This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various secular cultures and institutions. It is acknowledged that the distinction between the secular and religious dimensions is an artificial one, often blurred in real life situations. In those cases, if the material is predominantly secular it is included here; else it is included in Supplement 5. The selected items are the editor's choice. Suggestions by readers are welcomed. Reporting on good role models is a high priority. The following sections are included this month:
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.
Excerpt from Chapter 5, "The Mother of Life and the God of Death," by John Raines, p. 107:
"As humans we do not live primarily inside our individual skins, where some believe the punishment called death awaits us. Instead, we live outside of ourselves in a double sense: as material creatures dependent upon life processes that are outside of ur before they are inside us, and also as social beings dependent upon the dependability of others. That truth speaks to our male obsession with control and urges us to accept rather than deny being the radically dependent animals that we are. And that means we need to revise the stories we (men) write about our gods, because the religious roots of violence against women are often rooted in those stories, and in the end that becomes violence redirected against ourselves."
For further study and reflection on religious gender-related violence:
Definition of Gender Balance
Gender balance is 50/50 male/female presence in a group. So it is a matter of numbers, but it is more than just a matter of numbers. Gender balance is required in both responsibility and authority, in the family and in all human institutions. It must become internalized to the point in which patriarchal individualism and male hegemony are neutralized by a new sense of communion between men and women, and between humanity and nature. It must be a fully inclusive sense of communion that overcomes any exclusivism on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other reason. It must be a communion that seeks the integral development of each and every human person, from conception to natural death. And it must be a communion in which all humans endeavor to take care of each other while also taking care of natural resources. Nothing in this world is perfect, and this new order of things will not be perfect but, far from being utopian, it is in fact inevitable if humanity is to survive in the long term.
Gender Imbalance in Religion
Patriarchy preceded all the major religions that exist today, and biased them all from the beginning in favor of heterosexual male hegemony and domination (Cf. Genesis 3:16). This section is a synopsis about the universality of the deeply ingrained prejudice - undoubtedly based on male-only images of God - that must be overcome if organized religion is not to become an obstacle to integral human development.
This web site offers an excellent synopsis (with passage quotations, annotated citations, and links to other web sites) about the status of women in the Bible and in early Christianity. It is structured as follows:
During Old Testament times, when the roles of women were severely restricted
Hebrew scripture passages treating women as generally inferior to men
Hebrew scripture passages treating women as property of men
Hebrew scripture passages describing women in other negative terms
Hebrew scripture passages describing women as equal to men (very few)
Hebrew scripture passages describing women as leaders (but not as religious leaders)
During Jesus' public ministry to the people of Israel, when the roles of women were severely restricted in accordance with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) traditions and practices
Changing roles of women after the execution and resurrection of Jesus (circa 30 CE)
Regressive statements by Christian religious authorities (all male) after the 2nd century CE
By following these lists of biblical and post-biblical statements, the reader is able to verify the descriptive versus prescriptive passages about women, and the significant discontinuities that must be researched, as pointed out in Section 1.
Since their inception most religious traditions have absorbed the patriarchal mindset of male hegemony, and awareness that this is a prejudice to be overcome - rather than a sacred tradition to be conserved and transmitted - is a new phenomenon. Perhaps the impending economic and ecological crises, and the unavoidable need for all humans to collaborate in transitioning to a world of solidarity and sustainability, will induce a religious renewal and help to overcome pseudo-dogmatic resistance to change.
The role of women in Judaism is determined by the Hebrew Bible, the Oral Law (the corpus of rabbinic literature), by custom, and by non-religious cultural factors. Although the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature mention various female role models, religious law treats women differently in various circumstances.
Relatively few women are mentioned in the Bible by name and role, suggesting that they were rarely in the forefront of public life. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, including the MatriarchsSarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, Miriam the prophetess, Deborah the Judge, Huldah the prophetess, Abigail who married David, and Esther. In the Biblical account these women did not meet with opposition for the relatively public presence they had.
According to Jewish tradition, a covenant was formed between the Israelites and the God of Abraham at Mount Sinai. The Torah relates that both Israelite men and Israelite women were present at Sinai, however, the covenant was worded in such a way that it bound men to act upon its requirements and to ensure that the members of their household (wives, children, and slaves) met these requirements as well. In this sense, the covenant bound women as well, though indirectly.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
The Wikipedia article includes a very comprehensive bibliography and a directory of links to Jewish religious sources. With regard to current trends on the role of women in Judaism, the following articles may be of interest:
4. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Christianity
The Last Supper Artist: JohnCoburn, Australia, 2006
Only the names of the 12 male apostles are mentioned in the gospels, but it is noteworthy that 12 women disciples are also mentioned in ministerial capacities:
1. Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:38, John 19:25)
2. Mary's sister, Jesus' aunt (John 19:25)
3. The mother of James and John Zebedee (Matthew 27:55-56)
4. Mary Magdalene (John 20:16)
5. Joanna, wife of Chuza (Luke 8:3)
6. Salome (Mark 15:40-41)
7. Susanna (Luke 8:3)
8. Mary, wife of Cleopas (John 19:25)
9. Simon Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15)
10. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus (John 11:27)
11. Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3)
12. The Samaritan woman (John 4:39)
Source: J. J. McKenzie, 1994, p. 292
Gender roles in Christianity vary considerably today as they have during the last two millennia. This is especially true with regards to marriage and ministry.
Christianity traditionally has given men the position of authority in marriage, society and government. This position places women in submissive roles, and usually excludes women from church leadership, especially from formal positions requiring any form of ordination. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and many conservative Protestant denominations assert today that only men can be ordained—as clergy and as deacons.
Many progressive Christians disagree with the traditional "male authority" and "female submission" paradigm. They take a Christian egalitarian or Christian feminist view, holding that the overarching message of Christianity provides positional equality for women in marriage and in ministry. Accordingly, some Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership.
Despite these emerging theological differences, the majority of Christians regard women with dignity and respect as having been created alongside men in the Image of God. The Bible is seen by many as elevating and honoring women, especially as compared with certain other religions or societies. Women have filled prominent roles in the Church historically, and continue to do so today in spite of significant limitations imposed by ordination restrictions.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam. The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world. The Qur'an makes it clear that men and women are equal, however the Qu'ran states in 4:34, "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard." Although the Quran does say this, the superiority of men is interpreted in terms of strength by the context - men maintain women. This verse however refers to a relationship between a husband and wife, not in society as a whole.
Sharia (Islamic law) provides for complementarianism, differences between women's and men's roles, rights, and obligations. However neither the Quran nor Hadith mention women have to cook or clean. The majority of Muslim countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations. Scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
"Women in Buddhism is a topic that can be approached from varied perspectives including those of theology, history, anthropology and feminism. Topical interests include the theological status of women, the treatment of women in Buddhist societies at home and in public, the history of women in Buddhism, and a comparison of the experiences of women across different forms of Buddhism. As in other religions, the experiences of Buddhist women have varied considerably.
"The founder of the religion, Gautama Buddha, permitted women to join his monastic community and fully participate in it, although there were certain provisos or garudhammas. As Susan Murcott has commented: "The nun's sangha was a radical experiment for its time" [Murcott, Susan (1991). The First Buddhist Women:Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha. Parallax Press. page 4.] Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu says of the First Buddhist council: "Perhaps Mahakassappa and the bhikkhus of that time were jealous of the bhikkhunis being more popular and doing more teaching and social work than the bhikkhus. Their anti-women prejudice became institutionalized at that time with the eight garudhammas, the eight weighty restrictions. We must discontinue that prejudice. There is no anti-women prejudice in Jainism and they survived in India; whereas Buddhism had prejudice and did not survive in India" [see The First Council and Suppression of the Bhikkhuni Order]. Although it must be said that this is factually incorrect, because there are jain sects like the Digambara sect, which believes that women are capable of spiritual progress, but must be reborn male, in order to attain final spiritual liberation. It is also highly doubtful that the garudhammas were motivated by Mahakaasapa's being jealous, as he is said to be an enlightened one and one of the principle disciples of the Buddha. Furthermore there's no support within canon, to suggest that the bhikkunis were more popular, taught more or that they did more social work than Bhikkhus.
"The various schools and traditions within Buddhism hold different views as to the possibilities of women's spiritual attainments. Feminist scholars have also noted than even when a woman's potential for spiritual attainment is acknowledged, records of such achievements may not be kept - or may be obscured by gender-neutral language or mis-translation of original sources by Western scholars. According to Bernard Faure, "Like most clerical discourses, Buddhism is indeed relentlessly misogynist, but as far as misogynist discourses go, it is one of the most flexible and open to multiplicity and contradiction."
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
The role of women in Hinduism is often disputed, and positions range from equal status with men to restrictive. Hinduism is based on numerous texts, some of which date back to 2000 BCE or earlier. They are varied in authority, authenticity, content and theme, with the most authoritative being the Vedas. The position of women in Hinduism is widely dependent on the specific text and the context. Positive references are made to the ideal woman in texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, while some texts such as the Manu Smriti advocate a restriction of women's rights. In modern times the Hindu wife has traditionally been regarded as someone who must at all costs remain chaste or pure. This is in contrast with the very different traditions that have prevailed at earlier times in 'Hindu' kingdoms, which included highly respected professional courtesans (such as Amrapali of Vesali), sacred devadasis, mathematicians and female magicians (the basavis, the Tantrickulikas). Some European scholars observed in the nineteenth century Hindu women were "naturally chaste" and "more virtuous" than other women, although what exactly they meant by that is open to dispute. In any case, as male foreigners they would have been denied access to the secret and sacred spaces that women often inhabited. Mahabharata and Manusmriti asserts that gods are delighted only when women are worshiped or honoured, otherwise all spiritual actions become futile.
There is a wide variety of viewpoints within the different schools and sects of Hinduism concerning the exact nature and gender (where applicable) of the Supreme person or being; there are even sects that are skeptical about the existence of such a being. Shaktism, for example, focuses worship on the goddess Devi as the supreme embodiment of power, or Shakti (feminine strength; a female form of God). Vaishnavism and Shaivism both worship Lakshmi with Vishnu and Parvati with Shiva respectively as beings on an equal level of magnitude (the male and female aspects of God). In some instances such as with Gaudiya Vaishnavism, specific emphasis is placed on the worship of God's female aspect (Radharani) even above that of her paramour Krishna. Thus it could be said that Hinduism considers God to have both male and female aspects, as the original source of both.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
8. The Resilience of Patriarchy in Religious Institutions
Gender Imbalance in Religion and Religious Governance
Persisting gender imbalance in religious thinking and leadership is a serious obstacle to the advent of post-patriarchal families. From the perspective of cultural evolution, religious patriarchy may now be the biggest obstacle; for gender equality and gender balance are by now well established as irreversible social trends due to practical economic incentives, but the collective unconscious is still deeply biased by religious practices and rites that perpetuate the mindset of male hegemony. In terms of human fertility, for example, it would be well for some institutions to stop fulminating condemnations about abortion and birth control methods, and start selling the value of virtues such as self-discipline and abstinence. But there is a fear, not entirely unreasonable, that we may throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to reforming religious traditions that have served humanity well since time immemorial. About 80% of the world population is "religious" in the broad sense of believing in God and adhering, at least to some extent, to one of the major world religions. However, it is time to recognize that all these religions were founded after the agricultural revolution (10,000 years or so ago) long after patriarchy had become normative; and they all were, from their inception, contaminated by the phallocentric syndrome as evidenced by the most ancient sacred texts. Given the limitations of human language, and official protestations about God transcending gender notwithstanding, "when God is male, the male is god." It is time to overcome the vexing resilience of patriarchal structures in religious institutions.
LINK TO THE BOOK
In our lifetime? Probably not, but "Nothing is impossible to God."
The patriarchal culture of control and domination is the root of all social and ecological violence. It corrupted the original unity of man and woman (cf. Genesis 3:16) and is now corrupting the unity between humanity and the human habitat. Just as we are now aware that slavery and racism are moral evils, we must become aware that all manner of gender discrimination is a moral evil that must be overcome and eradicated if social solidarity and ecological sustainability are to be attained.
The need to reform obsolete patriarchal structures applies to both secular and religious institutions. Feminism is clearly a "sign of the times" to the extent that it fosters authentic gender solidarity and nonviolence for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Given the enormous influence of religious traditions, it is especially critical for religious institutions to overcome and eradicate any semblance of male hegemony in matters of doctrine and religious practices.
The Roman Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion members worldwide, is in a unique position to foster this process of human advancement. Such a massive institution carries a huge amount of inertia, and it would be unrealistic to expect that women will be ordained to serve as priests and bishops "In Our Lifetime." However, even though the door remains closed, it is by no means locked, so it can be opened, and "nothing is impossible to God." This novel by Jeanne Pieper is a sign of hope that, in due time, the door will be opened and divine grace will be liberated to enrich the sacramental life of the church, and energize a new era of worldwide evangelization, with great benefit for integral human development.
FROM THE BOOK COVER
"The Nun . . . The Bishop . . . The Suburban Housewife and Mother . . . What do they have in common? Sister Maureen Connally has little sympathy for the agenda of the radical feminist nuns until the U.S. Bishops edit her sensitive report on "Women in the Catholic Church" into superficial nothingness and publish it under the name of a well known male cleric. John O'Malley, Bishop of San Francisco, has never been a risk taker until his innocent attendance at a feminist Mass for a dying nun brings angry Vatican accusations that he is sanctioning priesthood for women. Linda Bonn, the loving mother of three teenagers, is a dutiful wife and the pillar of her local parish church until her husband, jealous of her sudden success as a suburban Real Estate Agent, tricks her into an unwanted pregnancy. Equally oppressed by inflexible "superiors" and forced to confront personal fears and inadequacies they have never before acknowledged, these three devote Catholics discover both problem and solution in their religion. Upset by the out of touch official pronouncements of the Vatican, as well as the dishonest machinations for the hierarchy, yet unable and unwilling to break the spiritual ties of their childhood, they come to believe that THEY are the Catholic Church. At last, with their help, the time bomb that is within the Catholic Church in American today explodes IN THEIR LIFETIME."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: "Jeanne Pieper is considered a devote Catholic by anyone who knows her. She attends Mass regularly, is active in parish activities, and contributes regularly to the Sunday collection. She grew up in a very active Catholic family and her twin sister, who is a nun, and her brother, who is a priest, often share their lives with her. She and her husband have been married 50 years, and their four children and eight grandchildren all live in Southern California For many years, Jeanne was a freelance writer, with regular columns in her local newspaper, as well as assignments from Franciscan Communications, the producer of Catholic educational materials. Later her attention turned to bi-lingual education for adults. Always interested in bringing people from different backgrounds and life experiences together, her most recent passion is the Action Committee for Women in Prison, where she is a founding board member and director of a program which matches up women in prison with outside women as pen pals. Author of the non-fiction book, The Catholic Woman, Difficult Choices in a Modern World, she now brings us a novel about the Ordination of the First Woman Priest."