Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel VI: Gender, Religion and Politics

Saturday, November 10, 2012 at noon

1. Rachel Spory: Effects of Gender Myths on Religiously-­‐Motivated Women in Peacebuilding and Post-­‐ Conflict Civil Society Development

2. Rona Kabiri: The Role of Women in Afghanistan in the Last Century

3. Kristy L. Slominski: Religion and Gender in the Early Sex Education Movement in America

4. Omar Salem: Impact of Religion on Gender Voting Patterns in Utah

Rachel Spory


Rachel Spory is a Masters’ Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver where she is an International Human Rights major with dual concentrations in Gender, Religion, and Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. Ever since a attaining a research internship her junior year of college, Rachel has been interested in exploring the intersections between gender, conflict, religion, and peacebuilding, whether through her travels in Iran or her research on the role of women in Civilian Public Service camps during World War II. Currently she is involved in planning the Korbel school’s speaker series for next year, which focuses on Religion and Violence.


Effects of Gender Myths on Religiously-Motivated Women in Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Civil Society Development

Women’s involvement in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction work occurs between several competing and contradictory gender myths. On the one hand is the pervasive myth that women are more peaceful than men are, and as a result, they become “poster-children” of all that is good in comparison to the barbarity of male behavior in war. Indeed, many women do wish to become involved with efforts to end conflict and help to assure that root causes are addressed in the immediate aftermath to avoid a relapse into further violence. However, it should not be assumed that the primary motivation for these desires is simply because they are women. To universalize women’s motivations for involvement in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction is to miss out of the rich diversity embodied within each woman. On the other hand, a strong gender myth is that women are best suited for life in the private sphere of home making and child rearing which often precludes their involvement in formal peace processes. Therefore, while there might be certain levels of tacit acceptance for women who seek to act as peacebuilders for the sake of their children, once the fighting is over, the myth dictates that they return home and allow the men to go about with reconstruction. Thus, women who choose to become involved with peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction at the policy level act within these conflicting myths.

Adding religious sentiment and conviction as a motivating factor for women’s involvement in peacebuilding and reconstruction project simply adds another layer of competing myths. While much has been written about religion’s role in causing conflict, the literature is slimmer in approaching it as a mean of resolving conflict. While religion can be a divisive force, where exclusivist claims are used to breed hatred toward those outside the community, there are also bridging aspects of religion that provide a sort of common ground upon which to build a more just and sustainable peace. Even slimmer still is the literature on religiously motivated female peacebuilders, which is indicative of many of the gender myths with which this small group of women must contend. A case study of Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee’s success as a self-identified Christian woman peacemaker who now heads Liberia’s Peace and Reconciliation Initiative explores the theoretical nature of this research as well as grounding it empirically.

Rona Kabiri


Rona Kabiri is a 2011 graduate of Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). She came from Afghanistan to the U.S. when she received the prestigious Fulbright scholarship in July 2009. She graduated from Law and Political Science school from Herat University of Afghanistan, where she taught law in 2009, before coming to the U.S. She also studied Leadership Development for 2 years in Afghanistan and worked with many international and national NGOs and government programs. Working with the US agency for International Development was one of the interesting jobs that led her to study development later at MIIS. She earned her Master’s degree in International Policy Studies with a concentration on development. In addition, she completed a practical course on defense attorney’s program at the University of Washington in summer 2010. While at MIIS she attended several courses related to development, security and counter-terrorism. Currently, besides teaching language and culture in one of the institutes, she constantly writes about the Afghan women and conducts research on security and development in Afghanistan.


The Role of Women in Afghanistan in the Last Century

This work is a review of Afghanistan over the last century - a country considered not only as the heart of Asia and the center for great civilizations throughout history, but also known as a center of war and unrest over the past five decades.

Afghanistan, once the focal point of the Silk Road connecting Asia with Europe, has experienced a wide range of political regimes over the last century, from kingdom to presidency and communism to Mujahedeen and finally the Taliban transitioning to the current government. Each regime pronounced their definition of women’s rights and roles in Afghan society based upon their different, unique ideologies and religious views. Consequently, each of such definitions had significant impacts on women’s situation. As Afghanistan fell in the hands of Taliban regime in 90s, Afghanistan’s women faced the most difficult time. All schools were closed for women, women were not allowed to participate in any position of the public sector and they were denied having appropriate medical access too. Afghanistan had the highest mortality rate in the world and the regime’s acts led to the many paralyzed economic infrastructure, and growing the opium instead. Taliban’s regime banned all types of education for women and closed women’s schools based on their extreme interpretation of religious law (Sharia law). On the other hand, Afghanistan’s current regime with the support of western governments painted a completely different picture of women’s roles in the society. Women are back to school, back to the social life, back to the cabinet and parliament and active members of politics and economy. While the schools were reopened for the girls and new school-buildings were constructed for Afghan women, the Taliban on the other hand kept attacking and burning the schools, forcing women to stay at home.

Yet, Afghan women’s roles and rights are included in the politics as one of the conditions of conflict resolution for different stakeholders in the political sphere of Afghanistan. Changing roles of women in Afghan society under different governments, such as secularism, a moderate stance, and extremism is what this work explores. The focus of this paper is to review how the different policies of the different Afghan governments over the past century impacted the status of women, particularly over the last five decades. In addition, there are instances that religion has assisted women in Afghanistan to become empowered, gain their rights and achieve more. This study will assess whether it is beneficial to keep the distance between religion and policies in current Afghanistan.

Kristy L. Slominski


Kristy L. Slominski is a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research and teaching interests include American religions, gender, and sexuality. She is currently working on her dissertation on the American religious history of public sex education, which explores the variety of relationships that Christian groups have had to the sex education movement since its formation at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her master’s thesis explored the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s involvement in prostitution reforms in late nineteenth-century America. She has also researched extensively the history of American religious debates surrounding transgender issues. She has published articles on “Transvestites and Transexuals,” “YMCA/YWCA,” and “Televangelism,” in The Encyclopedia of Global Religion (2012). She has also developed and taught upper-division undergraduate courses on Women in American Religious History and Saints in Global Catholicism, as well as a lower-division course on Introduction to American Religions.


Religion and Gender in the Early Sex Education Movement in America

The movement for public sex education emerged in early twentieth-century America to combat the “conspiracy of silence” that prevailed around issues of sexuality. Religion has often been overlooked by those who study the history of sex education, although religious leaders and religious gender and sexual norms were integral to the movement. Between 1900 and 1950, ministers joined with physicians and educators in order to protect “innocent women and children” from the threat of venereal diseases through mass education. This paper will explore the role of religion in shaping early twentieth-century conceptions of gender, family, and sexuality within sex education.

Physicians, educators, and ministers had come to believe that sex education was the best means to achieve their respective goals of fighting the rampant spread of venereal diseases, enlightening individuals to move beyond base instincts, and eliminating sexual sins increasingly associated with growing cities. The concept of social hygiene—which combined the physical, mental, and moral dimensions of sexuality—became the banner under which all three groups could comfortably work out a joint strategy for the development of sex education. In 1914, the American Vigilance Association and the American Federation for Sex Hygiene merged to form the American Social Hygiene Association, the organization that became the center of the sex education movement. Research on these organizations and the sex education curricula they produced for public schools will form the basis of this paper.

Sex education caught on slowly in the schools, and the first two decades were marked by much disagreement about the type of programs that would best combat the spread of venereal diseases while remaining suitable for young boys and girls. Sex educators debated content, approaches, and the type of training needed by teachers. What remained relatively agreed upon was that marriage was the proper arena for sexual behavior. Discussions consistently invoked male and female sexuality within the gendered roles of wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers. These themes became more prominent from the mid-1920s to the 1950s, when sex education was dominated by the teaching of sexuality within “family life education.” Within this curriculum, lessons on puberty and reproduction were meant to prepare youth for successful marriages and reproduction. Students were introduced to the concept of monogamous partnerships through the study of animals, beginning with the “selfish” species like tadpoles that do not form partnerships or bonds with their offspring, to species like birds that resemble nuclear loving families. Plants were used to teach about reproduction, with a focus on sex organs, fertilization, and the growth of seeds. This developmental approach using animal and plant studies was less controversial than discussions of human sexuality and was widely endorsed by Parent-Teacher Associations. The programs’ defense of the American family and family-oriented gender roles also appealed to the larger culture and was widely accepted.

This research is part of a larger dissertation project on the twentieth-century religious history of sex education in America. The empirical research is currently in progress and will be completed by July 1st, 2012.

Omar Salem


Omar Salem received a B.A. in Political Science with a dual emphasis in International Relations and American Politics, from the University of California, Merced. His experience in American politics includes working for a California State senator, a United States congressman, and several political campaigns. His experience in international policy is primarily research-based, including conducting human rights research for the Political Science department of UC Merced as well as assisting with humanitarian logistics research for the Naval Postgraduate School. Omar is currently studying to receive an M.A. in International Policy Studies with a concentration in Conflict Resolution from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where his primary fields of interest remain Conflict Analysis, Human Rights, Humanitarian Operations, and their intersection with American Politics.


Impact of Religion on Gender Voting Patterns in Utah

In the past century, the United States has undoubtedly made progress down the road toward gender equality. However, there is still a long distance to be traveled by American women to achieve equality with their male counterparts; in spite of the creation of the National Women’s Trade Union League over 100 years ago, there remains a substantial male-female income disparity; even with the establishment of the American Birth Control League (Planned Parenthood) nearly a century ago, women’s reproductive health issues remain a hotly debated issue; and regardless of the 19th Amendment of 1920, women continue to be disproportionately underrepresented in all levels of government. Currently, 16.9 percent of the U.S. Congress is comprised of women, and the national average for states’ legislators is just 23.6 percent female.

In the past 30 years, women have become more civically engaged than men; in every presidential-year election since 1980, eligible-aged women have turned out to vote an average of 2.8 percent more than their male counterparts. Intuition would dictate that the number of women legislators would be markedly higher, given that women vote more than men. Yet, women continue to be underrepresented in all branches of government, at state and national levels. The analysis herein defines the representation of women as the number of women that hold or have held political office, and it does not address the notion that men may represent women’s interests or that female politicians may not act in the best interest of women. This paper examines how religion influences the electorate via gender role mandates. Specifically, this paper examines how religion may influence women voters to choose men over women as leaders, by offering explanations derived from theories within sociology, political science, and conflict resolution.

However, this paper narrows the focus of its analysis of religion’s effect on women voters to a single state, where religious hegemony and the underrepresentation of women are prevalent, Utah. More specifically, through varying analytical methodologies, this paper examines how the Mormon faith may influence Utah’s electorate to unwaveringly select male political leaders over women, despite a larger proportion of women voters. The analysis of gender-biased electoral trends is followed by a qualitative analysis of the gender roles of the Mormon culture, the role of women in the LDS church, and feminist movements within the church, in an attempt to offer insight into the dynamics of Utah’s political arena as it relates to gender and religion.