Can religious women choose? holding the tension between complicity and agency

Le Roux, Elisabet (2019)

CITATION: Le Roux, E. 2019. Can religious women choose? holding the tension between complicity and agency. African Journal of Gender and Religion, 25(1):1-19, doi:10.14426/ajgr.v25i1.2.

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Women are oppressed and made to suffer violence by a patriarchal system that values them less than men. Yet, at times they are complicit in this system. Those advocating for gender equality and non-violence tend to interpret this based on a simplistic patriarchal resistance/compliance model. This is especially the case with the religious woman, whose devotion to a religion that decrees her subjugation is challenging to especially feminists.The article argues that, in order to recognise the agency of religious women, a splitting of the feminist project is needed: the analytical project, that strives to understand actions from the perspective of the doer, should be separated from the political project, which strives to bring change for the betterment of women. Yet, the analytical and the political are not a binary and exist in constant tension. Second, the analytical project is a dual one, where the positioning and worldview of the outsider is also interrogated. A case study from Zambia is used to illustrate the importance – for researchers and practitioners – of separating the feminist analytical project from the feminist political project when engaging with religious women and their role in gender inequality and violence.This essay challenges feminist researchers and practitioners on two fronts: to constantly grapple with the tension between the (dual) analytical and political, and to take religion seriously when striving to understand com-pliance. Religious women’s actions can possibly be a profound act of agency but can be misinterpreted if only analysed from the perspective of patriarchal resistance or compliance. This challenge reflects the constant tension that is the reality of feminist work with and on religion and gender inequality and violence.

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