Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Women and the Word of God

A photo of women and girls I had the pleasure of meeting while traveling in Ghana, 2006.

Many thanks to On Faith for drawing my attention to a statement recently released by Jimmy Carter and a group of elders including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu regarding religion and the oppression of women. Here is a portion published in the Guardian:

"This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.

Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met." (Read the whole thing here)

I recently took a course on international women's health and mental health that included information about the injustices Carter is referring to. The breadth and depth of the emotional, physical, economic, cultural and spiritual brutality that women face in many parts of the world was horrifying. That religion is used to justify such brutality against half of the human race is one of the greatest threats to religion's continued legitimacy in the 21st century. It is encouraging to hear prominent male voices speaking out about this issue. Men are the source of this problem and must bear responsibility for solving it.

Baha'u'llah is uneqivocal about the equality of women and men and men's obligation to promote it, "All should know, and in this regard attain the splendours of the sun of certitude, and be illumined thereby: Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God...The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equity, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God." (The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 379)

The Baha'i Faith teaches that world peace itself will be dependent upon achieving gender equality:

The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Oct, The Promise of World Peace, p. 3)