• The Feminist Times

Women & Religion?



The Oppression of women has several bases, none of which can be humanely justified. One of

them is considered to be Religion. Religious practices are known to have long been inclined to

the patriarchal systems of the society. The key point to know here is that religion and its

perception is based on culture and society, which are known to be patriarchal.

The realities of faith and beliefs are to be lived by humans. They cannot be segregated by

gender for they are experiences and actions which every individual is entitled and subjected to.

It is these instances that religion finds its foundation in. The soul is the matter of concern not

the vessel.

And still, Religion is the most commonly given justification for violation of women’s rights.

Often, the burden of following rites and rituals falls squarely on the women’s shoulders. Fasts,

prayers, ceremonies, etc are very commonly considered to solely be their domain. Several

religions attribute sexual powers to women, which makes them “lucrative” and “fetching”

giving men the power and the suggested right to control them and maintain their “purity” and

“sanctity”. This has implications much further than marital relations.

Islam is often the prosecuted devil in these discussions. However, the Quran not only

encourages women to educate themselves but also to live in an unconstrained fashion. The

much debated Hijab is an active choice according to the Holy Quran, forcing whose donning is

comprehended as a sin. Islam designates the role of the Imam to men exclusively, but apart

from that, women are encouraged to lead self suffiecient lives, which is often not a privilege

they are afforded. The Sharia Law, which is often the basis of oppression for women, is, against

common belief, not applicable as State Law. It is merely a way of life, and cannot be used as an

excuse to limit the possibilities of life for women. To add on, the Islamic Law is determined on

the basis of two sacred Islamic Texts, The Quran and the Sunnah, which is the example of the

Prophet. A third part of the law determination process is The Ijtihad, the science of

interpretations and rule making which in all likelihood influenced the thoughts and

conceptions of the existing society.

In a positive turn, centuries ago, when the society treated women with negligible or even non

existent regard, Gautam Budhha recognised women as equally rightful parts of society.Certain

sects of Buddhism, such as Shin Buddhism, had female founders and later even had women in

positions of leadership and authority. However, Buddhism considers itself a mirror of society,

which may be the reason why certain sections still follow a system of exclusive male lineage.


Apostle Paul declares in Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer

slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”. The Bible

states that women have the same spiritual gifts as men, leaving no foundations for women to

be barred from holding important positions. However, since men have historically been

afforded education, priesthood and ministries are still strictly male-only. To add to the

problem, both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church “assign” various roles to women,

believing that the role of men and women in all spheres must remain separate. The Church

considers that a woman, “in her deepest and original being, exists “for the others””. It

stereotypes ‘the dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and

waiting” as feminine traits which women perform “with particular intensity and naturalness”.

Thus, the low rates of participation of women in the European parliamentary comes as no

surprise, considering the influence of the Church.

In Hinduism, women are given more importance religiously. They are seen as the creators of

the world and the destroyers of evil. Goddess Shakti is known to be worshipped as the Mother

Goddess as she embodies the totality of the energies of the universe. There are many other

forms she is worshipped in, all of them attributing major powers of existence, sustenance,

wealth, knowledge, and even destruction to her. This seems like true empowerment, but it is

often twisted by society to exert control over women. The unlimited power and the

ruthlessness supposedly needs “reigning in” by the men. The fierce behaviour was not

applauded for it’s capability to intimidate and thus, women and their worth was tied to men.

Child Marriage, Sati, the Dowry System, the Purdah System,”Honour” Crimes, Infibulation and

many others, question a woman’s autonomy and intellect.

For a long time now, the fierceness and freedom of women have been perceived as threats to

society due to its patriarchal structure. Eve and Pandora were considered the harbingers of

doom for their mere curiosity, Witch Hunts were a norm to eliminate any woman showing

“abnormal” behaviour, Widows were shunned, women were not allowed to work establishing

their dependency on men, the list goes on.These practices suggest that the woman’s identity

solely connected to the man’s existence and ultimately subjects her to his control.

Mythology and Religion are not justification for women’s treatment as second class citizens.

Human rights violations cannot be ignored on the pretext of Freedom of Religion, for no

religion decrees men to be superior to women. It is the various social and personal

interpretations which are not the same as Religion, if not concurred by all those affected by it.

Practice and Implementation of Religion is solely an individual’s prerogative, without that, it is

just a facade for violation.

-Apoorva Panda

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