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While theoretically sexual rights range from protection from sexual violation to the celebration of sexual pleasure, in reality the agendas of sexual rights movements are still largely fragmented, heteronormative, and focused on negative rights. Keywords: global discourse, local activism, sexual rights, social movements. Palavras-chave: ativismo local, direitos sexuais, discurso global, movimentos sociais. In the late twentieth century, globalization has been characterized by accelerating exchanges of social, cultural, political and economic capital across country borders see, for example, Appadurai, ; Castells, , , ; Giddens, , ; Harvey, ; Waters, Evolving technologies have transformed the modes of production and the means of communication between individuals, social groups, and interacting cultures Appadurai, ; Castells, As nation-states become more integrated into the global economy, emerging challenges have not been limited to the political-economic realm, as cultural and social exchanges between countries have allowed for a reflection on the norms and rules that were once second-nature and are still seldom questioned.

As more focus is given to social and political debates questioning the deeply rooted traditions of patriarchy Castells, , researchers and activists have become more aware of the implications of gender and sexual norms on the health and general welfare of populations. This article draws attention to the dialogue between global definitions of sexual rights and local understandings and claims to such rights.

We review the current literature on the emerging discourses of "sexual rights" in the global arena, and explore the ways in which this global debate maps out on the local level. Interpersonal social and cultural norms are particularly important in determining the way in which sexual and gender roles are played out on the local level. This is especially crucial for the dialogue between a burgeoning sector of civil society that endeavors to, on one hand, interpret and push the envelope by drawing from the global discussions on 'sexual rights', and more importantly brings forth the personal experiences of those who are marginalized and denied fundamental rights on the basis of gender, sexuality, identity, race, class, and so forth.

The impact of this discussion over 'sexual rights' matters most where the 'personal becomes political'.

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This dialectic between the personal and the political is complicated by the layers of meaning given to the term 'sexual rights' in different contexts and cultures. And this dialectic is even more complex considering the amplitude of the umbrella category "sexual rights", which encompasses many aspects of sexuality that affect populations with differing identities and agendas. Can the struggle for sexual rights be deemed a social movement? Part of the challenge and the unanswered question is whether a notion of sexual rights might be constructed that can be broad enough to bring these movements together in a broader alliance or coalition, without being so broad that it loses its political edge and fails to serve any real purpose.

In the spirit of solidarity, the act of defining notions of "sexual rights" as a transnational social movement with deepening roots through national and local networks is a veritable challenge in the beginning of the twenty-first century for those advocating for different aspects of sexual rights. Solidarity has proven to be an extremely effective way to mobilize, gain legitimacy in the political realm and to achieve meaningful policy and socio-cultural transformations. Later social movement theory has given great importance to the dynamics through which contention is framed Benford; Snow, and to the role of embodiment and emotions in the mobilization of collectives with common goals and experiences Brown et al.

Theorists of popular participation and education, the most commonly known being Paulo Freire, have emphasized the importance of the use of a language that emerges from the people, while questioning social texts that emerge, and are sometimes imposed, from above Freire, Thus, considering socio-cultural norms , political opportunity structures and framings of rights allows for a theoretical conceptualization of a 'sexual rights movement' that is defined by global dialogues as well as by local contexts and embodied realities.

This movement has certainly been driven and thwarted by political opportunity structures e. The issues of framing emerge both in cultural contestations of what is acceptable behavior and identification and the dynamics of opposition over what is deserved and claimed as a sexual right depends on negotiations of time and space. We argue that in this stage of globalization when discourses of human rights co-exist in an uncomfortable relationship with the proliferation of religious fundamentalisms and neo-liberal economic policies the limits of our personal autonomy have been re-drawn Castells, Movements on behalf of sexual rights have encountered a powerful reactionary response in traditionalist movements rallying for conservative family values and religious beliefs Lamberts-Bendroth, ; Ratzinger, , ; Marty, In light of this, a connection has also been made between discourses around these emerging sexual rights and public health World Health Organization, In the name of objectivity, these groups have often been blamed and shamed as responsible for the spread of the epidemic Maluwa; Aggleton; Parker, ; Parker; Aggleton, More recently, the globalization of conservative ideologies emanating primarily from the United States, have increased vulnerability especially of women and children in poor countries of the Global South to the epidemic by advocating for abstinence-only education and stressing the importance of abstinence until marriage and fidelity during marriage over condom use as means of prevention from HIV infection Arnold et al.

The embodied realities of illness and of the denial of access to essential public services bring home the importance of considering gender and sexuality as factors significant as poverty, race, ethnicity and class in the contemporary definition of rights and citizenship. Rights are no longer limited to the protection of private property or of political and civil liberties, as the term has been extended to other realms of human life.

The emergence of sexual rights has highlighted the importance of considering culture and religion, for example, as important as government policy as areas of contention and targets for intervention. Because rights that are not 'officially' recognized by governments or international governing institutions e. Opponents have reacted negatively to the classification of sexual diversity and sexual pleasure as human rights, by claiming that legitimizing aberrant lifestyles jeopardizes the family and religious traditions for generations to come Girard, In reality, although sexuality affects every aspect of human development and social interaction, the topic been actively repressed in spaces such as educational and health systems in many parts of the world.

Social mobilization for 'sexual rights' and against patriarchal and fundamentalist socio-cultural norms can be traced back to feminist and gay rights movements of the s, although the term itself was almost never used until the mids Parker, , ; Petchesky, Thus, it is also important to highlight the somewhat complicated development of civil society during last half of the twentieth century when many countries throughout the world transitioned from authoritarian to democratic regimes:.

Emergent civil societies in Latin America and Eastern Europe are credited with effective resistance to authoritarian regimes, democratizing society from below while pressuring authoritarians for change. Thus civil society, understood as the realm of private voluntary association, from neighborhood committees to interest groups to philanthropic enterprises of all sorts, has come to be seen as an essential ingredient in both democratization and the health of established democracies.

Foley; Edwards, , p.

Judith Butler’s Veil

Brazil and South Africa provide interesting examples of how solidarity between social movements can be forged during periods of intensive political struggle. During the redemocratization of Brazil in the s, a variety of social movements including the sanitary reform movement, the labor unions, gay rights movements, the Catholic Church, among others, and many non-governmental organizations came together during a time of opening in civil society abertura in the spirit of solidarity on behalf of citizenship for all.

This partly explains why the Constitution is extremely detailed and rife with references to a variety of rights, including gender equality Pintaguy, Nevertheless the Brazilian Constitution does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, in South Africa, in the struggle against apartheid diverse aspects of civil society came together to ban discrimination, including that which is based on sexual orientation Cameron, , Desmond Tutu, a prominent leader in the anti-apartheid movement argues that black people were discriminated and blamed for being black, something over which they had no agency, and he made a strong statement that "it is the same with sexual orientation" Afrol News, Having fought against outrageous levels of discrimination, Rev.

Tutu explains that it would make no sense to fight against discrimination based on race without fighting against discrimination against homosexuals Afrol News, South Africans have managed to include a broad definition of human rights in their new constitution precisely because of the solidarity that activists from diverse walks of life felt against a highly repressive and violent regime.

Even though both Brazil and South Africa had strong alliances between various fronts of civil society, the South African constitution managed to adopt a constitution with a broader definition of human rights. In any case, highly contentious cycles, such as the change from authoritarianism to democracy, provide a political opportunity structure where the definition of human rights can be more easily restructured. Further investigation in this area is necessary to analyze what elements and degrees of openness within civil society create a more favorable atmosphere for solidarity between social movements.

We therefore want to emphasize the importance of 'civil society' in the consolidation of rights and the definition of citizenship. Civil society can be conceptualized as space where cultural norms and the interpretation of rights are defined Clark; Friedman; Hochstetler, ; Foley; Edwards, Although the notion of rights often conjures the image of the protection of citizens by the state in the form of a social contract, we conjecture that social movements act in the realm of civil society where cultural norms are contested.


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The goals of social movements advocating for a respect for sexual diversity and gender equality includes changing laws and state policy. But slow and sustained contestation on the local level can perhaps bring about longer-term commitment to sexual rights. What seems to be a step forward in the legal codification or discursive acceptance of sexual rights may mask injustices that happen in socio-cultural realms and in the private sphere.

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Legal codification can in fact reduce the effervescence of social movements within civil society that is necessary to bring about long lasting social transformation. To add complexity to this matter, the nature of civil society has changed in the twentieth century due to financing structures and the relationship between the state and non-governmental organizations.


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Nevertheless, the increase in non-state actors can also reflect the ideologies of financial institutions or even reinforce state level policies through a process often referred to as the co-optation of civil society Fischer, But while these structural forces provide or deny rights, it would be a mistake to forget or ignore the importance of local understandings or individual and communal claims to such rights. Thus it is important to focus not only on the 'formal institutionalization' of sexual rights, but also to pay close attention to what some would consider an 'informal' recognition or rejection of sexual rights in the realms of culture and civil society.

Moreover, some discussions about sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights have centered on the embodiment of citizenship Parker; Barbosa; Aggleton, On a daily basis, individuals negotiate between different aspects of their "selves" e.

Language and Religious Identity: Women in Discourse by Allyson Jule

Identities are not only fragmented politically among groups, but this fragmentation is also mapped onto our bodies. This notion of a universal human right is inevitably conflicted with the application of these rights on the ground, where they may encounter cultural and political resistance. Thus, for these rights to be 'operationalized' in a substantive way, these forms of resistance should be addressed from below, from grassroots movements, as well as from the top. If we are living in a time when identities are crucial for the definition of rights, then identities must ideally be constituted, articulated and defined through self-representation rather than being represented by others acting as "protectors".

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Nevertheless, the creation of categories may initiate a reflexive contemplation that may result in the formation of communities that were once unimagined. Coming from a number of fronts advocates for sexual rights as well as counter-movements have framed the concept strategically, with varying agendas including that of sexual health. This work has also been extended on the regional, national and local levels through diverse initiatives focusing on sexual rights. In order to highlight the socio-political importance of international dialogues and local understandings of sexual rights, it is important to bring together several ethical principles and theoretical frameworks that begin to deepen the meaning behind the term "sexual rights".

Several lines of theoretical thinking that have grown to complicate theories of rights include but are not limited to the discussion of sexual citizenship, cultural imperialism and the global proliferation of sexual rights. Sexual rights are said to embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. These include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to: the highest attainable standard of health in relation to sexuality, including access to sexual health including reproductive health care services; seek, receive and impart information in relation to sexuality; sexuality education; respect for bodily integrity; choice of partner; decide to be sexually active or not; consensual sexual relations; consensual marriage; decide whether or not, and when to have children; and pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.


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The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others World Health Organization, On one level, sexual citizenship can be associated to having fundamentals right to free expression and just desert. Freedom of expression usually refers to expression in the public domain, while sexuality and gender relations have typically been relegated to the private sphere.

In general, the types of rights that are associated with the public sphere include political, civil, and economic liberties, which are distributed and protected by the state. Sexual rights, in this sense can include the right to divorce, the right to marry, the right to choose sexual partner s , the right to be protected from violence, the right to inherit, the right to adopt, and the rights to receive public services such as education and healthcare, an so forth. Often sexuality is lurking but is not acknowledged as a factor that colors our basket of fundamental rights.

At some level, one of the strategic uses of the phrase "sexual rights" is precisely to undercut or question this heteronormativity. If our fundamental rights are contingent on sexuality or gender, are they rights or are they privileges? We argue that a public distribution of goods that does not abide by the principle of equality is inherently unjust, and that 'rights for some' equates to rights for no one.

If either through legal mechanisms or through stigmatization and shaming a transgender woman does not have access to health services or to employment other than sex work, then we can see concretely how infringing on sexual rights can also deny economic rights, political and civil rights. The rhetoric of rights loses its meaning if it is applied arbitrarily or according to factors such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, etc.

Thus, the idea of sexual rights takes into account the importance of considering sexual diversity and gender equality as key to reaching true citizenship. On another level, it is important to re-question the division of private and public domains. Sexual violence, rape, and abuse often happen in closed quarters, and even within the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage. Who should prevent these types of rights violations? Should the state be allowed in the bedroom? Should the state become a form of barrier protection during sexual intercourse?