FaithWorld

from Chrystia Freeland:

Falling birthrates: the threat and the dilemma

Which is the more powerful agent of social change: fear or sympathy? Women in rich and middle-income countries may soon find themselves enrolled in a real-life experiment testing this proposition. That is because birthrates are dropping in much of the world. Demographics may soon rocket to the top of the political agenda, demanding an entirely new way of thinking about women and motherhood and the economy.

One reason for the shift was, as it were, born in the USA. That is because, for a long time, the United States has watched declining birthrates in places like Western Europe, Russia and even China with an air of superiority. The United States, lusty and fertile, was bucking the demographic trends.

Then, last week, new data showed that in 2011 the U.S. birthrate fell to the lowest level ever recorded: 63.2 babies per 1,000 women of childbearing age.

Crucially, immigrant women, whose fecundity had been holding up the U.S. figures, opted out of the maternity ward in the greatest numbers. According to analysis done by the Pew Research Center, the birthrate for women born in the United States fell by 6 percent between 2007 and 2010. For foreign-born women in the United States, the drop was 14 percent. Among Mexican immigrant women, the rate plunged 23 percent.

This is a big change for the United States, bringing the birthrate in the country more closely in line with those of the rest of the developed world. The total fertility rate in the United States, a measure of the total number of children the average woman is likely to have, was 1.89 in 2011.

from India Insight:

Civics clashes with religion as women face bans from some Indian shrines

(The opinions expressed are the author's own, and may not necessarily reflect those of Thomson Reuters)

Mumbai’s Sufi shrine Haji Ali Dargah Trust has barred women from entering the sanctum that houses the tomb of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The reason: authorities said that they saw a woman visit the tomb in inappropriate clothing.

This might not be entirely surprising. The mosque and dargah – or tomb – sit on a tiny island in the waters off Mumbai that is connected to the mainland by a tiny causeway. It is one of Mumbai's most well known tourist attractions, and many people from India and other countries walk past the mendicants and beggars, some of whom are missing limbs and often chanting, on the causeway to admire the architecture and the view.

Many U.S. Catholics have independent streak – survey

A majority of American Roman Catholics feel strongly about the sacraments and traditional church values such as caring for the poor, but they may not agree with the church teachings on topics such as abortion, same-sex marriage and maintaining a celibate, male clergy, a survey has found.

The “Catholics in America” survey of Roman Catholics published by the National Catholic Reporter found 86 percent said Catholics can disagree with aspects of church teaching and still remain loyal to the church.

“Stated in simplest terms, Catholics in the past 25 years have become more autonomous when making decisions about important moral issues; less reliant on official teaching in reaching those decisions; and less deferential to the authority of the Vatican and individual bishops,” according to the study led by William D’Antonio, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America.

from Photographers' Blog:

Signs of hope through music in Iran

For some people, here is the end of the world, but for some who live here, it is paradise.

The Kahrizak Charity Foundation in southern Tehran, is home to hundreds of mentally and physically impaired people who range in age from young and old. In this place, you can feel life and death, joy and woe, and people who love each other. For these people music is the only positive thing.

The first time I went to Kahrizak, I expected to meet people who didn’t know what they wanted in their life and were just waiting for the angel of death to arrive but it was not as I had presumed.

Islamic reality TV show in Malaysia seeks best women preachers

("Solehah" hopeful Nur Shamseeda preaches during an audition for the new Islamic reality television show "Solehah" in Kuala Lumpur June 18, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad)

A forthcoming Islamic reality television show in Malaysia aims to find the best women preachers and change conservative mindsets on the role of women in Muslim societies. The 13-episode prime time program titled “Solehah,” an Arabic word meaning “pious female,” is a talent contest that will feature charismatic young Muslim women judged by clerics on their religious knowledge as well as their oratory skills and personality.

Although Islam allows both men and women to preach the religion to society, the field remains dominated by males in most Muslim countries, something the show’s producers in this mainly Muslim but multi-religious Southeast Asian country hope to change.

Pakistan’s booming female madrassas feed rising intolerance

(Covered Pakistani female madrassa students take part in an anti-government demonstration in Islamabad August 27, 2004 after a government raid in their mosque and Islamic seminary/Mian Khursheed)

Varda is an accountancy student who dreams of working abroad. Dainty and soft-spoken, the 22-year-old aspires to broaden her horizons, but when it comes to Islam, she refuses to question the fundamentalist interpretations offered by clerics and lecturers nationwide.

Varda is among more than a quarter of a million Pakistani students attending an all-female madrassa, or Islamic seminary, where legions of well-to-do women are experiencing an awakening of faith, at the cost of rising intolerance. In a nation where Muslim extremists are slowly strengthening their grip on society, the number of all-female madrassas has boomed over the past decade, fueled by the failures of the state education system and a deepening conservativism among the middle to upper classes.

Family, Taliban scare off actresses in Afghan film industry

(Afghan film actress Nafisa Nafis puts on make-up at the sets of a television series directed by Saba Sahar in Kabul June 7, 2011/Ahmad Masood)

A young bride silently sobs on the floor watching her mentally disturbed husband gorge on chicken, rub his greasy hands through his hair and scream at her for more, just another chapter in the couple’s violent life together. Film director Saba Sahar anxiously watches the scene by the cameraman, squatting in blue jeans and wearing a bright pink headscarf. “Cut!” she calls.

The first Afghan female in her profession, Sahar, 36, has become a household name after acting and directing for more than half her life. She is adored by Afghan women. Like other Afghan directors, Sahar says finding actresses is her top challenge in an ultra-conservative Muslim country where many view acting as un-Islamic and inappropriate for women.

Q+A: Women’s rights in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban

(Afghan men and women teachers attend their graduation ceremony in Kabul March 30, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

Women have won hard-fought rights in Afghanistan since the austere rule of the Taliban was ended by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. But gains made in areas such as education, work and even dress code look shaky as the government plans peace talks that include negotiating with the Taliban.

Reuters Kabul has produced a Q+A to accompany the feature How will Afghan women fare in Taliban reconciliation? by Amie Ferris-Rotman. Click here to read it in full.

How will Afghan women fare if Kabul and the Taliban reconcile?

(Schoolgirls listen to a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a ceremony marking the start of the school year at Amani High School in Kabul March 23, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

The gaggles of giggling schoolgirls in their black uniforms and flowing white hijabs seen across Afghanistan’s cities have become symbolic of how far women’s rights have come since the austere rule of the Taliban was toppled a decade ago. While women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work, considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan leaders seek to negotiate with the Taliban as part of their peace talks.

The United States and NATO, who have been fighting Taliban insurgents for 10 years in an increasingly unpopular war, have repeatedly stressed that any peace talks must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, which says the two sexes are equal. But President Hamid Karzai’s reticence on the matter, constant opposition by the Taliban, and setbacks even at the government level cast a shadow on the prospects of equality for the 15 million women who make up about half the population.

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ does not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion,” said Robert Jones, head of the institute.