Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 4, April 2011
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor
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Status of Gender Equality in Religion


This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various religious traditions and institutions. With so much going on, the selected items are the editor's choice. The following sections are included in this page:

1. The Religious Roots of Gender Violence
2. The Urgent Need for a New Ijtihad
3. Inspiring Women, Changing Lifes
4. Celebrating Female Clergy
5. Catherine of Siena Virtual College
6. Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation
7. Women Bishops in the Anglican Communion
8. Feminist Review - Special Issue on Religion and Spirituality
9. Religious Dimension of the "Rising Tide"

The promotion of gender equality in religion is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world religions. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box, which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported, by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.

If you know about recent developments that should be mentioned in this page, please write to the Editor.

1. The Religious Roots of Gender Violence

Source: The Religious Consultation
Religious Roots of Gender Violence
Daniel C. Maguire
Professor of Moral Theology & Ethics, Marquette University, and President, The Religious Consultation On Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics
The Religious Consultation Report, Volume 7, Number 1, Page 8, October 2003
Reprinted with Permission

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions states it bluntly: "The subordination of women to men became widespread in all religions." This subordination is the primal violence from which other forms of anti-woman violence are spawned.


1. All the world's religions (many now represented in the US) induce violence against women, although these inducements have remained undiagnosed.

2. By a kind of homeopathic medicine, these religions can be marshaled to promote cures. The means? To undermine the religious justification of this abuse that devastates women/girls and that undergirds public policies as well as public neglect.


In the United States:
  • Battering is the major cause of injury to adult women.
  • About 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.
  • Nearly one-third of women are physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend — that's nearly 4 million women each year.
  • Black women are more likely to be victimized than white.
  • About 1-in-5 women in emergency rooms show symptoms related to abuse.
  • The FBI estimates that a woman is raped every two minutes.
  • 1-in-3 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 90% of women report on-the-job sexual harassment.
In the entire world:
  • 1-out-of-3 women will suffer abuse. In some countries, the figure is over 50%.
  • In India, 5,000 brides are killed annually in dowry disputes. "Honor killings" claim thousands every year — because women socialized with boys or were raped.
  • For 33% of girls, their first sexual experience is forced.
  • 50% of rape victims are under 18, and 25% are under 12.

Source: The Pilgrim Press
The violence against women takes multiple societal forms: discrimination in employment, promotion, and pay scales; educational deprivation — including in many places — illiteracy; neglect in researching women's medical needs; female "sweat shop" labor; sexual enslavement and more. And what does religion have to do with all of this? Religion is a, if not the, shaper of cultural values. Most societies do not want to admit it, but many religious definitions and teachings on the meaning of gender and male/female roles provide the justification for violence against women.

Religion is often used by aggressors to justify their behavior and used by victims to excuse the violence employed against them. The religious emphasis on "family values" often works to keep women in abusive relationships in the name of "keeping the family together." Seeking justice against these crimes is seen in some religious settings as vindictive and un-virtuous. Male dominance in most clergies does not promote sensitivity to violence against women. Thus the very religions that promote this abuse do little or nothing to stop it.


Violence Against Women in Contemporary World Religion: Roots And Cures, Daniel C. Maguire (Editor) and Sa'Diyya Shaikh (Editor), Pilgrim Press, 2007, 248 pages.

The final chapter, on "The Role of Religion in Violence against Women," by Arvind Sharma, concludes with the following sentence: "The bad news is that religion has a role to play in it; the good news is that if it is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution." Amen!

2. The Urgent Need for a New Ijtihad

Courtesy of TwoCircles.Net
Religion and violence against women
Asghar Ali, TwoCircles.Net, India, 2 July 2009
Reprinted with Permission

Religion is believed to be divine. It is divine in more than one sense. Firstly it is divine in the sense that its teachings are motivated by purest of intentions; secondly it is divine as its teachings are transcendent as religion exhort us to transcend what is to, what it should be in society as well as in our personal conduct. But soon after birth of religion it gets mixed up with customs and traditions already existing in society on one hand, and, on the other, powerful interests, often very negation of its teachings, begin to control it.

Thus what reaches us is far from religion in its divine form but a mixture of several things. Its divine teachings diluted or even negated and we begin to perpetrate certain dogmas in all their rigidity resulting in several problems and resisting all changes. We even forget that what is divine cannot be against reason and human progress both material and spiritual.

Rigid dogmas and doctrines are not the product of religion, as we often believe, but of the human mind which itself is product, not of divine teachings but of existing social ethos. Also, theologians and priests acquire, for followers of religion, status of demi-gods. An ordinary follower entirely depends on these scribes and priests for their understanding of religion. Also, psychologically speaking, most human beings feel highly secure by following some 'leader' or 'authority'. To think or act by oneself is quite onerous and avoided by ordinary human beings.

However, true religiosity consists in knowing, thinking and taking responsibility for one's own actions. Taqlid (mechanically following) is not a religious act as responsibility for what one does is not on oneself but on the leader whom one follows. Thus leaders acquire vested interest in their followers and anyone who refuses to follow becomes an heretic and is denounced, even ostracized.

I have said these prefatory words so that we understand the real import of religion as against prevailing practices in the name of religion. Unless we discover the real spirit of original teachings we would continue to follow something far away from religion. It cannot be expected of any existing religious establishment to represent the true spirit of religion. No establishment can ever represent the true sprit of religion. They negate each other. Any establishment represents some form of interests and religion negates all forms of interests. It is an individual spiritual quest.

Today in all established religions we find women having secondary position. Religious leadership itself has become a male prerogative. Today all established religions represent patriarchal values and hence women cannot enjoy the same rights and dignity as men. And this secondary position of women is sanctified through theological doctrines. Now no religion in its divine form can assign a secondary position, much less vilify women. All human beings are a creation of the Supreme Being. If at all women must have higher position as she partakes of creation through giving birth to human beings. If creation is a divine act, women too perform this divine act.

However, established religions, strayed from divinity, lost this divine dimension and patriarchy overtook divinity and women became subordinate to men and, at best became an instrument of reproduction rather than partaking of the divine act. Conceiving and giving birth became her weakness rather than divine strength, and even the means of subjugation. And subjugation, in its extreme form, was enforced trough violence.

And since subjugation was theologized, so was violence against her. Thus violence against her came to be theologically justified in different religious traditions. Here we will discuss violence against women from an Islamic theological point of view. When the Government of India passed the domestic violence Act, an Urdu paper from Mumbai Inquilab reported a statement of General Secretary of Muslim Personal Law Board that Government is depriving us of our Islamic right to 'beat our wives'.

It was a shocking statement as there cannot be a divine right to beat one's wife. What is the source of this statement? It is the Qur'anic verse 4:34. Now according to all traditional commentators like Tabari, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir and others this verse of the 4th chapter was revealed when a woman complained to the Prophet (PBUH) that her husband slapped her unjustly so what should she do? The Prophet (PBUH) who always gave priority to justice over anything else and also always accorded equal dignity to women, asked the woman to go and retaliate.

This created a crisis in the patriarchal society of Arabs and men surrounded the Prophet and said if our women have right to retaliate how will we control our families? It was natural concern in a patriarchal society. The Prophet had to tackle this crisis, according to this story, and hence he waited for divine intervention to tackle it as it was of grave proportion. The revelation came in the form of verse 4:34.

This story also shows that many verses were revealed in response to certain social situation and hence the importance of that verse could be understood only in that context. In other words such verses cannot be absolutized, as our jurists and theologians tend to do. This verse today is being debated between modernists and traditionalists and being differently interpreted.

First, let us take the traditionalist point of view in understanding this verse. Verse 4:34 has been translated as shown below by Maulana Muhammad Ali whom I can describe as semi-modernist i.e. neither completely traditionalist nor completely modernist:

"Men are the maintainers of women, with what Allah have made some of them to excel others and with what they spend out of their wealth. So the good women are obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded. And (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the beds and chastise them. So if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely Allah is ever Exalted, Great."

I have underlined some words in this translation which are crucial in determining position of women in this divinely revealed book. We have already seen the context in which this verse was revealed. And to a great extent its meaning would also relate to this context. Traditional theologians and jurists read into it clear statement of subordination of women to men. The above translation, as I have said, is by semi-modernist theologian.

If we take the traditional translation, it would be even more problematic from feminist viewpoint. The first underlined word in this translation is qawwam which the Maulana has translated as 'maintainer' but traditionalist translate it as 'ruler' or 'authority' and so translated it would mean 'men are authority over women'. However, root meaning of the word is maintainer and protector. So the Maulana is much closer to the root meaning than traditionalists. The Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's translation in Urdu also supports this meaning.

The other underlined words are ba'duhum 'ala ba'din. Muhammad Ali has translated it as "some of them to excel others". However, Muhammad Asad, in his The Message of the Qur'an displays greater bias towards men when he translates these words as "God has bestowed more abundantly on the former (i.e. men) than on the latter (i.e. women). But again Maulana Muhammad Ali is much nearer to the root meaning of ba'dahum 'ala ba'din than Muhammad Asad.

Next the words 'good women are obedient' are interpreted as 'obedient' to men. The Arabic word in the Qur'an is qanitatun which can only mean obedient to Allah, not to men. And to be fair to the Maulana, in the footnote to this word he has explained "Obedient here signifies obedient to Allah." Muhammad Asad has translated it as 'devout' which is closer to the root meaning of qanitat.

Another controversial interpretation is of the word what Maulana translates as 'desertion' and Muhammad Asad as 'ill-will'. In Qur'an the Arabic word for this is nushuz. The root meaning of this word is to rise, to protrude. Thus a more acceptable translation would be to rise up against husband. It can be interpreted as desertion or also, as one Maulana Shoaib points out sexual misconduct. For this meaning of the word, he refers to Prophet's (PBUH) use of this word in this sense in his address after last Hajj known as Hajjat al-wada'.

The Qur'an, in this verse tells men that in case of nushuz (desertion, rising up or sexual misconduct) first they should admonish them failing which they should be isolated in bed and even then if they continue their nushuz then chastise (or beat) them. Now the Arabic word for chastisement used in the Qur'an is wadribuhunna.

The traditionalists argue that the Qur'an clearly permits men to beat women (or their wives) though the Qur'an does not use the word wife but the general word women. And that is why the General Secretary of the Muslim Personal Law Board gave a statement that this Act against Domestic Violence has deprived us Muslims of our God-given right to beat our wives. However, this translation (i.e. 'to beat them') is highly controversial and Muslim feminists and modernists are challenging it.

How do Muslim feminists and modernists understand this word? Before we discuss this it would be better to point out that Tabari, the first major commentator of the Qur'an, points out to a few traditions (ahadith) of the Prophet which say that beating should be merely symbolic, i.e., very light so as not to injure them. Tabari mentions the hadith that when asked - 'how much can we beat them'? - the Prophet said he was brushing his teeth with a brush; he lightly struck the brush on his body and said this much, no more. According to a similar hadith, also referred to by Tabari, the Prophet had a kerchief in his hand and he struck with kerchief and said this much and no more.

It is for this reason that most of the translators write in the bracket while translating wadribuhunna, 'so as not to injure them'. In other words, do not thrash them. But then if they are to be struck so lightly like with the brush or handkerchief, what is the use? Beating is supposed to be a physical punishment and punishment for rebelling or sexual deviancy (if at all nushuz means that as Maulana Shoaib believes) cannot be as light as that. It should be such as to physically hurt.

Thus one should rethink the meaning of wadribuhunna here. It seems the Prophet's traditions referred to by Tabari may be later inventions. The word daraba translated as to 'beat' has no one meaning in Arabic language. It has several meanings. The meaning chosen should jell with the overall Qur'anic approach to women and not conflict with it. If the word daraba is translated as beating, it certainly conflicts with the overall Qur'anic approach towards women.

If one carefully studies Qur'anic verses about women it becomes clear that the Qur'an gives equal status both to men and women and equal dignity to both as human beings. The Qur'an does nowhere distinguish between men and women except in the matter of function. The Qur'an even refrains from using the words 'husband' and 'wife'. It often uses the word zawj, i.e., 'couple,' which is a much more equitable expression of the marital relationship between husband and wife. The term 'husband and wife' indicates a dominating and dominated relation.

Also, the entire discourse in the Qur'an about women is 'right-based,' i.e., talks of their rights only and entire discourse about men is 'duty-based,' i.e., talks of their duties only and repeatedly exhorts them how to behave with their wives. This was because in pre-Islamic Arab society women enjoyed no rights and were expected to discharge their duties towards their husbands. The Qur'an disapproved of this unequal relationship and enhanced her status by insisting on their rights and not on duties.

But the patriarchal Arab society was not ready to accept such total transformation and with lapse of time again reversed the relationship and went back to the original situation, and hence the Shari'ah law is full of discourse about a wife's duties towards her husband rather than her own rights, even though in view of the original Qur'anic verses jurists could not ignore her rights.

Also, Qur'anic verses talk of qualitatively different relationship between man and women. For example we find in verse 30:21 "And of His signs are this, that He created mates for you from your own kind that so that you might find quiet of mind in them and He put between you love and compassion." Surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.

In this verse we find the true Qur'anic approach towards husband-wife relationship which is neither of domination and dominated but of love and compassion towards each other. It is not only a matter of sexual pleasure and procreation either. Men can find peace of mind in them (li taskunu). Thus there is no question of the Qur'an allowing men to beat their wives even in the event of differences between them.

Also, the Prophet (PBUH) never ever beat his wives. Who knew the Qur'an better than the Prophet? If the Qur'an allowed wife-beating, the Prophet would have surely known this and in the event of differences with his wives he could have used physical force, even symbolically as the hadith ascribed to him shows. But we do not find any such event in his life. Prophet (PBUH) treated his wives most respectfully and with dignity. He knew that the Qur'an does not permit wife-beating under any circumstances.

The Qur'an refers to his differences with his wives when they demanded more material benefit from him which he could not afford. He did not even quarrel with them on the issue and only withdrew himself and sat in a room alone. When Umar, whose daughter Hafsa had married the Prophet, came to know about this, he came to meet him (and the Prophet met him rather reluctantly) and Umar advised the Prophet to beat his daughter Hafsa as she had defied him. One finds reference to this in the Qur'anic verses 33:28-29.

Umar was known for beating his wife since his pre-Islamic days but the Prophet (PBUH) refused to accept his unsolicited advice. The tension between the Prophet and his wives was soon resolved and normal relationship resumed. Yet in another verse men and women have been described as each others friends. Thus the Qur'an says, "And the believers, men and women, are friends one of another. (9:71)

Thus we should try to understand one verse of the Qur'an with another verse or verses of the Qur'an rather than with the help of hadith. The Qur'an's authenticity can never be doubted though many ahadith (plural of hadith) are of a controversial nature. Also, the Qur'an gives norms and values and has a transcendental dimension. Ahadith, on the other hand, are often the product of patriarchal society and hence are to be treated with extreme caution.

Unfortunately all the commentators on the Qur'an rely more on these ahadith than on the holistic approach to the Qur'an, as pointed out above. Even in the formulation of Shari'ah laws, more reliance has been put on hadith than even on the Qur'an when several problems arose after the demise of the Prophet (PBUH). Most of the Arabs who embraced Islam were not in fact qualitatively transformed, and the prevailing social ethos and cultural values could not be easily cast away.

Thus patriarchy asserted itself again and again and even jurists could not completely disregard patriarchal values. Also, a theory was developed that the Shari'ah could incorporate the aadaat, i.e., customs and traditions of the Arab society in which Islam was borne. This opened the door for much pre-Islamic practices to be incorporated into Shari'ah laws. In this process, Qur'anic transformative values were often compromised.

Thus the word wadribuhunna also came to be understood under prevalent cultural and social ethos of pre-Islamic society. In fact, the Meccan society was more patriarchal than the Medinese society which had matriarchal traces and hence treated women with more dignity. But many of the prominent companions of the Prophet originally belonged to Mecca who had migrated to Medina either along with or after the Prophet. They wielded great influence in reporting ahadith and in interpreting the Qur'anic texts.

A careful exegetical literature would show that no scripture can be understood apart from existing social cultural practices. In other words, our understanding of scripture is culturally mediated. Thus no commentary on the Qur'an can be an exemption. Though the Qur'an is divine, its understanding is surely human and not binding. Human understanding can change in changed circumstances.

A modernist or a contemporary commentator may differ from earlier interpretations. Many modern scholars of Islam maintain that Qur'anic values can be much better appreciated and understood in today's circumstances when there is much greater awareness about women's rights and dignity. And surely the Qur'an's transcendental approach can find much greater acceptability today.

Thus wadribuhunna should not be understood as chastisement but its other meanings must be explored to understand the Qur'an's transcendental dimension. Even in medieval times, some Qur'anic scholar's like Imam Raghib Asfahani pointed out in dictionaries such as Qur'an mufradat al-Qur'an that daraba 'ala in Arabic meant 'male camel going near female camel.'

If this meaning is accepted, and there is no reason why it should not be accepted as it comes from a great lexicographer of Arabic language, then the meaning of the expression radically changes. It would instead mean go near each other if they are persuaded after isolation in bed and they give up their nushuz through persuasion. Many other modern commentators have also adopted other meanings of the term daraba.

The American Iranian commentator Laleh Bakhtiar, who has created a comprehensive data-base on the Qur'an, translates it as follows: "But those whose resistance (nushuz) you fear then admonish them and abandon them in their sleeping place then go away from them (wadribuhunna) but if they obey you, surely look not for any way against them; truly God is Lofty, Great." (4:34) - Laleh Bakhtiar, The Sublime Quran)

The medieval understanding of the the Qur'an as related to women issues must make way for a more modern and contemporary approach so as to give women their due which have been denied them for centuries and should no longer be denied today. The old approach cannot be sustained for long as women today are getting more educated and are active members of human workforce.

I hope Muslim intellectuals, and supporters of women's rights within a Qur'anic framework, will go for ijtihad (intellectual exertion for fresh approach) as it is long overdue.

3. Inspiring Women, Changing Lifes

Courtesy of Ekklesia

Ekklesia is a beliefs and values think-tank providing briefing, research, commentary and analysis of culture, religion and politics.

Inspiring women, changing lives
Jill Segger, Ekklesia, 11 Mar 2011
Reprinted with Permission

Neither International Women's Day nor Ash Wednesday usually have any great significance for me. The Quaker belief that all days and times carry the sacred within them is usually sufficient. But this year, I am moved to consider it possible that I may have been mistaken.

It is easy to take one's own experience for granted and to forget that things were not always as we find them today or are everywhere the same as in our own small area of the globe. When I compare my life with that of my mother and grandmothers, I find much upon which I need to reflect and for which I know I must learn to cultivate a keener sense of gratitude.

The lives of both my grandmothers were hard in many ways. One was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis from an early age and in a time when good medical care was beyond the means of poorer people. The other endured an unhappy marriage with grace and resignation. Both lived very modestly, without cars, telephones, televisions, or – for a good part of their married lives - electricity or running water.

Whatever their dreams and aspirations - and of these I know nothing - they followed the way of most working class women in the early years of the last century. They left school when not long into double figures and worked briefly as domestic servants before marrying young and bearing children in quick succession. Both of them had a child that died before before their ninth birthday and both families endured the harsh environment of industrial northern England during the years of the depression. Both women had to contend with husbands damaged by the 1914-18 war and neither ever travelled far from their homes. Holidays were almost unknown and a Bank Holiday trip to Grange-over-Sands or Silloth was about as good as it got.

My mother was permitted to stay at school until she was 16. This was all but unheard of in that stratum of society where children were expected to enter employment and contribute to the family budget as soon as possible. Those extra years of education gave her the desire to become a doctor and there was no doubt that she had the intelligence and application which would have made this possible. But girls from the West Cumbrian coalfield did go to medical school in the 1930s.

The war deformed the lives of my mother's generation. Her fiancé, a merchant seaman, was lost in the North Atlantic Convoys and it was not until four years after the end of the war that she met the man who was to be my father.

His early death left her a young widow and her stoic determination to keep a roof over our heads and to battle through her loss without self-pity or bitterness remains an inspiration to me.

None of these brief life stories are in any way remarkable in the sense of being unusual. But they are extraordinary in that they seem so far distant from the experiences of my generation and cohort.

I was educated from the infant class to post-graduate level at the expense of the state. I have been a beneficiary of a free health service and of a time when a young graduate could get on the property ladder in their twenties. My life and relationships have not been eaten into by the dislocation and loss of war. I have travelled and been exposed to cultures which were the stuff of fiction to my grandparents. I am sustained by a non-married relationship without shame or the need for evasion or dissembling. Should we have chosen to marry and should that marriage have failed, I would have faced neither social disgrace nor penury.

I have experienced very little by way of exploitation or bullying in either my professional or personal life, I have not experienced overt unfairness in employment or remuneration and the occasional inevitable manifestations of male chauvinism have not troubled me greatly. The confidence which comes from a good education and the support of like-minded friends of both sexes is a sure defence against those who seek to belittle. If I had a daughter, this is the life experience I would wish her to have.

But for many women, experiences similar to that of my mother and grandmothers are still far too common. Those of us who have been able to make the most of the social and economic developments of recent decades must not permit ourselves to become blinkered or made complacent by our own good fortune nor to imagine that the playing field is now level.

Violence against women is widespread and in the global south, it often flourishes in a culture of impunity. Women bringing up children alone face real hardship, both here and in less economically developed countries. Their employment opportunities are hit first and hardest by economic downturn and the low pay, casual and part-time nature of so much work done by women is an injustice about which we should not be silent.

Far too much power – economic, social, political and spiritual – is still concentrated in male hands. Power composes the rationale for its own continuation. It has become adept at writing women out of the narrative and although both men and women of good faith are beginning to challenge and change this, centuries of sclerosis and self-interest have very deep foundations.

If Lent is to have any meaning for me, it must be about the stimulus to consider how my life can be simplified. 'Giving up' this or that has no intrinsic value and can easily become a self-congratulatory exercise in will power or a shallow asceticism. To live with simplicity and discernment in a culture of over-consumption is essential if injustice and inequality are not to be strengthened. Lent reminds me of the vigilance I must exercise if I am not to slide into complicity with the exploiters and the self-serving.

The Quaker Testimony of equality dovetails with Friends' reluctance to pay particular heed to days or seasons designated to a purpose. But this year, the latter has given me a sharp push in the direction of the former. I am grateful.

4. Celebrating Female Clergy

Courtesy of CPWR
Celebrating Female Clergy
By Joshua M. Z. Stanton
Founding co-Editor for the Journal of Inter-religious Dialogue
and Co-Founder of State of Formation
Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, 16 March 2011
Reprinted with Permission

A college chaplain once candidly described the process for him, as a Protestant, as one of simultaneous celebration and mourning when he recognized that Protestantism was no longer a universal norm on American university campuses. He celebrated the presence of Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and humanist chaplains working together so effectively – but also lamented the loss of singularity that he experienced, now as but one of many chaplains.

Something similar may be said of the way a portion of male religious leaders have experienced the rise of female clergy in a number of religious traditions and denominations. From reverends to rabbis, Buddhist nuns, and the growing push for female imams in America, China, and Europe, women are emerging as transformational religious leaders. Most male clergy that I have been in touch with have been welcoming of their female colleagues. Yet a sense of loss often lingers below the surface for them.

At Hebrew Union College in New York, where I am studying to become a rabbi, a majority of my classmates are women. Yet unlike some more seasoned male clergy, who experienced the transition to mixed-gender clergy firsthand, I do not to feel a sense of loss at all. In fact, I do not know how I could effectively lead in a mixed-gender congregation (or non-profit, chaplaincy position, or anything else) without them.

My appreciation of female classmates goes beyond a belief in gender equality: they have helped increase my awareness of gender as it relates to Torah, prayer, and Jewish law. They have forced me to recognize inequalities I would otherwise have overlooked and even take time to study the gender-based assumptions within our sacred texts. In short, I would be ill-equipped to teach, live, and enliven Judaism – especially for the fifty percent of Jews who are not male – if I did not have female classmates, and such talented ones at that. I would leave rabbinical school ill-prepared to grapple alongside congregants and colleagues about the principles of our tradition and how we can apply them to lives more egalitarian than our ancestors could have imagined.

Sadly, while I and other male seminarians graduate more equipped to lead because of learning alongside female classmates, many of our female classmates will face unfair disadvantages once they are ordained and enter the workplace. To cite but one troubling statistic from my own religious community, a 2009 study by Forward concluded that female Jewish professionals earned just 61 percent of what their male counterparts did. This statistic is not only symptomatic of the challenges female pioneers in the rabbinate and Jewish professional world faced; it also suggests that the Jewish community – like so many others – has yet to fully adapt to the presence of female clergy and lay leaders.

I would venture to suggest that much of this relates to the endurance of gendered archetypes for clergy. When people think of a rabbi, for example, they think of a man with a beard who talks and carries himself in a certain way. Our communities do not yet instill within us equal reverence for a woman who leader, even if she is every bit the leader that her male counterparts are. They do not “seem” familiar, familial, a continuation of our chain of patriarchs. As such, female clergy often find themselves second-guessed and overlooked for promotions and job opportunities.

It is time for male seminarians and clergy to repay their female classmates for all they continue to teach us and celebrate their coequal presence within our communities. By consciously modeling respect for female colleagues, our congregations and communities are likely to follow suit. This may be as simple as publicly recognizing their insights in communal decision-making processes or as challenging as recognizing and admitting when we ourselves are acting due to unfair, gender-based assumptions.

Even as some male clergy may privately mourn the loss of an exclusive “old boys” club, none should do so without publicly acknowledging the talent and leadership of our female colleagues and rejoicing in the God-given capacity that our communities have for social change. The clergy will never be the same in any tradition now that women serve as clergy in many. Nor would we want it to be. Their presence is one to celebrate.

Interfaith organizations may likewise play a crucial role in supporting female clergy and setting new norms for gender equality. Auburn Theological Seminary, an institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church but dedicated to interfaith work – and where my team with the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue calls home – is a prominent example of an interfaith organization that spends significant resources cultivating female religious leaders. For nearly a decade and a half, its Women’s Multifaith Programs have brought together panel discussions and art exhibitions, performances, and lectures to discuss the contributions of female religious leaders from across traditions. Its Women’s Preaching Academy has likewise focused on reinforcing leadership skills in female clergy and providing peer support for them as they set out on their careers.

Based on Auburn’s example, it would seem that programmatic support for female clergy may be an ideal way to foster inter-religious collaboration. While our religious traditions vary widely, hopes and challenges that female religious leaders experience are in many ways parallel. That shared experience may provide a crucial point of common ground from which to convene inter-religious gatherings of female clergy – and foster collaboration that extends well beyond the bounds of gender alone. In fact, such programs may also ensure that the ongoing rise of female clergy is paralleled by their ongoing rise to places of leadership within inter-religious projects and organizations, as well.

5. Catherine of Siena Virtual College



Catherine of Siena Virtual College
Aaron & Deborah Rose-Milavec, Joint Vice-Presidents


"Catherine of Siena Virtual College is an international educational enterprise working to empower women for life and leadership through high quality women's and gender studies education. Our inter-disciplinary courses promote gender equity, as well as, inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding and respect."


"For thousands of years women have suffered from the consequences of social prejudice and discrimination in both society and religion.

"Our world is still suffering from the consequences.

"Yet, in the face of this suffering, women themselves are leading the way in creating positive change. Without a doubt, women's intellect, skills, perspective, experience, and wisdom are sources of hope. Societies and religious communities around the world need the active contribution and leadership of women if they are to meet the challenges of a new, increasingly inter-dependent society and world.

"Catherine of Siena Virtual College offers women's and gender studies courses that empower women to unmask the roots of gender discrimination in their personal lives, in society and religion and to acquire the analytical competencies necessary to examine the issues that affect their lives and change the world for the better.

"These courses will also enable men to understand the effects of gender disparity and enable to them serve all members of their communities more justly and more effectively.

"Catherine of Siena Virtual College reaches out to:

"1. Women and men in universities and colleges who have no or limited access to women's and gender studies courses. By enrolling in our courses, they will benefit from the highest quality, international scholarship. In some cases, students will receive academic credit for these gender studies courses in their own institution.

"2. Women training for leadership roles in society or religion, such as teachers, politicians, social leaders, etc. who want to study their field, discipline or subject from a gender perspective.

"3. Men who are interested in learning how to overcome gender inequity in society and religion and who want to equip themselves for better service to female family members, co-citizens and students."


Readers are cordially invited to visit and explore the Catherine College web site!

For general information on Catherine College resources, click here. For the President's welcome message, click here. For the course catalogue, click here. For information on scholarships and fees, click here. For registration and enrollment information, click here.

6. Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation

Courtesy of Iglesia Descalza
Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation
Leonardo Boff
Professor of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion and Ecology
State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Spanish version published by Servicios Koinonía, 2 March 2011
English version published by Iglesia Descalza, 18 March 2011
Reprinted with Permission

Globalization as a new stage of humanity and the Earth itself, has not only put individuals and peoples in contact with each other, but also has spread their viruses and bacteria, plants and fruits, cuisine and fashion, their worldviews and religions, including their values and negative values, worldwide. It is characteristic of human nature and history -- not a defect but an evolutionary sign -- that we are sapient (sapiens) and demented (demens) and, therefore, emerge as contradictory beings. Hence, alongside the bright dimensions, which are the best side of human beings and through which we enrich each other, dark dimensions also appear, age-old traditions that penalize large sectors of the population. Thus, we must be critical of each other, to identify inhumane practices that are no longer tolerable.

We Westerners, for example, are individualistic and dualistic, so focused on our identity that we have great difficulty accepting those who are different from us. We tend to treat those who are different as inferior. This provides an ideological basis to our colonialist and imperialist spirit, to impose our values and worldview on the whole world.

Such limitations are found in all cultures. But there are limitations and limitations. Some of them violate all parameters of decency, and just simple common sense makes them unacceptable. They seem more like violations and crimes than cultural traditions, however ancient they appear to be. And it's useless for cultural anthropologists and sociologists to go on defending them in the name of respecting differences. What is cruel is cruel in any culture, anywhere in the world. Cruelty, because it's inhumane, has no right to exist.

I am referring specifically to female genital mutilation. It has been practiced for centuries in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and several European countries where there has been immigration from these areas. It is estimated that worldwide there are currently between 115 and 130 million genitally mutilated women. Another three million, including five hundred thousand in Europe, are still subject annually to such horrors.

What is it? It is the removal of the clitoris and both labia and in some places even the stitching together of the labia in girls aged 4 to 14. This is done without any hygienic concern with scissors, knives, needles and even with sharp pieces of glass. The screams of pain and horror, the emotional impact and untold suffering, and the hemorrhages and infections that can kill are unimaginable, as can be seen in some YouTube videos on the Internet, which I don't advise anyone to watch.

In Europe, such practices are prohibited. The mothers then take their daughters to their home countries under the pretext of meeting their relatives. And there this horror, that is more an assault and gross violation of human rights than a cultural practice, awaits them. Behind it is the most primitive form of machismo that seeks to prevent a woman's access to sexual pleasure, transforming her into an object for the exclusive pleasure of man. The World Health Organization rightfully denounced the practice as unacceptable torture.

I see two reasons that discredit certain cultural traditions and lead us to fight them. The first is the suffering of others. Where the cultural difference involves dehumanization and mutilation of the other, there is the limit and it should be inhibited. No person is entitled to impose unreasonable hardship on another. The second reason is the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, signed by all states. All cultural traditions should be compared with its precepts. Practices involving violation of human dignity should be prohibited and punished. The supreme law is to treat human beings humanely. In genital mutilation, we are faced with a social convention that is inhumane and harmful. This is why February 6th has been established as International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.

Each day of the year and especially every March 8th, International Women's Day, we should stand in solidarity with these girls, victims of a harsh cultural tradition that is the enemy of life and pleasure.

7. Women Bishops in the Anglican Communion

Chronology of Consecrations:

1989 - Barbara Harris, Massachusetts, USA
1990 - Penelope Jamieson, Dunedin, New Zealand
1992 - Jane Holmes Dixon, Washington D.C., USA
1993 - Mary Adelia McLeod, Vermont, USA
1994 - Victoria Matthews, Toronto, Canada
1996 - Carolyn Tanner Irish, Utah, USA
1996 - Catherine Roskam, New York, USA
1996 - Geralyn Wolf, Rhode Island, USA
1997 - Ann Tottenham, Toronto, Canada
1997 - Catherine Maples Waynick, Indianapolis, USA
1998 - Chilton Richardson Knudsen, Maine, USA
2001 - Katharine Jefferts Schori, Nevada, USA
2002 - Carol Joy Gallagher, Southern Virginia, USA
2003 - Gayle Elizabeth Harris, Massachusetts, USA
2005 - Bavi Edna Rivera, Olympia, Washington, USA
2006 - Dena Harrison, Austin, Texas, USA
2007 - Laura Ahrens, Connecticut, USA
2007 - Mary Gray-Reeves, Camino Real, USA
2007 - Nerva Cot Aguilera, Cuba
2007 - Sue Moxley, Nova Scotia, Canada
2008 - Barbara Darling, Melbourne, Australia
2008 - Jane Alexander, Edmonton, Canada
2008 - Kay Goldsworthy, Perth, Australia
2008 - Linda Nicholls, Toronto, Canada
2010 - Diane Jardine Bruce, Los Angeles, USA
2010 - Mary Glasspool, Los Angeles, USA
Anglican Women Bishops

In 1989, Barbara Harris was the first woman consecrated as bishop in the Anglican Communion. Other Christian churches started earlier. Some are currently going through the process of dismantling the patriarchal system. Others - notably the hierarchs of the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox churches - adamantly refuse to even consider the matter.

The Church of England is almost there. The latest news are good:

Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Birmingham votes for women bishops

The Diocese of Birmingham voted last Saturday in favour of women in the episcopate of the Church of England.

Press Statement Monday 14th March 2011 from Women and the Church (WATCH)

Massive Support for Women Bishops Legislation in Birmingham

WATCH is delighted by the result of the first Diocesan vote on the law that will allow women to become bishops in the Church of England. In Birmingham on Saturday the Diocesan Synod voted by 75 to 4 in favour of the legislation with its accompanying provisions for those who will not accept women as bishops. To make that endorsement even more clear, two motions that asked for even more provisions for those opposed were defeated, with only a small minority of people voting for them.

Hilary Cotton, WATCH Vice Chair and Head of Campaign, said, ‘This indicates two things to us: firstly, that people in Birmingham want the Church to get on with making women bishops as soon as possible and, secondly, they are satisfied with the provision that this legislation makes for those who will not accept women bishops.’

NOTE: WATCH (Women and the Church) is a voluntary organisation of women and men who are campaigning to see women take their place alongside men without discrimination and at every level in the Church of England. This requires the removal of current legal obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops. WATCH believes that the full equality of women and men in the Church is part of God’s will for all people, and reflects the inclusive heart of the Christian scripture and tradition.

The following report provides a brief summary of the slow and painful process:

The Church Times carried this report on 18 March 2011, Women: yes-vote taken in Birmingham.

The diocese of Birmingham has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the draft legislation to allow women to become bishops.

Birmingham is the first diocese to vote on the legislation, which was passed by the General Synod to dio­ceses last year

The vote in Birmingham, last Sat­ur­day, was 74 to four in favour of the legislation with its current provisions for those who do not accept women as bishops. The Bishop of Birming­ham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, and the Bishop of Aston, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, both voted in favour.

The legislation had been con­sidered in deanery synods in the diocese before last weekend’s vote, and two additional motions emerged from these debates, both asking for increased provisions and safeguards for opponents. These were also defeated, however, by a large majority, attracting just a handful of votes in support.

Dr Rachel Jepson, a member of Birmingham’s diocesan synod and a member of the General Synod, said that the vote was significant. “The quality of debate in deanery synods and in diocesan synod was very good, with good listening as well. People have had the opportunity to say what they think, but it’s good to have that decision behind us now so we can move forward.”

The organisation Women and the Church (WATCH) said that it expects the Birmingham vote to be replayed in the majority of dioceses.

The vice-chair of WATCH, Hilary Cotton, said: “This indicates two things to us: first, that people in Birmingham want the Church to get on with making women bishops as soon as possible; and, second, they are satisfied with the provision that this legislation makes for those who will not accept women bishops.”

Many dioceses will hold their votes on the legislation this autumn. If a majority approve it, it will return to the General Synod in 2012 for final drafting, with a final-approval vote expected in July 2012.

Source: Birmingham votes for women bishops, Thinking Anglicans, 18 March 2011

For chronologies of women assuming leadership roles in both secular and religious institutions, visit the Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership web site.

8. Feminist Review - Special Issue on Religion and Spirituality

Courtesy of
Feminist Review
Feminist Review, Volume 97, Issue 1 (March 2011)

The journal Feminist Review has just published an issue – the first in its 30-year history – on religion and spirituality. For a list of the articles, which can be downloaded free of charge for a limited period, click here. The following article is highly recommended:

Negotiating sacred roles:
A sociological exploration of priests who are mothers

Sarah-Jane Page, Feminist Review (2011) 97, 92–109

This is the abstract:

"In 1992, in a historic move, the Church of England voted to allow women's ordination to the priesthood and in 1994 the first women priests started to be ordained. Despite much research interest, the experiences of priests who are mothers to dependent children have been minimally investigated. Based on in-depth interviews with seventeen mothers ordained in the Church, this paper will focus on how the sacred-profane boundary is managed. Priests who are mothers have a particular insight into the Church hierarchy as they symbolically straddle the competing discourses of sacred and profane. However, instead of reifying these binaries, the experiences of these women show how such dualisms are challenged and managed in everyday life. Indeed, in terms of experience, ritual, ministry and preaching, priests who are mothers are resisting, recasting and renegotiating sacred terrain in subtle and nuanced ways. Mothers thus not only negotiate the practical and sacramental demands placed on priests, but also illuminate how the sacred domain is regulated and constructed."

For the complete text, click here.

9. Religious Dimension of the "Rising Tide"

Rising Tide: Gender equality and cultural change around the world
Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris
Cambridge University Press, 2003, 226 pages

Consider the following statement in page 50:

"Religious organizations, particularly the Catholic Church and the evangelical movement among fundamentalist Christians in the West, and Islamic fundamentalist leaders in Muslim nations, have often actively sought to reinforce social norms of a separate and sunordinate role for women as homemakers and mothers, buttressing traditional policies and the legal framework regulating marriage and divorce, abortion and contraception, family and childcare policy."

Some religious bodies are beginning to overcome institutional sexism,
but "it's a long way to Tipperary."

Let us pray for those that have already started on this journey,
and are paying the price of breaking new ground.

Let us keep praying and working for women in roles of official religious authority,
for the glory of God and the good of humanity!


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