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KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: DR. SHIRIN EBADI and PROFESSOR JODY WILLIAMS, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and founders of the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Throughout the world, conflicts between women’s equality and practices justified in terms of cultural and religious norms present pressing challenges for theorists, lawyers and policy makers. Conflicts emerge in a variety of areas, ranging from disciplining the body, to regulating the family, to establishing the parameters of national or cultural membership. The urgency of these conflicts has made them the topic of research in a number of academic disciplines. Political philosophers ask what the limits of multicultural accommodation should be. Lawyers seek to identify the extent to which the state can and should constitutionally engage with religious and cultural communities. Social scientists inquire into the sorts of interventions into discriminatory practices that might create the most pervasive and effective change. Women in religious and cultural communities around the world have been active in challenging these practices and developing innovative strategies for reconciling equality claims and valued traditional identities.

This conference will create a forum for dialogue between diverse groups working on these issues. It will be structured to facilitate discussion across disciplines and between academics, organizers and grass-roots participants. The conference will provide an occasion for scholars and activists from diverse religious and cultural communities to engage in dialogue about the challenges of reforming religious and cultural norms that discriminate against women. We hope to have contributors from nations in which religious norms are part of the state personal law regimes, those where religious norms are (at least formally) relegated to the private sphere, and those that are contemplating transitioning between these two arrangements. It will present a unique opportunity for feminists working on reform to compare notes with activists and scholars from other communities, to identify commonalities, explore differences and identify opportunities for collaboration.

Papers are invited, but not limited to, the following topical themes:
I. Placing Conflicts in Historical and Political Context

How were the political and legal frameworks within which discriminatory norms operate created? What impact do factors such as migrancy, colonialism, internal and external political struggles have on these narratives? How do they shape the possibilities for addressing inequalities? How does uncovering alternative, perhaps more egalitarian, histories effect contemporary struggles?

 Colonial policy and personal status laws
 Conflicts between orthodoxy, reformists and secularists
 The construction and maintenance of Diaspora identities
 Complex effects of multicultural accommodation
 Impact of policies of religious establishment and disestablishment

II. Identifying the Sites of conflict

In what regulatory arenas do conflicts between equality norms and religious or cultural traditions tend to emerge? Why do the family and the female body so often serve as foci for conflicts over gender and religion/culture? What is the relationship between religious and civil norms on particular issues? How do they shape, re-shape and challenge each other?

 Divorce
 Maintenance and Property Rights
 Custody
 Notions of Illegitimacy
 Forced marriages
 Recognition of polygamous marriages
 Interaction of civil and religious family law
 The role of faith-based dispute arbitration in plural law regimes
 The relationships between immigration policy and marriage practices
 Domestic violence and norms for child discipline
 Reproductive rights
 Sex education
 Contested meanings of the veil and public participation
 Female genital surgeries and other ritual alterations of the body

III. Evaluating Feminist Practice

What constitute effective interventions on behalf of women’s rights? Under what conditions can law reform be an effective strategy? What elements make law reform more or less effective? How can activists get stakeholders on side in these debates? What innovative non-legal strategies are available?

 The significance of women as interpreters of religious and cultural values Eg. Toanot Rabaniyot or Yoetzet Halacha in Judaism , Mourchidat in Islam.
 The role of religious feminist movements. How do the agendas and tactics of these groups vary from those of other feminist groups? What role is there for comparative evaluation of these efforts?
 The feasibility of creating alternative religious and cultural institutions
 Evaluating law reform from the plaintiff’s perspectives
 Developing innovative remedies eg. pre-nuptial contracts, non-legal community sanctions
 Narratives of similarities and differences between religious feminist movements
 The promises and risks of collaborations across religious and cultural divides

To submit a proposal to present at the conference, please submit at 300-word abstract (maximum) and brief vitae paragraph. Abstracts should be sent to conference chair, Dr. Lisa Fishbayn at Abstracts should be received by December 1, 2007. Acknowledgement will be sent as soon as possible after receipt. Notification of decisions regarding acceptance will be sent no later than January 15, 2008.

Untying the Knots is co-sponsored by the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Center for the Study of Jewish Women at Bar Ilan University and the Centre for Ethics in Public Life at Brandeis University.

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