Donor Experience Working with Traditional and Religious Institutions: Identify and summarise donor experience of working with traditional and religious institutions on development goals. Where possible focus on Islamic institutions and activities that support the empowerment of women.
Key findings: Donor experience with traditional and religious institutions is poorly documented. Donors generally seem reluctant to engage directly with religious institutions, with the notable exception of USAID. Where donors do work with traditional and religious institutions this tends to be through local or international NGOs. When working on women’s issues in an Islamic context this is predominately around gender-based violence and female genital mutilation, rather than women’s empowerment.
One evauation of the Dutch government’s attempt to incorporate Muslim women’s view into development policy argues that there had been a strong tendency to generalise and define women first and foremost in terms of the religious dimension of their identity. This point has also been raised by other commentators who argue against an exclusive focus on religion as the primary means of advocating for women’s rights. It is important to contextualise approaches taking into consideration the particularities of local power relations which can change and evolve rapidly. There is also considerable variability in gender norms, laws and the position of women in predominately Muslim countries such as those in the Middle East and North Africa.
Traditional and religious institutions, including Islamic leaders and institutions, can be significant actors in the development discourse. In Nigeria and Pakistan the relationship between the state and religion tends towards an instrumental approach with the state trying to co-opt and exploit the legitimacy of religious organisations. At the same time it may be important to understand that their legitimacy may be questionable. Religious institutions, further legitimised by other domestic and foreign actors, may not progress development. This can be more so in the case of women’s rights, where working with religious institutions may be promoting a patriarchal or male-dominated framework.
Full response: http://www.gsdrc.org/docs/open/HD736.pdf