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Women and
gender justice

Women and gender justice / Presentation

Interreligious

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Interreligious

Led by a male drummer!

Tribal girls performing a typical tribal dance in traditional outfits. Hurhuru area of District Hazaribaug, Jharkhand, India.

We talk about what our women have to go through because of the society, but it is equally sad what our men have to go through because of the way society wants to perceive them. Unless men change, their humanity would be destroyed. Our men don’t need to change to support women, but to save themselves from being brutalised by centuries of exposure to patriarchy.

Kamla Bhasin

Religions at the root of patriarchal dominance

By Shalini Mulackal

Religion is often used as a weapon to reinforce the subjugation of women. When we look at Hinduism we see that during the Vedic Age there were eminent female scholars, poets and teachers. But by the time of the lawgivers the literate woman had become an anathema. Manu decreed that women had no right to study the Vedas. According to Manusmriti a woman must not be independent at any stage of her life. In the Bhagavadgita women are lumped together with sinners, slaves and outcasts. “They had come to be regarded as intrinsically evil, spiritually contaminate, poisoning by their very presence, and obstacles to salvation....Women, according to the texts, are the root of all evil and suffering. Behind even the most innocent exterior there is a raging passion of lust, since they are beings of insatiable sexual appetite.”

Islam strongly advocates purdha system. The Qur'an explicitly stresses the superiority of men over women. `And they [women] have rights similar to those [of men] over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them' (2:228). And again, `Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other...'(4:34). Men and women are not held to be socially equal by Islam. Down to the present time, for example, the evidence of two women is considered equivalent to that of one man in countries with Islamic law. Women are not socially independent in Islam, but legally need a man to act on their behalf. Woman's share of inherited property is less. Under Islamic law, she inherits half of what male members of the family receive.

Feminist analysis points out that the Christian churches and theologies perpetuate women’s inferiority through their institutional inequalities and theological justifications of women’s innate differences from men. Christian ethics impede the development of self-assertion and autonomy by women by making them internalise certain ‘feminine’ passive attitudes like meekness, humility, submission, self-sacrifice, self-denying love etc. Since women cannot be ordained as ministerial priests in the Catholic Church, they are denied the full participation in ecclesial life. Women are forced to accept their inferior status within the church.


In the traditional Christian context the status of women was mainly patriarchal. While the context in the West may have changed to some degree Christian communities in many developing and emerging nations still practice discrimination against women. Many Christian communities still restrict church offices to men. While the Catholic Church does not allow priesthood for women some of the protestant churches are now permitting it.

Hindu society is still a predominantly patriarchal society. Most women are still housewives (cleaning, raising children, tending to husband, cooking). This is of course true of all religious communities in India. The ancient Laws of Manu called for respect towards women as long as they were subservient to men. Women were traditionally not allowed to remarry after the death of their husband. In the modern context a small number of Hindu women are entering professional and political life.

Buddhism arose from the Hindu cultural context and all the patriarchal aspects were present in society, although the Buddha himself allowed some rights for women. (Editor's note)

We talk about what our women have to go through because of the society, but it is equally sad what our men have to go through because of the way society wants to perceive them. Unless men change, their humanity would be destroyed. Our men don’t need to change to support women, but to save themselves from being brutalised by centuries of exposure to patriarchy.

Kamla Bhasin