My name is Emma Tomalin and I am Professor of Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds. A major focus of my academic career has been upon better understanding the role that religious traditions play in what we might broadly call ‘development’ in the Global South. This local level research is contextualized against the backdrop of the neglect of/poor understanding of religious dynamics amongst the secular global elites who control development cooperation and humanitarian aid. The marginalization of the consideration of religious dynamics from mainstream development and humanitarian processes is particularly worrisome for women, since an important underlying factor in their discrimination – patriarchal tendencies within religious traditions – remains either obscured or essentialized in analyses of gender inequality that inform global development policy. Either religious dynamics are seen as irrelevant or are viewed as the major cause of inequality: these are perspectives that are unhelpful in forming the kinds of alliances with local faith actors that are in my view essential to rooting out inequality and discrimination against women and girls.
It is clear that patriarchal views within religions play a role in shaping gender divisions that exacerbate the likelihood of women and girls experiencing gender-based violence and trafficking. However, it is also clear that many faith actors play a crucial role in challenging gender inequalities within religious traditions and also provide support and advocacy for women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence and trafficking. I have been fortunate to become involved in a number of research project that address these issues and that aim to better understand the role of local faith actors in perpetuating and challenging gender inequality in their traditions, and then feeding those findings back to a secular global development audience. I have worked with Buddhist nuns in Thailand who are campaigning for the ability to fully ordain as bhikkhuni in order to challenge the negative perception of women as a lower rebirth than men, which can exacerbate their acceptance of domestic violence or the inevitability of entering the sex industry (see this free publication for work in this area). More recently, I have become involved in two projects around religion and anti-trafficking, one focusing on the UK and one with a global reach.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
In fact, I hope that the Shiloh Project can help me! We are currently carrying out a scoping study for evidence on the role of local faith actors in anti human trafficking and modern slavery for this project, and are looking for individuals and organizations to submit case studies of their work in this area or other materials. Please see here for how you can contribute.