Religion and Women: Have Major Faiths of World Given Justice to Women?

Essay, 2014

4 Pages


Religion and Women: Have Major Faiths of World Given Justice to Women?

By Vibha Rimal

A known fact is that religion governs people's behavior. Religion is an intrinsic part of human civilization. Religion and human behavior are like CPU and monitor of a computer, respectively. Human brain evolved to become a belief engine in the hand of religion. Religion defined the ideas for life, which in turn are reflected in the societies and individuals. So why not peep into women's position in religious background?

Hinduism which is specially based on the old epics like Ramayana, Manusmriti etc. written centuries ago view women as the secondary part of society. In Ramayana, Lord Ram is not ready to accept his wife, Sita after Ravan, the king of Lanka, kidnaps Sita; Even as he fights to get his wife back and succeeds in this mission, he listens to others' talk and is not able to believe in the chastity of Sita. Sita even faces agniparikshya (a test through fire), but Ram expels her from his kingdom, leading her to get back into the laps of earth from where she was thought to have descended (born) or was found.

The Laws of Manu puts it straightforward that; "It is the nature of women to seduce men in this (world) and for that reason, the wise are never unguarded in the (company of) females. For women are able to lead astray in this world not only a fool, but even a learned man and make him a slave of desire and anger. Manu allotted women have a love of their bed, of their seat and ornaments, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice and bad conduct." (Laws of Manu, trans. G. Buhler. Sacred Books of the East. Vol.25)

The prejudice can also be felt in the rules made by Gautam Buddha himself regarding the participation of women in his monastic community. The female whoever joined his group had to follow some Guru dharmas, according to which every nun must bow to every monk.

The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism also has some contents apparently humiliating or dominating the women. The following extract said by Buddha to King Udayana sufficiently establishes this point: "You should know that when men have close relationships with evil ways . . . fools lust for women like dogs in heat. Women can ruin the precepts of purity. They can also ignore honor and virtue. Causing one to go to hell, they prevent rebirth in heaven. Why should the wise delight in them?" (Mahratnakut)

The Theravada Buddhist tradition also views a woman as a thing or an object that poses risk to men should they lose their alertness. It's as if a woman carries venom about them and that can contaminate the male at any time, hence they are better avoided. Consider, for example, the following dialogue between Lord Buddha and his disciple Ananda, regarding the Buddhist expectation of male behavior in relation to women:

Ananda: 'How are we to conduct ourselves, Lord, with regard to woman kind?'

Buddha: 'As not seeing them, Ananda.'

Ananda: 'But if we should see them, what should we do?'

Buddha: 'No talking, Ananda.'

Ananda: 'But if they should speak to us, Lord, what are we to do?'

Buddha: 'Keep wide awake, Ananda.'

(Maha Parinnibana Suttana)

Another great religion of the world is Christianity. Christianity, like most other religions, emerged at a time of patriarchal domination, due to which it also placed men in positions of authority. Be it in marriage, society in general or government affairs, males are at the helms in the form of priests, bishops, patriarchs or pope. Christianity from the beginning has been patriarchal, by taking such names which underscore male leadership in the religion, such as father, abbot, pope which all give the sense of patriarchy and excludes women from exercising such roles.

Even the testaments and Lectures portray women as sinners. The New Testament quotes St. Paul (I Timothy 2) as saying that women "must be silent." Deuteronomy declares that if a woman does not bleed on her wedding night, "the men of her town shall stone her to death." Lectures of Luther says, "The rule remains with the husband and the wife is compelled to obey him by God's command. He rules the home and the state wages wars, and defends his possessions . . . The woman, on the other hands, is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home . . . She does not go beyond her most personal duties."

"Properly speaking, the business of women, her task and function, is to actualize the fellowship in which man can only precede her, stimulating, leading, inspiring" (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics). D. Bailey in his 'The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Thought' quotes a speech of Tertullian, a church father: "Do you not all know that each of you (women) is also an Eve? . . . You are the Devil's gateway. You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree, you are first deserter of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him who the devil was too weak to attack. How easily you destroyed man, the image of God! Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the son of God had to die."

Islam openly forbids women to do different activities for which she must have been strengthened as her rights. Islamic culture, tradition and religious laws impact various stages of a Muslim woman's life, including her education, employment, opportunities, rights to inheritance, issues from female circumcision to marriage, marriage contract, permissibility of birth control, divorce, sex outside or before marriage, her ability to receive justice in case of sex crimes, property rights independent of her husband, and salat (prayer) that are mandatory for her. Islam announces man to be "the maintainer of woman because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and as to those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping places and beat them, then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. (Quran 4:34)

Islamic society generally expects husbands to be dominant, especially with respect to matters involving household interactions with the people; wives are expected to be obedient. However, wives may not accept passive roles, and their efforts to assert themselves can come up against strong disapproval. Modern views are still not accepted. Though some young women have been unadopting headscarves and are attracted to the latest western fashions in clothes and cosmetics, traditionalists perceive this as evidence of general decline in female morality.

Boldly speaking against all these religious dogmas, Former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Australia: "Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified. The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo." Mr. Carter sees religion as one of the "basic causes of the violation of women's rights."

Viewing all these facts and knowing all such perspectives, we may conclude that women have suffered injustice and domination for centuries also from religious angle. Isn't it time in this twenty-first century to collectively raise strong voice against these prejudicial patriarchal orientations even in religious faiths? Are women always ready to bow their heads in front of such male gods made by male creative writers? Is there any force that has the guts to break the spectacles of such prejudicial religious, cultural and behavioral norms that reduce females to what Simon de Beauvoir called the second sex? It's time we formed a collective force to do away with such prejudice.


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Religion and Women: Have Major Faiths of World Given Justice to Women?
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Vibha Rimal (Author), 2014, Religion and Women: Have Major Faiths of World Given Justice to Women?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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