Juairia Haque Mahi
Fetters of religion and its fabricated fear often tend to deny human-equity before defining gender and other characteristics, resulting to machismo and gender-discrimination.
Weaponising religion to obstruct an egalitarian world, where no discrimination prevails, has been a crucial issue for centuries. Resistance to theological dogmas’ evolution and fundamentalism within those beliefs revere kyriarchy.
Scrutinising gender roles, most religions dignify the oppression of men over women, sustain negative patriarchal norms, insist upon women to act submissive, and limit them to households. Centuries-old theological beliefs have been imposing stricter and stricter sanctions on women. Even though the ideological thrive of gender-parity has occurred, religions, overall, still lag behind addressing gender issues, and betide to be a bar for female emancipation.
Religions and Their Gender-Issues
Judaism states that all humans are equal under the highest level: God. According to Judaism, God has never been exclusively viewed as male or masculine. But God is stated to be “Him” in scripture, as there is no neutral gender in the Hebrew language.
Even though Jewishness is passed down through the mother, the father’s name and group are used to identify the offspring.
Eminent estimation of women has been observed in Judaism as women are deemed to be valiant, understanding, intelligent and the mainstay of households. Through time, the roles of women expanded and emerged. Unfortunately, misinterpretation of women’s roles and statuses caused objectionable suppression of women.
According to the Bible, “At the head of every household is a man; at the head of a man is Christ, and at the head of every woman is a man, and at the head of Christ is God.”
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjections. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”
— Tim. 2:11-14
A passage in Titus scribes women to not teach or preach in public assembly as it professes authority over men.
In scripture like Colossians and Peter, women are supposed to stay silent in their husbands’ shadows.
Motherhood is a God-inflicted curse, according to Genesis 3:16.
In the Roman Catholic, Eastern-Orthodox, and Oriental-Orthodox churches, senior leadership roles such as pope, patriarch, beacons, and bishops are restricted to males. Women may serve as abbesses.
Although both old and new testaments mention that women have had leadership roles and prophesied.
Jesus expressed equality for all: “In the midst of the Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures, which viewed women almost on the level of possessions, Jesus showed love and respect for women.”
Patriarchy, more precisely, kyriarchy, subjected women to submit; quoting a few prehistoric and controversial verses even though Christianity says women and men were created equal.
The Creator in Islam has no gender, and the principal Islamic volume, the Quran, is dynamic, as secondary sources interpret various issues arising with time. Islam was the first religion ever to give women equal rights such as marriage, the liberty to consent, contracts, mahr, justice, religious acts, inheritance, divorce, and education.
Still, women were required to be submissive to their male family members due to cultural norms of the then period — when women were devalued and dehumanized as property of their husbands and were only limited to households and nurturing children.
Male chauvinists deliberately choose to remain ignorant of the clear annotation in Quran (4:3) of restricting men’s polygamy by limiting a man to marrying a maximum of four women only, with the first wife’s proper consent and requiring the husband to take care of each wife equally and properly. They claim to be given the right to marry as many as women they can.
Women are restricted to pray in public, given instead separate private spaces. Division of men and women in Islamic and other centres gives Muslim women the right to work independently and not under men.
Women are disallowed from travelling alone for long distances for protection-issues; but that does not hinder them from working, or venturing into what they want to participate in — according to Islamic scholars.
According to the scripture, Taoist women had metaphysical aptitude, and were granted scripture by deities. Women first came to prominence in the Highest Clarity School, unlike other male-dominated religions.
Sikhism reveres gender-parity, and rejects sexism by considering men and women complement. As such, Sikhs have the onus to treat women as equal as men.
The Hindu goddess “Shakti” is a universal force who embodies all the gods in Hinduism. “Kali” is the goddess of creation, death, preservation, and destruction. “Durga” is the goddess of war. Hence, women are portrayed as equal or even greater than men in Hinduism.
Ironically, Hindu women are marginalised and considered less significant than men. Brahmins disallowed women to have any association with theological rites of the Vedas, considering them impure because of menstruation. Manu Laws quote: “By a girl, by a young woman, or even an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her own father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent” (V, 147-46, 155)
In Hinduism, women’s prime duty is to produce offspring, and thus, having an abortion is more sinful than killing a priest or one’s own parents according to Vedas.
Hinduism is considered a sexist religion where the societal perspective was sexist, rather than the religion itself. The optimistic matter is that societal perception of women is changing, however slowly.
Theravāda Buddhism states: “All men and women, regardless of their caste, origins, or status, have equal spiritual worth.”
However, lack of female-education during the time-frame of Buddhism caused women’s inability to become enlightened, and so, women were considered unable to reach Buddhahood and gain leadership roles.
Jain nuns have stricter restrictions than the monks, and they are subservient to the monks. According to Digambar Jains doctrine, women are incapable of being enlightened; while Svetambar Jains believe in women’s capability.
Jain women are mentioned to be deceitful, irresolute, wicked, and impure in their sacred volumes. One of their scriptures states:
“As the result of manifesting deception, a man in this world becomes a woman. As a woman, if her heart is pure, she becomes a man in this world.”
Women in Shinto are depicted as “Children of God”. Yet, they are banned to visit holy sites like Mount Omine. Doctrine of “Blood Pond Sutra” preaches that menstrual blood is a pollution. Women will be convicted to a hell for it, and only prayers can save them.
Contradictory prejudices of Zoroastrianism include the negative glorification of female physicality and sexuality. Also, the scriptures and paintings regarding the afterlife reinforce the idea of women’s being prone to evil deeds.
Stricter sanctions and bias against women
Women’s position in sodality, even a century ago, was as low as a mere property, a means of entertainment, and servants of men.
Women are theologically disparaged as distractions of men’s spiritual drive. Flesh sales, slavery, dehumanising activities towards women, child marriage, marriage without women’s consent, rape, marital rape, inhumanely constructed fatwas, female infanticide, opposing the usage of anesthesia during childbirth, Mosaic Law sanctioned bed-checks as brides, extreme purdah to obstruct female education and emancipation, allowing men to practise polygamy but widows’ remaining unable to remarry, even in tender age; burning widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres (suttee), null inheritance to property, abortion bans, barbaric virginity tests according to Deuteronomy, and forced pregnancies are, unfortunately, a few of the many degrading treatments against women which are done for the sake of religious norms; the list goes on, with prevalence of some of these brutal deeds remaining to date.
Kyriarchy legitimises women being sentenced to stricter punishment than men for flouting cultural and theological norms.
Means of religious extremism — absurd fatwas, Hilla marriage, honour-killing of women to regain family’s nominal communal-honour, mental and corporeal maltreatment to exert fragile dominance, stoning rape-victims and women performing adultery for luring men in, flogging 100 times to control women’s sexuality and for marrying or being in relationships with an “inappropriate person” — still prevail in some Asian and African countries.
Deuteronomy — 24: “Men can divorce women for uncleanness, but not vice-versa.”
22:28-29 — “Women must marry her rapist.”
Matthew — 24:19: “[woe] to them that are with child.”
Luke — 2:22: “Mary is unclean after the birth of Jesus.”
Corinthians — 11:3-15: “Man is the head of woman; only man is God’s image.”
Timothy — 2:9: “Women adorn selves in shamefacedness.”
These are just a handful of the disparaging quotes regarding women in scriptures that justify women’s subordinate status and deny universal human rights.
Misinterpretation of religious quotes, and fundamentalism which supports women’s subjugation consistently bar women empowerment.
No culture or religious doctrine holds the right to devalue women or justify violence against them. To vanquish these biases, theological bases need reformation and re-interpretation in the context of gender-parity and complementarity.
Because denying gender-parity, is denying human equity and justice.
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.