Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, once noted that “Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.” In a speech delivered to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia Mr. Carter said. “The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “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.”
In a book titled “Why are Women more Religious than Men?” authors Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce examines that “Women are more religious than men. Despite being excluded from leadership positions, in almost every culture and religious tradition, women are more likely than men to pray, to worship, and to claim that their faith is important to them. Women also dominate the world of ‘New Age’ spirituality and are far more superstitious than men.”
I am not an atheist, I am religious and spiritual by nature, yet I see that most of the world religions have not accepted women. By acceptance I mean religions have accepted women as followers but not as the protector and initiator of religious duties. Women have never been priests, never been the leader of the religious movements, and never been the proprietors of religious institutions such as church, mosque or temples.
When it comes to include women in the religious discussions, they are often left out. The religious leaders from different faiths believe “something must be left un-debated and untested.”
Religion Vs Women: Systematic Exclusion of Women in Faith
Probably, Hinduism is the oldest surviving religion on earth. Hindu scriptures mention women sages. The Vedas contain verses composed by women. However, when it comes to treat women, the most authoritative book taken in account is Manusmriti, which says women must remain under father, brother, husband, or son. The Upanishads describe how Gargi was not permitted by Yagyabalkya to participate in the religious discussions. Yagyas were performed to appease Gods, however, women were not allowed to initiate Yagya. Women were excluded from discourses as well functioning of rituals and rites.
The Buddha allowed women to become monk and stay in the monastery. His mother Gautami was the first women to become a Buddhist monk. However, the ancient texts mention that Buddha did not actually allow women to become a monk. He let Gautami to become monk because he could not refuse his mother. Texts mention that Buddha feared that his monks will be corrupted when women became monks.
Islam originated in the 7th century and it is the first religion that granted property rights to women. It even respected women’s consent in marriage and relationship. However, discriminatory thing about Islam is women are not even allowed to enter inner sanctum of mosque, let alone allow women to head the mosque.
Christianity allows woman to become a nun, however, the nuns can never rise up in the rank to become clergy(woman), reverend, vicar, Pope etc. Christianity does not allow women to head the church, or become a priest. The highest status a woman can gain in Christianity is sainthood after death.
Gender Gap in Religion: Men are Superior to Women According to Religion
There is a wide gender gap between women and men in religion. Our society is shaped up by religion, therefore, gender discrepancies are evident in our society. What are the reasons for excluding women from religion? If we interpret religion in Marxist point of view, we can assume that the religions left out women because religions were created by men, Gods were invented by men, and the theologies were written by men.
Christianity has Mother Marry. Hinduism and Buddhism have multitudes of Goddesses. Yet, women are not accepted as the initiator of religion. The exact reasons are unknown. Most of the theologies do not explain why women cannot become proprietors of the religious institution.
Whether in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism, only men are allowed to perform rites and rituals. Hinduism and Buddhism are basically ritualistic religions, however, these rituals are to be performed only by males. In Hinduism, off course there are some rituals reserved for women only. Interestingly, these rituals for women are to be performed when she menstruates firsts times or reaches menopause. Some rituals ascribed for women are the rituals that she has to perform when her husband dies.
Interesting thing about Hinduism is women are allowed to perform rituals along with their husbands. Some theologies even mention that as long as a man performs rituals along with his wife, only then he will receive fruits of his rituals.
In Buddhism, there are numerous female deities. Buddhism is the first religion that accepted women and even established a nunnery. There are rituals ascribed to propitiate these female Goddesses. However, the rituals are especially reserved for men.
Women And Religion: How Religions Treat Women
Male supremacy is everywhere from politics to religions.
Comparatively, women are more religious than men. Women are not only pious but they also sincerely follow the religious duties and rituals. However, if we analyze the status of women according to the religious point of view, we find women in sorry state. Religions have always been discriminatory towards women and women have always been treated as inferior to men. Are religions, religious doctrines, and theologies actually discriminatory towards women?
Women in Christianity: According to the Christian theology, men and women are created equal in the eyes of Gods. Christianity recognizes the role of the women in the salvation history. The religion has high regards for Sarah, the wife of Abraham; Rebecca, the mother of Esau and Jacob; Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob; Miriam, the sister of Moses. According to New Testament, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the most esteemed of all the women.
Women in Judaism: According to the Hebrew Bible, man was made both “male and female. In the original Jewish tradition, God had a dual gender, however, this disappeared and people started referring God as He and Him. Having said that still today, God is not exclusively viewed as male or masculine, in Jewish tradition, instead, God has both masculine and feminine qualities. The masculine pronoun has been used on Jewish Scriptures because in the Hebrew language there is no neutral gender.
Women in Islam: Islam is revolutionary in a sense that the Sharia law sanctioned women’s rights to marriage, inheritance of property, and divorce. The Holy Quran mentions that men and women are equal in their ability to carry out the wishes of Allah and the teachings of Muhammad.
Women in Buddhism: When Buddhism evolved in Indian subcontinent, Hinduism was the dominant religion. Hinduism was guided by Brahmanic tradition. Brahmanic tradition is a concept that gives importance to the male supremacy and cast based hierarchy. Buddhism tried to knock down the gender gap and established liberal rules towards women. The Buddha incorporated women in the monastic life. However, the Buddhist narratives also mention that women will never reach enlightenment, or Buddhahood, therefore, they should not attain positions of leadership, unless they “gain good Karma and are reborn as men.
Women in Hinduism: Hinduism has a Shakta cult that emphasize that Goddess Shakti, who has numerous names, is the primary force of creation, sustenance and destruction of the universe. Shakta cult is sometimes viewed more powerful that other cults associated with Gods.
Redefining Religion to Change the Status of Women
In the recent times, these religious sanctions for women are breaking apart. Women are also administering and performing religious rites. We can see women in the Hindu society torching pyre (which was not allowed until recently), performing kirya for mother/father (theologies sanction women to do kriya only for husbands). Hinduism have also witness a hordes of women saints in the recent times. Even in Christianity, discussions about allowing women to head the church has come into forefront. The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist leader, has time and again reiterated that he is feminist.