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Women on the front lines of faith vs. state

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That US sensitivity ends, however, when women are in physical harm.

“Beating women is not cultural, it’s criminal,” Ms. Clinton stated, “and it needs to be addressed and treated as such. And then there are those historic practices like female circumcision that have been around for centuries, or honor killings, which served a purpose in a prior time, that we believe we must address by demonstrating how counterproductive, how destructive they are to the very fabric of the society that is being affected by them.”

Women have long been at the center of friction between secular rule and religious interests. Take, for example, America’s four-decade political battle over abortion or the forced marriage of young Hindu girls in India.

Equality of the sexes is a core belief of most monotheistic faiths, based on the creation of male and female in the image of God. But a tradition of patriarchy has long prevented that belief from being put into daily practice in many countries.

Even in democracies built on liberal, secular democracy, there is a tolerance for discrimination against women within religious communities if it remains largely invisible or if a group’s identity is rooted in treating women and men differently.

Some feminist scholars raise questions about whether women in strict religious communities really have the ability to exercise freedom of choice if they are held subordinate and inferior with little autonomy. They argue that a public acceptance of faith-based sex discrimination only creates conditions for larger social oppression of women.

Yet other scholars contend that breaking up religious norms that violate women’s rights can create a backlash that only leads to reinforcing those norms.

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