Remembering Cassandra Balchin (24 May 1962 - 12 July 2012)

Cass Balchin was a founding sister of openDemocracy 50.50  and a leading contributor to our dialogue on Gender Politics and Religion which explores the impact of the global resurgence of religion in public life on women's human rights, and examines the possibilities for gender equality and pluralism.

Jane Gabriel
29 July 2013

The Gender Politics Religion platform on 50.50 opened in April 2010 with funding from Hivos, and we have since then published more than 200 articles on the site - written by contributors of all faiths and none.

Smiling woman speaking into microphone

Cass's life is now part of our lives, and of all those who believe that women's rights are human rights, and that gender is no hindrance to full civic participation and citizenship.

Read Cass Balchin's articles on openDemocracy 5050

Read tributes to Cass from her friends and colleagues

"Cass persistently raised questions to make sure we remained true to our vision of inclusiveness...and she was mindful about the language we used and the concerns we expressed that might exclude the experience of Muslims living in minority contexts, especially in the West. Our struggle was also their struggle, even if the context might be different. From the cumbersome language of Muslims living in Muslim majority and minority countries, Cass introduced into the Musawah language an inclusive term of “women living in Muslim contexts”, be it in majority or minority countries, in the West or the South. She also drew our attention that in some countries, the concern of activists was not just with the need to reform family laws, but the need to maintain the progress already made against Islamist ideologues who denounced these changes as unIslamic and thus demanded a rollback…It is this breadth of outlook and insistence on always referencing back to the principles and vision we were committed to that made Cass’s contributions invaluable to our ability to be vigilant of our commitment to diversity and inclusion. " Zainah Anwar, Director Musawah

“I first properly got to know Cass in the late 1990s when I visited Lahore as part of my work at Interights. Cass was just leaving Lahore after almost twenty years as a journalist and activist. We sat up till about 4 in the morning, discussing the need and scope for developing some kind of common guideline for lawyers and activists to understand the issue of women's right to choice in marriage, and cases of forced marriage, on which we had both worked for many years. We knew that courts in Pakistan and Bangladesh had been dealing with cases of women running away from home to exercise their own decisions in marriage, and facing death or imprisonment for this - and also knew that courts in both countries had intervened through using the traditional remedy of habeas corpus to rescue women in these situations - and felt it was important to share this with lawyers and judges in Britain where society and the state was just beginning to grapple with the issue of forced marriage, and the state's responsibility to address it.” Sara Hossain, Barrister (Bangladesh)

“Cass's contribution to the understanding of religious fundamentalisms, to thinking through different political strategies, to proposing newer and more nuanced readings of religion and politics, is enormous. I have met few people like Cass, who can move between theoretical readings and personal experiences so easily. Both her theoretical and personal knowledge of the ways in which religious groups obstruct women's rights were a tremendous input. Her contributions range from exploring the different dimensions in the understandings of religious fundamentalisms as a socio-political phenomenon to the identifying and deepening the main strategies to confront their dogmatic influences. Working with Cass forced me to rethink my own understanding of religion and politics in Latin America. She was always making connections, challenging common sense assumptions, asking difficult questions in order to come out with an original reading. My understanding of Catholicism, both as a conservative and regressive influence, was shaken by Cass' comparisons with Islam, by her constant effort to understand similarities and differences.” Juan Marco Vaggione, Research Consultant, AWID

“I first met Cass in 2002 in Kuala Lumpur at a regional meeting on Islamic Family Law organised by Sisters in Islam. It was during one of the discussions following a presentation that what she said completely struck me with awe and amazement - her sharing of talak tafwid or delegated divorce, where a husband delegates to his wife, the right to pronounce talak. The idea was completely bizarre to me but it screamed of progress and expanded my horizons and I remember thinking how much of how Islamic family law is practiced in other countries that we didn't know about. That was the first knowledge imparted to me by Cass and little did I realise then that I would be learning so much more from her.” Rozana Isa, Coordinator, Musawah

" It was at a meeting in Queretaro, Mexico at the end of 2006 that we first began scheming and plotting about AWID’s “Resisting and Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms” initiative and became more and more excited about all the possibilities that lay ahead. Together, we drafted many iterations of a huge online survey on religious fundamentalisms and women’s rights, which went out to over 20,000 women’s rights activists around the world. As the initiative moved forward, Cass was always looking into future possibilities, and at the way that things could be, rather than the way they were. I came to truly value and respect her depth of knowledge and experience on religious fundamentalisms and women’s rights, as did all my colleagues. We talked a lot about what we could do to really change this crazy world, about how to push boundaries and make a difference.

Just a few highlights of her work include: Exposed! Ten Myths about Religious Fundamentalisms, which sought to creatively and accessibly recount some of the misconceptions about religious fundamentalisms; Religious Fundamentalisms On The Rise: A Case For Action, which presents the survey responses of more than 1,600 women’s rights activists and their allies, providing a deeper understanding of the way fundamentalist projects work to undermine women’s rights, human rights and development; and the groundbreaking report Towards A Future Without Fundamentalisms: Analyzing Religious Fundamentalist Strategies and Feminist Responses, which explores the causes of fundamentalisms as recounted by women rights activists, the strategies various fundamentalist movements use to influence society and politics, and feminist strategies to resist and challenge them." Shareen Gokal, Strategic Initiative Manager, AWID

Read more tributes to Cass from her colleagues at AWID -

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