The celebration of International Women's Day, 8 March 2011, brought to mind that the promotion of gender equality is a "sign of the times." Gender equality is also crucial for human development. Indeed, the patriarchal mindset of competition and domination is the main obstacle to sustainable human development and the restoration of harmony between humanity and the human habitat.
Human Beings ~ Man and Woman
(Plaque in the Pioneer Spacecraft)
Sources: Wikipedia and
The magnitude of the obstacle is augmented by the fact that gender inequality is a universal phenomenon. Like pollution, gender equality has no borders. But gender inequality is much worst, for it pollutes the human mind and the human heart; and this in turn reinforces the phallic mentality of domination and hierarchical control that is destroying the human habitat. Overcoming this vicious cycle is crucial for homo economicus to become homo ecologicus.
The transition from homo economicus to homo ecologicus requires at least a modicum of human solidarity. Gender inequality destroys cross-gender solidarity by reinforcing the propensity of 50% of the human race to dominate the other 50%. This leads to aberrations such as the recent confrontation in Cairo, when a group of women trying to celebrate International Women's Day were harassed by a bunch of macho men shouting "get out of here and go home where you belong." These men were shouting insults at the same women who day's earlier had participated with them in the demonstrations for human rights in Egypt! Lest anyone think that this was just a momentary regression to machismo, see this report of another incident.
Secular Dimension of Gender Inequality
The secular dimension of gender inequality has by now been exposed (at least in the West) for what it is: a symptom of the "phallic syndrome" whereby what is masculine is normative for humanity and what is feminine is regarded as an imperfect (and inferior) mirror that is not fully human. This syndrome is harmful because it translates into male-dominated human relations between men and women.
Male supremacy can be readily observed in most of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, it can also be observed in most human cultures, with nefarious consequences - families destroyed, wars and all manner of physical violence, the destruction of the human habitat.
But gender equality has become a "sign of the times." Starting with the suffragettes of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and overcoming implacable (and sometimes violent) resistance along the long path from being "property" to being full citizens with the same human rights as men, the equal human dignity of women and men is now fully recognized - at least in principle - in most civilized countries. However, "old habits die hard" and there are still pockets of resistance in backward societies, theocracies in particular. Even in the most progressive societies, glittering lip service often prevails while actually practicing gender equality lags behind. In households, the percentage of married couples that fully share responsibility and authority is still well below 50%.
The recent (8 March 2011) celebration of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day became a microcosm of both progress made and progress to be made. In the world of business,
the number of women at the top of the ladder remains small. In the world of politics, few women reach the top - and those who do are the exception rather than the rule. Gender balance is hard to achieve because the web of deeply ingrained patriarchal structures conspire to put women down. This patriarchal web is more dense and rigid in some countries than in others, but it is fair to say that women still striving for worldwide gender equality. Quality for women remains a distant goal in the world. The recent announcement of the formation of a
Committee of Wise Men to guide the transition from dictatorship to democracy does not bode well for the future of Egyptian women. In Ivory Coast, the March 8th march by women ended in bloodshed. But even in the midst of violence, Muslim feminism is reported to be alive and well. It will take a long time for gender equality to become widespread, and the "phallic syndrome" many never disappear completely (just as there are still pockets of slavery in some parts of the world) but the movement forward is irreversible: equality means business. To view photos of some of the world's current women leaders, click here.
The United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI) has been refined to include a Gender Inequality Index (GII). The data, published as part of the 2010 Human Development Report (HDR) shows that "reproductive health is the largest contributor to gender inequality." It further concludes that there is indeed a tight coupling between gender equality and human development: "Countries with unequal distribution of human development also experience high inequality between women and men, and countries with high gender inequality also experience unequal distribution of human development."
It should be understood that promotion of gender equality should not be done in a way that is condescending toward women. Granted that historically women have suffered oppression at the hands of men, women can and do abuse men. Physical abuse of men by women is rare, but psychological abuse of men by women is not so rare. Sexism goes both ways and, no matter how much they have suffered due to male domination, women are not exonerated from the practice of cross-gender solidarity. Furthermore, any form of violence toward gays and lesbians - or, more generally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people - is also contrary to cross-gender solidarity and constitutes an insult to human dignity and a grave obstacle to human development. Cross-gender solidarity transcends all gender barriers.
Religious Dimension of Gender Inequality
Religious traditions are among the most precious jewels of human civilization. To the extent that they manifest and carry forward God's self-revelation to humanity, they produce abundant fruits of holiness and self-less (even heroic) acts of compassion and generosity. Many contemporary
examples come to mind: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King Jr., the Taizé community, and the work of Caritas and other religion-based humanitarian organizations throughout the world, to mention just a few.
However, nothing human is 100% pure, and sometimes people use religion - and religious beliefs and traditions - for selfish and destructive purposes that have nothing to do with the glory of God and the good of humanity. We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that religion is the root cause for all kinds of violence; and, more specifically, it is the root cause of cross-gender violence and cross-gender inequality. This is the great paradox of religion: it engenders both sublime love and brutal violence.
This paradox was already known to those who wrote the initial chapters - in particular chapters 3 and 4 - of the Book of Genesis (ca. 600 BCE). Specifically, Genesis 3:16 and 4:8 undoubtedly reflect primitive religious thinking, i.e., myths about both divine and human violence. The most vulnerable are always the victims - women, children, those who are physically or intellectually weak. Since the time of Genesis, most of the victimizers have been men; sure, some women too, but mostly men. But violence begets violence and, in due time, victimizers become victims of their own violence. So it is a zero-sum situation in which - again paradoxically - everyone looses and nobody wins. Violence has a long tail.
The fact that human history thus far has been contaminated by the violent mindset of Genesis 3:16 and 4:8 is well known. But now we know better. René Girard, a French-American historian, anthropologist and literary critic, has exposed the archaic religious roots of the human propensity to violence. Daniel Maguire, a professor of theology and ethics at Marquette University (USA), has documented the persisting religious roots of gender violence and, in particular, violence by men against women. Beverly Lanzetta, a feminist scholar, has done extensive research on gender violence and how patriarchal religions do harm to women (and therefore also indirectly to men) - not only physically and psychologically, but also spiritually:
"Corporate forms of spiritual violence are present when a religious community institutionalizes women's inferiority or denies them rights granted to men, such as ordination to the priesthood or other recognized religious titles held by males. Institutions that promote unequal spiritual relations, prevent women's full participation in divine life, deny women access to spiritual authority, or commodify women as objects to be owned and sold contribute to worldwide suffering. The social structures that allow the unequal distribution of spiritual goods and that exploit or dictate women's spiritual abilities effectively posses a woman's soul, for they control in what way and in what measure women are representative of divinity. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, institutional structures that prohibit women's full representation in positions of authority granted to men reinforce the sin of omission: women are not capable of representing divinity. Because structural violence invades the foundation of women's consciousness, it touches deep archetypal roots of women's understanding of God, religion, and gender roles. It is frequently pre-theological and pre-verbal. It is often the last place women look for healing." Radical Wisdom: A Feminist Mystical Theology. Beverly Lanzetta, Fortress Press, 2005, pages 70-71.
For more, see Page 3 of this issue.
The kind of insight that Lanzetta is describing is not exclusively female. Consider the following statement by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'ís:
"The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.... the world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female.... women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God.... The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary." Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), Bahá'í Topics, 1997.
For more, see Page 2 of this issue.
Vatican fundamentalists who block the ordination of women by adducing old practices and new pseudo-doctrines about women in roles of religious authority, and Islamic fundamentalists who do likewise by invoking strict adherence to Sharia Law, would do well to reconsider the harm they are doing and recognize that perpetuating harmful laws made by human hands cannot possibly be the will of a God who loves humanity.
Gender Equality for Human Development
To foster integral human development, it is crucial to foster all dimensions of gender equality. The social dimension is important, but the spiritual dimension is the most important. All the social symptoms that degrade women bounce to degrade men as well, and all are traceable to gender-related archetypal distortions that fester in the souls of both men and women.
It is often said that "prostitution is the oldest profession." Indeed, it is as old as the primitive archetypes that reduce the human body to a commodity; and this applies to both male and female prostitution. All manner of gender violence - domestic violence, trafficking of women, trafficking and/or sexual abuse of children, job-related discrimination, subtler vocation-related discrimination, etc. - are traceable to primitive thinking that still infects the spiritual life of men and women at the deepest existential level. Scientifically, a major breakthrough in discovering the persisting influence of these archetypes,
or deeply ingrained "symbols" of subconscious experience, was provided by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
in conjunction with his discovery of the Self,
Animus, and Persona archetypes. The origin of these archetypes goes back to primitive thinking (including primitive religious thinking) and some of them - in particular the "sexist" archetypes - still lurk under contemporary social and religious behavior.
Understanding the Anima and Animus archetypes, and how they interact with each other - and with the other archetypes which abide in the personal unconscious of every man and every woman - is crucial to make progress toward gender equality, which in turn is crucial for human development. The Anima is "the feminine image in a man's psyche," and the Animus is "the masculine image in a man's psyche." Individuation (principium individuationis, or integral human development) is "the process through which a person becomes his/her true self."
This process requires digging the various disconnected archetypes out of the subconscious and consciously integrating them.
There is no such thing as integral human development unless this inner journey is undertaken and completed. In particular, the Anima and the Animus need to be reconciled and integrated; else, a latent propensity to gender violence remains. And all manner of gender violence is a grave obstacle to human development in both victims and victimizers; to say nothing about society at large, for we know that "what goes around comes around" via the collective unconscious.
Fostering gender equality requires confronting primitive gender archetypes that lurk in the subconscious and bringing them to reconciliation and integration at the conscious level. When this integration is lacking, cross-gender relationships suffer. When this integration has been attained (even if not perfectly) cross-gender relationships are healthier. Cross-gender solidarity is a practical impossibility as long as gender-related archetypes remain hidden in the subconscious and continue to distort human perceptions and human behavior.
Needless to say, people in dire poverty have neither the time nor the energy to worry about archetypes or, for that matter, issues of human development beyond meeting their basic daily needs - food, water, shelter. As is well known, "the bed is the consolation of the poor," but this consolation is often destroyed by various forms of gender violence. This is perhaps the most vicious driver of the "cycle of poverty." Poverty precludes human development and induces gender violence, which in turn degrades poor people and keeps them trapped in poverty.
Evidence that gender equality is instrumental for poverty eradication is further confirmation that any practices (social or religious) that reinforce sexist archetypes add to human misery and are, therefore, inhuman and incompatible with the glory of God. "If God reveals God-self to all of us, and not just to the powerful, the mighty, the priests and the men, women's exclusion from the full range of spiritual wisdom and authority is a desecration of God." (Beverly Lanzetta, op.cit, p. 77)
Fostering Cross-Gender Solidarity
Gender inequality is a major barrier to sustainable development. In his 1991 encyclical
Centessimus Annos, Pope John Paul II makes a very insightful statement: "Man's principal resource is man himself." A more proper, gender-inclusive statement would be: "Human beings are humanity's greatest resource." Gender inequality amounts to (among other things) wasting 50% of "humanity's greatest resource." Gender inequality also breeds gender violence, which is the most pervasive form of violence in practically all human cultures.
It follows that there can be no sustainable progress in human development without equally sustainable gender equality. At a time when the precariousness of technological solutions to social issues is becoming increasingly apparent (e.g., the nuclear power disaster in Japan) and tyrants are showing their determination to dominate others by any means (e.g., the brutal civil war in Libya), it would be opportune for social institutions to become serious about making progress in human development by advancing gender equality. Likewise, it is time for religious institutions to stop patronizing women and children, and start contributing to a healthier "collective unconscious" by elevating women to roles of religious authority. Enough damage has been done by our inordinate attachment to primitive archetypes!
Gender equality is the path toward cross-gender solidarity and integral human development. The "two wings of humanity" (male and female) must work together in order to make further progress toward social and ecological justice.