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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

9 - The Struggle over Women

from Part II - Fundamentalist Struggles


In Chapter 1, I briefly divided the concept of secularization into three components: differentiation, privatization, and decline in religious authority. Over the last few chapters, I have looked at how fundamentalists in the world religions have struggled to de-differentiate religion in important spheres such as politics, law, science, and education. In the chapter on education, however, I mentioned that the work of fundamentalists is also a challenge against the ever-increasing power and authority of the modern state and about the redrawing of boundaries between public and private spheres. The struggle about the role of women in society is also a conflict over who has the authority to draw the boundaries between the public and the private.

Secular and modern states insist on defining public space and limiting or proscribing those uses of public space that may seem to question the basic ideology of the state. If a state is founded on a strong secular ideology, such as the läicite of France, bringing religious symbols into public space is easily perceived as a challenge to the core values of society. If a state in addition has developed an explicit ideology of gender equality, as is the case in most Western countries, using symbols that may signify inequality between men and women meets with strong reactions. And when symbols are perceived as signaling both religious identity and gender inequality at the same time, the reactions become very strong indeed. That is why the veil, or the headscarves of Muslim women, created such intense debates in many European countries in the 1990s.

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