Why religious involvement in policy-making is detrimental to the reproductive health and rights of women around the world.
Source #1: Amnesty International Policy Paper
This policy paper released by Amnesty International profiles the legislation currently undergoing amendment and ultimate ratification in Iran. The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) was proposed as part of a recent initiative to stimulate population growth in Iran; however, in doing so, the Iranian government is severely restricting the reproductive rights of women and girls. When passed, this law will inhibit women’s access to modern contraceptives, outlaw voluntary sterilization, ban education on contraceptive methods, and dismantle state-funded family planning programs. Women and girls in Iran, whose autonomy to decide whether and when to have children should be respected, “continue to be stripped of their physical and mental integrity and autonomy by laws that criminalize or place undue restrictions on their sexual and reproductive rights.”
This new shift in policy for Iran harkens back to its initial stance on contraception following the 1979 Revolution, which had since evolved into much more open policies encouraging women to take advantage of modern contraceptive methods. And because of those policies that encouraged women to take advantage of family planning services, “voluntary female sterilization is reported to be the second most common method of modern contraception in Iran.” But now, women will no longer be able to rely on these techniques all because the Iranian government wishes to redevelop and promote an Islamic-Iranian lifestyle rooted in traditional Islamic values. And because of this involvement of religion in policy-making, women will now have to either carry out their pregnancies or “risk their lives and health by undergoing unsafe, clandestine abortions.” And consequently, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortions are among the leading causes of maternal mortality worldwide and led to 47,000 deaths and 5 million disabilities for women in 2008.
Source #2: JSTOR Paper
This database article addresses the conflict between Islamic principles and women’s reproductive rights. The author makes an important distinction between what is Muslim—what is practiced by people are Muslim—and what is Islamic, as in what is reflective of the essential values of the religion. This distinction is important to my argument because it is important to acknowledge the diversity of thought in those that are Muslim; however, my argument centers on the core ideals of Islam and their implications for women’s reproductive rights when used to justify federal laws.
The author cites that scholars examined legal codes in the Middle East and found many instances where such codes conflicted with the tenets of universal human rights because Islam lacks “any willingness to recognize women as full, equal human beings who deserve the same rights and freedoms as men.” Thus, it is dangerous to allow this religious law to govern nations such as Iran because Islam is rooted in the “fundamental differences between the sexes and defines different social roles and legal statuses for men and women.” These governments utilize Koranic statements, such as ones that state that God preferred men and that men are in charge of women, to justify policies banning abortion or policies that allow men to divorce their wives freely, while women may only divorce their husbands if they prove that their lives are at severe risk. Therefore, religion’s influence on the policies of countries in the Middle East are detrimental to women and bar them from accessing their basic human and reproductive rights.
Source #3: Center for Reproductive Rights Report on Pakistan
This report on Pakistan from the Center of Reproductive Rights profiles the role of Islamic law in the nation’s policies, particularly in regards to the reproductive rights of women. The report notes that Islamic law forms a large portion of the bedrock of Pakistan’s legal system, mostly when it comes to laws on personal status and criminal and tax issues. Furthermore, “religion-based personal laws generally govern matters relating to family and private life” for only Muslim citizens in Pakistan. However, “some legislation relating to marriage applies to all Pakistani citizens, regardless of religious affiliation.”
Because Islam does not prohibit married couples from practicing family planning, the Pakistani government makes contraceptives readily available to married individuals through their state-funded family planning services. However, because Islam does prohibit unmarried individuals from using contraceptives, unmarried individuals do not have access to contraceptives through government programs because the Pakistani government has a set of Islamic laws called the Hudood Ordinances that forbid extramarital sexual relations. For example, women may not undergo sterilization unless they “have at least two children, one of whom must be male.” In addition, spousal consent from the husband is required in order for the woman to be sterilized, which is not the case vice versa. Furthermore, the government restricts the methods of contraceptives that may be advertised. For example, “television commercials featuring an image of a sealed packet of condoms are banned.” Thus, women in Pakistan are prevented from being properly educated about contraception and aren’t even given access to family planning services and contraception unless they are married, have children, and have their husbands’ consent. This is all because Islamic law governs many of the nation’s policies on reproductive rights and women’s rights, thus leaving them to live submissive lives and resort to unsafe and life-threatening methods of contraception.
Source #4: Published University Student Essay
This scholarly essay explores the role of Islam in relation to women’s reproductive rights in the Middle East and North Africa. The author notes that the Quran doesn’t explicitly mention abortion; however, Islam addresses the concept of “Ensoulment,” which is the time after conception that the fetus is endowed with a soul. So, many nations’ governments in the Middle East use their interpretations of Ensoulment to justify laws preventing abortion after a certain period of time, which can be a different amount of time depending on the school of thought. Some nations, such as Libya, Iraq, Oman, and Lebanon, however, outlaw abortion completely on the grounds that the Quran “contains injunctions against infanticide.” This strong religious influence on policy-making in these countries prevents women living in these countries from accessing their full reproductive rights because their governments force them to carry their children on the sole grounds of Islam.
Furthermore, the Islamic law that governs countries in the Middle East is severely balanced in favor of men. For example, “males are entitled to twice the share of inheritance of females.” In addition, the Quran prohibits menstruating women and girls from touching the Quran and from praying because during menstruating they are “unclean and polluting.” Islam is also used in many countries to justify female genital mutilation because it is perceived as a religiously mandated practice that supports the Islamic notion that female sexuality is dangerous and must be contained. Women living in these countries are subject to all of these laws all because the government interprets the Quran in a certain way, leaving them with little to no reproductive and sexual rights.
Source #5: Essay Published in Foreign Policy
This published essay provides a firsthand account of Mona Eltahawy’s experiences as a woman in the Middle East. She denounces the Middle Eastern countries for oppressing their women in the name of Islam because she finds it unjust that, for example, 90% of married women in Egypt—including her mother and 5 of her 6 sisters—have “had their genitals cut in the name of modesty.” The author further condemns Islamic culture’s promotion of sexual abuse toward women, which has led to Cairo, for example, implementing a “women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse.” Her argument is that Islamic law, which governs all of these Middle Eastern countries, prevents women from attaining any sort of autonomy in their civil and reproductive rights.
The author asserts that although the Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man, they will be finished by Arab women because she no longer accepts the often-cited excuse that “it’s our ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women.” She firmly believes that countries’ governments cannot tell women how to act or what to do with their bodies on the grounds of Islam because it is detrimental to their well-being and human and reproductive rights. Religion has no place in policy-making because it creates a severely fractured and unequal dynamic between men and women, leaving women with little to no rights.