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 7, "Muntu, Kintu, and the Pursuit of Bumuntu: Reflection on the Roots of Violence against Women in African Traditional Religions," by Mutombo Nkulu-N'Sengha, p. 132-133:
"In our context, this means that religion is often used to legitimize "gender privileges" and rationalize violence used to maintain such patriarchal privileges. But what is meant by violence in this context? It is worth noting from the outset that violence against women takes myriad forms. In this regard, we can identify, among others, "ten plagues" of sexism in Africa: (1) polygamy, (2) excision, (3) dowry burden and "forced marriages" of young girls to men chosen by their parents, (4) menstruation stigma, (5) disregard for barren women, (6) wife battering, (7) various religious taboos, especially dietary laws, (8) marginalization of women in the political arena, (9) marginalization of women in the sphere of religious power, and (10) rigid gender roles ("girls don't do that") and the burden of domestic work and domestic stagnation."
For further study and reflection on religion-induced gender 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:
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 Anglican and Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership and religious authority (ministers, pastors, priests, bishops).
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.
Christians for Biblical Equality
Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV 2011). CBE affirms and promotes the biblical truth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world. CBE's statement, "Men, Women, and Biblical Equality,” lays out the biblical rationale for equality, as well as its practical applications in the family and community of believers. The statement is available in 33 languages. To select a language and read the document, click HERE.
"The Junia Project is a community of women and men advocating for the inclusion of women at all levels of leadership in the Christian church and for mutuality in marriage. We believe that when interpreted correctly, the Bible teaches that both men and women are called to serve at all levels of the Church, and that leadership should be based primarily on gifting and not on gender."
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.
Being made male or female should be a gift of God, not a weapon of oppression says a new paper by Christian Aid, "Of the Same Flesh: exploring a theology of gender."
The paper examines how global poverty affects women more than men and explores how Christian theology can provide a positive vision of gender which can make it a blessing not a curse.
Author, the Revd Dr Susan Durber, Christian Aid’s theology advisor, said many Christian Aid partner organisations in developing countries are transforming the way in which gender is lived in their communities through engaging in theology and working with church leaders.
“Christians believe that our being made ‘male and female’ is a gift of God, and should be experienced as joy for humankind”, she said. “It is a scandal then that our gender is so often experienced not as joy, but as a place of oppression.
“When it becomes a source of persecution and fear, this is a distortion of God’s intention for creation. From machismo cultures that skew masculinity, to the striking evidence of the poverty and exclusion of women, there is a sense that the world is not as it should be in relation to gender. This is the common tragedy of humankind, but it is also the particular pain of the most poor and vulnerable.”
“Turning to the Scriptures to shape a theology is not a straightforward process and interpretation should never be simplistic and naive. We need to read with care and learn how to become interpreters who can find the blessing within, behind or even sometimes apparently against the grain of the text.”
“Theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world”, Dr Durber said. “The Bible says that God made humankind in God’s image, male and female. This is not a generalised banality about an abstract ‘sameness’, but a radical celebration of a difference that should be strongly rooted in equality and justice.”
WOW's third international conference is set to happen in Philadelphia in September 2015. Advocates for women's ordination from around the world will gather to celebrate, be inspired, and join together as we grow our movement and go forward. Our hosts will be our member group Women's Ordination Conference (WOC). For more information, visit the WOW 2015 conference website.
9. Gender Balance in the Priesthood and the Episcopacy
Ordination of Women in the Sacramental Churches
Luis T. Gutierrez Working Paper, 15 January 2015
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation. "This is my body." What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and "became flesh." The proper matter for the sacrament is "flesh," not "maleness." Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is also required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial, and none was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.
We need to reconsider the church as a family and recognize that the patriarchal church hierarchy is becoming an obstacle to evangelization as we enter the transition to a post-patriarchal society. Hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem. According to the dictionary, patriarchy is basically the rule of the father as head of the nuclear family, which extrapolates to all other social and religious institutions. In its radical form, it becomes the culture of male domination and control -- of women by men, of nature by humans.
"This is my body"
The exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery. Granted that ordination to the priesthood is not a "human right" (for either men or women), Christ should be allowed to call those he wants here and now. Why should we keep Christ frozen in the patriarchal culture he had to deal with during his earthly mission to the people of Israel? Would Jesus, in today's world, select 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? If Mary was called to divine motherhood, why is it that baptized women cannot be called to sacramental motherhood?
St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity ("original unity of man and woman"), individuality in community ("communion of persons") and equality in mutuality ("spousal meaning of the body"). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.
The TOB is not about radical feminism. It is not about radical patriarchy either, past or present. It should be noted that the letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), which is not a dogmatic definition of revealed truth, is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the church can or cannot do in the future. The term "definitive," as used in this document with regard to the male-only priesthood, therefore applies to the past and the present, not the future, since the document says nothing about the future.
Nothing essential (dogmatic) of the Catholic faith would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. There is one (embodied) human nature and having a "body" is more fundamental to the structure of the personal subject than being somatically male or female (TOB 3:2, 8:1). Sexual differentiation is a gift but is also a limitation of the human condition. What matters for the sacramental economy is that we are body-persons, not that we are body-males or body-females. What matters for the sacrament of holy orders, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed a human body, in the "flesh." Our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church because he is a body-Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a body-male; and the Blessed Virgin Mary is the typus (exemplary realization) of the church because she brought the eternal Word to the world, not because she is a body-female.
What is needed is to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of the Ephesians 5 bridegroom-bride analogy clearly shows; see, e.g., TOB 97:2, 102:1), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male. All the sacraments are nuptial, and none was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.
The fallacy of the traditional (with lower case "t") argument that only males can be ordained to act in persona Christi, because Christ is male, is that in persona Christi refers to a divine person, not a human person. The second person of the Trinity was not a male before the incarnation. This divine person became human as a male, but this was part of embracing all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). Even after the incarnation and the redemption, Jesus Christ is one divine person in two natures, divine and human. The Christ who transubstantiates the bread and wine into his own body and blood is a divine person, not a human person. The body is a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. This applies for human persons, and even more so for a divine person. The ordained priest acts in place of a divine person who became human, not in place of an idolatrous male.
The sacraments are efficacious channels of divine grace ex opere operato, i.e., their efficacy is not dependent on the holiness or any other human quality of the ordained minister. Why should they depend on the minister's gender? To act in persona Christi capitis means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act in persona Christi capitis. "This is my body." From a sacramental perspective, having a human body is the necessary and sufficient condition for making the acting Christ outwardly visible. From a vocational perspective, all ministries, including ordained ministries, should be mediated by the church but must be based on vocational discernment and should be gift-based, not gender-based.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states that the exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CCC 1598). The lesser doctrine that the choice of the 12 male apostles is normative (CCC 1577) is not proposed as a divinely revealed dogma, even though this choice is still prescribed by church law (CIC 1024). The door is closed at the moment, but it is not locked. The church does have the authority (by the "power of the keys") to ordain women to the priesthood as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides that doing so is the will of Christ in today's world, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Such a decision would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition (Acts 10:48, 15:28).
With so many nuns who have the "signs of the priesthood," it is lamentable that they cannot be ordained for cultural reasons that have nothing to do with divine revelation. Ordaining nuns to the priesthood would be the right response to the "signs of the times" and the most sensible response to the shortage of priests. Besides, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopacy would be instrumental for integral human development and fostering social and ecological justice. It has been said that "human development, if not engendered, is endangered." Likewise, human ecology without gender balance is endangered. As long as women are excluded from sacramental ministry, can we really say that the church is a sacrament of Christ's presence in the midst of our current ecological predicament? Ordain the nuns!
Libby Lane - New Bishop of Stockport Church of England