Religion and Women

001_773791.jpgReligions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women? [NYT]

An op-ed piece in the NYT, by the notable Nicholas Kristof, looks at the way many religions perpetuate and sanctify the oppression of women. He discusses that many abuses, such as mass rapes, arise out of a social context in which women are considered second-class citizens and argues that this social context is something religions have helped shape rather than fought hard to change. Kristof wrote this op-ed after listening to former President Jimmy Carter’s speech to the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Australia last month.

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the basic causes of the violation of womens rights, is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.

Before we get into the Punjabi vs. Sikh discussion, where inevitably the conversation leads, Kristof comments that “Its hard to determine what is religion and what is culture, but they certainly shape each other.” Many of us strongly value the tenets of Sikhi which clearly provide women with equality. What compounds the issues is that those who practice Sikhi also happen to live in a cultural context where the lines become blurry. The oppression of women may be more subtle today – especially in the diaspora – but it does still exist. Dowry continues to be exchanged at Sikh weddings. In a few days, many in our community will celebrate Lohri for their sons and grandsons. We may not call it oppression of women – but that doesn’t mean that’s not what it is.

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh speaks to this in her paper,Re-Imagining the Divine in Sikhism,

Since the Guru Granth is the quintessence of their philosophy and ethics, and the center of all their rites and ceremonies, it puzzles me greatly that Sikhs have not adopted its rich feminine import in their daily affairs…How then could Sikh men and women who revere this holy text objectify and subordinate their women in their families and society? Adopt taboos against her reproductive functions? Abort girl fetuses? Something is terribly out ofjoint. As I have been saying for many years in my various works, the literary and the social reality of the community exist in opposition. [link]

While our Gurus paved the path to ensure equality of all – did we, as a religion, fail to cultivate that transformation? Kristof ends his piece by stating, “Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior.” Perhaps providing women with equal standing in our gurdwaras is a good first step?


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7 Responses to “Religion and Women”

  1. Randep says:

    "we, as a religion"

    Sundari, 'religion' is not a person. It is not the bearer of intentionality, feeling, or conscious states. Many of your issues would be dissolved if you only noticed that.

  2. Randep says:

    "we, as a religion"

    Sundari, 'religion' is not a person. It is not the bearer of intentionality, feeling, or conscious states. Many of your issues would be dissolved if you only noticed that.

  3. Mewa Singh says:

    True Randep, but patriarchy would probably still remain.

  4. Mewa Singh says:

    True Randep, but patriarchy would probably still remain.

  5. Gurmeeth says:

    It is a sad fact that "at the end of the day" humans, both men and women, are very crafty in picking and rejecting 'things" that best serve their interest. Few are "big enough" to go past this vested interest level. We can moan how women get get the short end of the deal from men but look closely and you'll see women treat their own kind no better when they have the opportunity to make a difference.
    I have always insisted, that unless the oppressed start contributing to changing things, they can forget getting anything handed to them on a silver platter. Just look at human history and you'll see that is how we are.
    I like to draw attention to the United state constitution which recognised all as equal and see how things were changed to getting Obama into the White House. He was humble enough to acknowledge the fact when he was sworn in.

  6. Gurmeeth says:

    It is a sad fact that "at the end of the day" humans, both men and women, are very crafty in picking and rejecting 'things" that best serve their interest. Few are "big enough" to go past this vested interest level. We can moan how women get get the short end of the deal from men but look closely and you'll see women treat their own kind no better when they have the opportunity to make a difference.
    I have always insisted, that unless the oppressed start contributing to changing things, they can forget getting anything handed to them on a silver platter. Just look at human history and you'll see that is how we are.
    I like to draw attention to the United state constitution which recognised all as equal and see how things were changed to getting Obama into the White House. He was humble enough to acknowledge the fact when he was sworn in.

  7. rushessays says:

    The best religion for the man and woman is Islam which keeps them to spend a happy life with responsibilities and respect. May Allah shows mercy on us and guide us the proper path.