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The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics

Religious Consultation Report

News & Views

       Volume 4, No. 2
       October, 2000


Table of Contents


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, flat-earth embarrassing.

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 Vatican.

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!

[The 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 embarrassing.


The 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.

Pro-choice voice

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.

No more Italians

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.

Other 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.

Good news/bad news

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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Scholars 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 American traditions.

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. Demographer.

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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A 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.

Some specifics

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 public schools.

Iraqi and international medical organizations held a heartbreaking session on the effects of the embargo on the health of women and children in Iraq.

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 it.

In Overview

Good Sex: Feminist Perspectives from the World's Religions

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

5. Islam and Women's Sexuality: A Research Report from Turkey by Pinar Ilkkaracan
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

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. Hunt

In Overview

What Men Owe to Women: Men's Voices from World Religions

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 Xiaogan
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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Nepal 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).

Some results

• 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 formal school.

• 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 formal schooling.

• 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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Religious 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 telephone interviews.


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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Tracking 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 in 1997.

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, Iowa.

On September 30, Riffat spoke at the Pakistan Millennium Conference in Boston, Massachusetts and she will speak at the APPNA Conference October 21st.

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 Ritual.

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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Survey 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.

Meet a new member of the Consultation's Board of Directors, Mary Churchill

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 planning project.

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 Indian Women

Having a Place To Call Myself and Call the Spirits: Native American Lesbian Writers

Religious Themes in the Writing of Contemporary Cherokee Women

Transformation and Endurance in the Writing of Cherokee Women.

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Consultation's 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 our work.

We 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?

A 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 agency.

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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