inequality and the need for further progress.
Yet they also spoke about hundreds of women's groups working on these
issues, as well as many supportive government officials.
Women from Turkey held a session to publicize the scandalous legal
exclusion of women in headscarves from all types and levels of education
in Turkey. (Over half the female population wears headscarves after
puberty in this nation, which is over 95% Muslim.) For the last two
years, women who wear headscarves have been expelled as both instructors
and students from medical schools, law schools, religious institutes,
vocational schools, colleges, and universities - and most appallingly,
from high schools. These women appealed for international support. However,
they were discouraged by the EU Human Rights Commission's previous decision,
which allowed France to ban the wearing of the headscarf in all French
Iraqi and international medical organizations held a heartbreaking
session on the effects of the embargo on the health of women and children
Women in Indonesia gave a fascinating account of the special problems
for women - especially minority women - stemming from the political
upheavals of the last few years. Minority women, in particular, have
been targets of sexual violence.
A number of different international organizations working on human
rights standards for the treatment of trafficked persons updated international
progress. While most organizations in this area began working against
sexual trafficking, all now seem convinced that sexual trafficking is
only one part of much larger trafficking: male, female and child workers
not involved in commercial sex.
The bigger picture
In these and many other sessions, hearing and seeing accounts of women's
activism and organization was exciting. The sessions emphasized women
as agents, taking responsibility for their lives and their societies
- not merely making demands on governments and societies. These groups
were creating the structures as well as providing the labor and the
planning to satisfy those demands.
At the same time, I was embarrassed to be one of the few Westerners
at most of these sessions of the two-thirds world. These women were
so warm and welcoming, so appreciative of anyone who had enough interest
to come and hear them, that one could not escape feeling slightly crestfallen
that only a handful of Westerners - out of the many thousands at Beijing+5
-attended these sessions.
Many of the very crowded sessions had advertised speakers with international
reputations. But the stories told by the women from Africa, Asia, the
Middle East, and Latin America who described their work, their progress,
and their plans sparkled with the same brilliant energy that their colorful
clothing radiated among the otherwise rather staid and dull raiment
of those of us from the developed world.
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Books - the fruits
of our labors - they're out or coming soon
After many months of hard work, the next six months or so will see
many of our works published. Here is the status of the books written
by Religious Consultation scholars.
Sacred Energies: When the Religions of the World
Address the Problems of the Planet, (Fortress Press) by Daniel
C. Maguire explores the eco-crisis of overpopulation, overconsumption,
and environmental degradation. It will be available in November 2000.
Sacred Energies is the popular version of Visions of a New Earth, Harold
Coward and Daniel C. Maguire, editors. Visions was published in early
2000 and is available in paperback.
What Men Owe to Women: Men's Voices from World
Religions. Editor, John C. Raines. You can expect both the popular
version (Fortress Press) and the scholarly volume (SUNY Press) in January,
2001. The book explores the relationships between the genders from many
religious perspectives: Hindu, Protestant-Christian, African-Traditional,
Islam, Judaism, Catholic, Thai-Buddhist, Taoist, and Native North American.
Good Sex: Feminist Perspectives from the World's
Religions, Editors, Mary E. Hunt and Patricia Beattie Jung. The
scholarly volume (Rutgers University Press) and the popular volume (Fortress
Press) should be out in 2001. The book considers how women from different
religions and cultures are redefining sexual and social restrictions;
religiously and socially acceptable avenues of sexual expression; sexual
identities, and attitudes toward women's desires.
The popular volume of The Right to Family Planning,
Contraception, and Abortion in 10 World Religions, (Fortress
Press) by Daniel C. Maguire will be available in early 2001. The scholarly
volume of this book, whose title is yet to be determined, will be published
late next year. Several university presses are interested in publishing
Good Sex: Feminist Perspectives from the World's Religions.
PART I: CREATION OF DESIRES
1. Good Sex: Beyond Private Pleasure by Grace M. Jantzen
2. The Muslim Religious Right ("Fundamentalists") and Sexuality
by Ayesha M. Imam
3. Guilty Pleasures: When Sex is Good Because It's Bad by Rebecca Alpert
4. Capitalism and Sexuality: Free to Choose? by Radhika Balakrishnan
PART II: PRICES OF SEX
5. Islam and Women's Sexuality: A Research Report from Turkey by Pinar
6. Sexual Pleasure: A Roman Catholic Perspective on Women's Delight
by Patricia Beattie Jung
7. Beyond Compulsory Motherhood by Wanda Deifelt
8. Buddhism on Sexuality and Enlightenment by Suwanna Satha-Anand
PART III: RECONSTRUCTION OF SEXUALITIES
9. Authority, Resistance, and Transformation: Jewish Feminist Reflections
on Good Sex by Judith Plaskow
10. The Sex of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko
11. Just Good Sex: Feminist Catholicism and Human Rights by Mary E.
What Men Owe to Women: Men's Voices from World
Introduction by John C. Raines
A Hindu Perspective by Anantanand Rambachan
A Protestant Christian Perspective by Marvin M. Ellison
"Bumuntu" Paradigm and Gender Justice:An Essay on Sexist and
Anti-Sexist Trends in African Traditional Religion by Mutombo Nkulu-N'Sengha
Islam, Women and Gender Justice by Asghar Ali Engineer
A Jewish Perspective by Ze'ev W. Falk
A Catholic Perspective by Gerard S. Sloyan
Islam and Gender Justice: Beyond Simplistic Apologia by Farid Esack
A Thai Buddhist Perspective by Tavivat Puntarigvivat
Taoism: Appreciating and Applying The Principle of Femininity by Liu
To Protect the Ground We Walk On: A Native North American Perspective
by Christopher Ronwaniènte Jocks
Conclusion by Daniel C. Maguire
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survey supports family planning in lowering mortality rates
The Nepal Family Health Survey (NFHS) found that an effective family
planning program addressed the factors exerting the largest impact on
infant and child mortality. Findings: delaying, spacing, and limiting
births can substantially reduce infant and child mortality. The survey
analyzed 33 variables - socioeconomic, demographic, and health factors.
Between 1981-1985 and 1991-1995, Nepal's infant and children-under-five
death rate dropped 40% - from 196 to 118 deaths per-thousand births.
These numbers have continued to decline. However, even with Nepal's
improvements, its numbers are still among the highest in the world.
Some points of comparison
At the time of the NFHS survey, India's infant and child mortality rate
was 109 per-thousand; Indonesia, 81 per-thousand; Thailand, 67 per-thousand;
Phillippines, 54 per-thousand.
About the survey
The survey collected data on fertility and family planning, as well
as maternal and child health: 8,429 ever-married women, ages 15-49,
provided information on 29,156 children. The information was gathered
from January through June 1996.
Mortality data was classified into three categories: neonatal (first
month), postneonatal (1-12 months), and child (12-60 months).
Young mothers, large families, and short birth intervals substantially
increase under-five mortality risks.
Mortality is higher in all three groups - neonatal, postneonatal,
and child - when the mothers are young. The survey concluded, "the
largest improvements in children's life expectancy occur when mothers
wait to give birth until they are least 20 years old."
The mortality rate "drops sharply" when births are
at least two years apart. The mortality rate goes down further when
the interval is three years - and still further when it extends to four.
Late-born children in large families also suffer high mortality
rates. Neonatal mortality "stays fairly constant" for first,
second, and third children. However, mortality increases for all children
born in the number-four place or later.
The mother's literacy is one of the strongest factors affecting
under-five mortality. A mother's literacy is more important than attending
Mortality rates are "slightly lower" in households
with "a relatively higher economic level," i.e., households
with a radio, television, bicycle, or telephone.
Family planning efforts should target young mothers and mothers
with large families.
Temporary contraceptive efforts to ensure child spacing will
help reduce child mortality.
Literacy programs for mothers may have a strong potential for
increasing the health of under-five children - more so than minimal
Four maternal healthcare inventions could play a significant
role in reducing mortality during the first year of life: 1) antenatal
checkups, 2) postpartum checkups, 3) antenatal tetanus immunization,
and 4) assistance at delivery by a traditional birth attendant. Very
few women in Nepal are currently receiving these services.
Source: East-West Center Program on Population, Asia-Pacific
Popluation & Policy, Number 49
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Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Survey findings support religious freedom of choice
In 1999, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice conducted a
national poll to "probe [US] attitudes about reproductive choice
from a moral and religious perspective."
The nationwide survey was conducted January 12-17, 2000 by Lake, Snell,
Perry and Associates who designed and administered the questionnaire
of 900 registered US voters, age 18 and older. Professional interviewers
used clear "values language" in eliciting responses during
Americans think that abortion decisions belong to the individual. In
fact, viewing reproductive issues from the standpoint of faith and conscience
may increase and strengthen support for the right to choose.
Two cases in point: 75% of those surveyed agreed with these two statements
1. Abortion is a personal decision that is better left in the hands
of a woman, her doctor, her family, and her God.
2. Each woman must make the decision for herself in keeping with her
sense of faith and her values.
80% agreed with this statement - A person must follow her own faith,
personal beliefs, and conscience in a matter like abortion.
Some Major Findings
Support for Education. Across religions,
voters overwhelmingly favor requiring schools to teach sexuality education.
Individual Conscience Prevails. A solid majority of those surveyed
say that religion and their church or synagogue is of personal importance.
Yet despite strong attachments to their religion, if a conflict arises,
more than 50% say that they would follow their own beliefs rather than
the strictures of their church/synagogue.
Perceptions of Religion. Many interviewed
believe that religions in general - and their own religion in particular
- do not support a pro-choice view. While 50% of those surveyed favors
keeping abortion legal, only slightly more than one-third says that
their religion agrees with them.
Choice and Religion - Not a Conflict.
Interviewees overwhelmingly agreed with the individual's right to choose,
and that this right did not pose a conflict with religious conviction.
For example, 78% of those surveyed agreed with this statement: a woman
can be both pro-choice and religious.
Willing to Protect Rights. The
majority would not take the right to choose away from women - even one-third
of anti-choice voters are willing to protect the rights of other women.
A Personal Decision. 58% agree
that abortion is a personal issue.
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the activities of our participating scholars: Movers and Shakers
Rebecca Alpert has edited a book,
Voice of the Religious Left: A Contemporary Sourcebook, published by
Temple University Press. An expanded and updated second edition of her
1985 book, written with Jacob Staub, Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist
Approach has now been published.
Nawal Ammar has published several
articles: Health Delivery Systems in Women's Prisons o International
Review of Victimology o Simplistic Stereotyping and Complex Reality
of Arab-American Immigrant Identity: Consequences and Future Strategies
in Policing Wife Battery o Eco-feminism in the Egyptian Context.
Nawal has been kept busy with speaking engagements, some delivered
in Arabic, some in English. She spoke at the University of Bahrain on
Women in the Gulf and Non-governmental Organizations as well as Eco-feminism
and Islam. She also addressed the Mother and Child Organization on the
role of non-governmental organizations in the newly secured vote for
women and participation in Parliament.
Informally, Nawal addressed a group of women attorneys in Manam on
the topic of Islam and Issues of Women Judges. At the invitation of
the US Ambassador's wife, she spoke to a gathering of 70 women from
all over Bahrain about being Arab and Muslim in the US.
Nawal has given numerous interviews to newspapers and television reporters.
On August 14th she spoke to Ismat al Musawi, a famous Bahrain journalist,
who used Nawal's lecture on eco-feminism to urge the government to act
seriously to adopt family planning as a national policy.
Julia Ching was awarded Canada's
highest honor, the Order of Canada, for her distinguished scholarly
achievements. She has recently published a book with Oxford University
Press, entitled, The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi. She attended a UN
Development Conference in Bangkok in May.
Marvin Ellison has co-edited a
festscrift [collection of essays] in honor of Beverly W. Harrison, another
of our Consultation scholars, on the occasion of her retirement from
the Union Seminary. This special issue of the Union Seminary Quarterly
Review (Vol. 53, No. 3-4), Justice in the Making, includes essays by
two other Consultation scholars, Dan Maguire and Christine Gudorf.
Farid Fesack's term of office as
Commissioner for Gender Equality in the government of South Africa ends
early next year. He will then become Visiting Professor at the University
of Hamburg until September, 2001. During this time, he will continue
to lecture and to do research on Voices of Progressive Islam: Lives,
Contexts, and Ideas. He has recently completed his manuscript for the
Introduction to the Qu'ran (Oneworld 2001). And he is currently working
on an anthology on Religion and Gender Justice in South Africa.
Farid has also organized Positive Muslims, a national support and advocacy
group for Muslims living with HIV/AIDS. He hopes that this work contributes
to developing a Qur'anic theology of compassion in the same way his
anti-apartheid effort led to developing a Qur'anic liberation theology
Aruna Gnanadason, currently with the World Council of Churches
in Geneva, has written an article for a collected work, Globalisation
and Eco-feminism. Another of her articles, being published by the University
of St. Paul in Canada, has a working title of Traditions of Prudence
in a World of Broken Relationships. Aruna is also working on another
article, a commentary on Thomas Berry's, The Great Work. She has recently
published Towards a Theology of the Heart for the Jubilee issue of the
United Theological College of Bangalore, India.
Riffat Hassan, Chair of the Consultation's
Board, gave a public lecture to the Islamic Community in Miami Florida
in July. Her topic was the rights of women in Islam and the problem
of violence against women in Pakistan.
On August 2, Riffat spoke as one of four panelists about the issue
of violence against girls and women in Pakistan and how this violence
can be reduced at the Women's Center in Washington, D.C. The following
day she conducted a seminar at the World Bank.
Riffat was invited by Amnesty International to give the keynote address
for the organization's celebrated Women's Equality Day in Cedar Rapids,
On September 30, Riffat spoke at the Pakistan Millennium Conference
in Boston, Massachusetts and she will speak at the APPNA Conference
Riffat has been consulted by the Oprah Winfrey Show to provide information
about the various forms of violence against women: female genital mutilation,
"honor" crimes and killings, acid burnings, dowry deaths,
gender apartheid, and female infanticide. The program is tentatively
scheduled as the first of a series of shows devoted to the topic of
violence against women.
Following in the wake of her highly publicized letter to General Musharraf,
Chief Executive of Pakistan, (See Religious Consultaton Report, Spring,
2000), Riffat and her INFVVP group continue to watch closely the decisions
and announcements coming out of Pakistan that relate to the issue of
discrimination and crimes against women.
As Riffat says of her homeland, "It is not declarations, but actions,
which ultimately change the destiny of persons and nations.... In these
dark and difficult days in the history of Pakistan, we have a great
responsibility to be the voice of conscience and reason."
Ben Hubbard attended the UN Millennium
Peace Summit on environmental and women's rights issues.
Mary E. Hunt and Patricia
Beattie Jung spoke at Loyola University, presenting "fresh
perspectives and new ideas" taken from the Consultation's upcoming
book, Good Sex: Feminist Perspectives from the World's Religions.
Judith Plaskow spent time at England's
University of Manchester where she and one of our other scholars, Grace
Jantzen, presented a one-day conference at the University's Center for
Religion, Culture, and Gender. Their presentations were based on materials
taken from chapters in the Consultation's upcoming book, Good Sex: Feminist
Perspectives from the World's Religions . The two scholars also spoke
on the same topic at the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and
Helen Sterk has co-authored Becoming
Mother: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Birthing Narratives. The book,
due out in the spring of 2001, analyzes interviews with more than 130
women who relate their birthing experiences. The interviews conclude
that a "good birth" happens only when the mother's needs,
desires, and intuitions are honored. Women interviewed were from Algeria,
Canada, China, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, US, and Vietnam.
Chun-Fang Yu has developed a lecture
series for Rutgers University, entitled Religion and American Politics.
Jean Elshtain of the University of the Chicago's Divinity School will
be the main speaker. Chun-Fang's new 700-page book, (Columbia University
Press) Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteshvara is due
out this December in both hard and soft covers.
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results on new male contraceptive pill
The European journal, Human Reproduction, recently conducted a survey
to gather opinions about the male contraceptive pill that may be available
in the next 5-10 years. The survey involved 2,000 men and 2,000 women.
Here are their findings:
80% of women favored male contraception.
Almost all women would trust their male partners to be responsible
and take the pill..
Men are "eager" to assume more responsibility
66% of men worldwide would use the pill.
Source: Popline, March-April 2000.
a new member of the Consultation's Board of Directors,
Mary Churchill. Assistant Professor, Women's Studies, University of
Colorado at Boulder, received her doctorate from the University of California,
Santa Barbara. She is one of the members of the Consultation's family
Mary's dissertation, Walking the 'White Path': Toward a Cherokee-Centric
Hermeneutic for Interpreting Cherokee Literature, is one of many works
in which Mary explores the role of indigenous women in society and literature.
Other titles include
Literature and Arts of Indigenous Peoples as Resistance
Cherokee Women Writers in the Cherokee Diaspora
Shaping Theoretical Spheres: Implications from the Writings of American
Having a Place To Call Myself and Call the Spirits: Native American
Religious Themes in the Writing of Contemporary Cherokee Women
Transformation and Endurance in the Writing of Cherokee Women.
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impact at Packard Executive Seminar
Last May, staff members Dan Maguire and Mary Ewens attended an executive
seminar sponsored by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
All participants in this seminar were grantees of Packard's Population
Program, and gathering the grantees together gave everyone a good opportunity
to learn about each other's work. Dan and Mary discovered that whenever
they talked about the family planning project, others at the seminar
became very excited, asking questions like, When will the book be available?
Could one of the Consultation scholars come speak at our conference?
How do we get on your mailing lists?
At the closing session of the conference, the moderator asked for comments.
A California representative said, I think that the Consultation's family
planning project is of major importance for all of us. It is absolutely
crucial that it should be funded. His comment both heartened us and
renewed our conviction that others, too, understand the importance of
need your comments - please
When all of the Packard Foundation grantees got together at the Executive
Meeting, the foundation staff asked us the same question that foundations
worldwide ask their grantees, How can we be sure that our grants are
making a difference? While the Packard staff is well aware that not
all outcomes can be easily calculated and translated into data, different
kinds of information can often be gathered to indicate the effectiveness
of a program.
As we of the Consultation have been thinking and talking about how
to assess the success of our programs, we thought one way would be to
measure the impact of this newsletter. Therefore, we would like very
much to hear from our readers, specifically Have the articles you have
read in our newsletters -
Had an impact on you?
Increased your awareness of reproductive issues?
Moved you to action?
Mt. Everest Experience
By Paul Knitter, A Consultation Scholar
Last year, I did something boldly different - I spent the Fall Semester
in Nepal with 13 undergrads. The adventure turned out to be my "Mt.
Everest," the pinnacle of 25 years of classroom "trekking."
The experience showed me that I could reach classroom goals much more
thoroughly outside classroom walls. The semester also reinforced two
tenets our Religious Consultation: the value of interreligious dialogue
and the necessity/complexity of cross-cultural ethical dialogue.
Billed as a Service-Learning Semester Abroad, the program attracted
students of "peace-and-justice." Altogether, 7 men and 6 women
- among the best at Xavier University - took a heavy lineup of courses:
Nepali language (one teacher for every two students); Dialogue with
Hinduism and Buddhism; Economic Development in Nepal; and Service Learning.
Each student spent15 hours a week working at a social, mental, or medical
And all of this in Katmandu, immersed in a way of life culturally and
religiously different from anything the students had ever experienced
- thoroughly Asian, and totally Hindu. The background gained in their
course in Hinduism and Buddhism was clarified and transcended by living
in Hindu families, having Buddhist friends, observing or participating
in Hindu rituals. I heard students speak with great respect about their
Nepali "mother" who chanted her morning prayers or their hosts'
daily devotions to Ganesh, the elephant-headed God.
The students and I experienced the animal sacrifices at the Dakshin-Kali
temple. Amid flowing blood and boiling carcasses, we sensed the depth
of the people's trust in the protection of the Goddess. (All the animals
were later shared in a communion with family and friends). Through such
rituals, we shared a religious experience. Again and again, students
told me how moved they were by their family or friends, who felt and
lived their love of Shiva or their devotion to Buddha.
But all was not wonder and inspiration. Through their work at the service
sites and in their study of economic and political realities, students
saw beneath the cultural sparkle to underlying realities of poverty,
exploitation, and gender discrimination. Complex problems became all
the more complex as the students realized how much the religious culture
supported human suffering. And then there was the enduring reality of
caste, with its claimed religious grounding.
For example, two of our women were told, gently but clearly, by their
Hindu fathers that they were to tell him when they had their periods,
during which time, they were kindly asked not to enter the kitchen or
touch any males.
Multiple ethical dilemmas confronted us. Do we, from a totally different
culture, have any right to criticize the people's practices? As guests
of this culture and religion, dare we take issue with our hosts? On
the other hand, can we ourselves conform to practices that seem to violate
our own dignity? We talked often and long on such ethical conundrums.
Some Nepali friends joined us in our ponderings. I was impressed and
inspired by some of the conclusions.
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