“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified. The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for female employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”- Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America
The superiority of men to women is a fact of life. Anywhere in the world, men are seen as higher being and women the lower being. But in recent times, the struggle for the liberation of women has taken another dimension as many women now challenge the system that made a natural subordinate to men in all things.
For me, the liberation of women that is at the root of the feminist movement is not clearly defined. To some, women’s liberation means freedom from all home responsibilities. To some, it means to give men and women equal opportunity in jobs and roles. To another, it means equality in personhood including equal treatment at all places but with differentiation in roles.
And to another, it means not being under the control of a man in the name of being married to him. To some others, feminism means that women and men should have the same rights, duties, and opportunities. Yet, others see it as a movement that is meant to say that women are also human beings and deserve to be treated as such.
As against the movement to emancipate women from their subjugation to men, there is no such for men’s liberation from women. Since the beginning of time, men have always been at a place of advantage over women in a way that many modern women loathe and now seek to correct.
Men are generally considered to be stronger than women and this has never favoured the women, hence their cry for emancipation. Although there has been significant improvement in how women are treated in many western countries, that cannot be said about countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. But the truth is many men in these wouldn’t want to be born as a woman if tables were turned.
Religions still remain relevant in many places because they serve as a moral compass for their adherents. But when it comes to the oppression of women by men, religions have to a large extent being silent about it. Even though many of these women that are victims of imbalanced cultural treatment and treated as second class human beings are religious, their religions have not pushed enough to change their lot.
Many countries still run on the premise that men have a God-given authority over women. Because of this, men believe they have a divine authority to be the head over women. Some verses in the Quran and the Bible support this belief. For example, Quran 4:34 says, “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made one of them excel the other, and because they spend their property for the support of women.
Also, 1 Corinthians 11:3 reads, “At the head of every household is a man; at the head of a man is Christ, and the head of every woman is a man, and the head of man is God” while Ephesians 5:24 reads, “In fact as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, wives should also be to their husbands in everything.” In the Deuteronomy, if a woman does not bleed on the night of her wedding, “the men of her town shall stone her to death”. Apostle Paul in his first epistle to Timothy maintained that women must be silent during service.
This concept of men’s God-given authority is known in Arabic as qiwamah. This concept of the divine commandment of God for men to be superior to women has shaped men’s treatment of women over the centuries. That is why there is nothing bad in a man having many wives but a woman should not dare it because she would become a prostitute.
When a woman doesn’t want to have sex but feels she should submit to her husband because it is commanded in the holy books, that is qiwamah in action. That is why it is easy for Boko Haram members to kidnap schoolgirls to use as sex slaves and suicide bombers and why girls that are as young as twelve are forced off into early marriage. Because of the God-given authority that men believe they have over women, they believe they are the better of the two sexes and could anything they want with the latter.
Yet, many religious women have come to accept this because the Word of God could not be questioned. Hence, men have used the privilege of the scriptural inerrancy on the relationship between a man and a woman to treat women as lesser humans. But when considering that fact that these religions preached the equality of men and women before God, one could then ask why they are not equal before men.
The fact remains that the religions of Christianity and Islam have not always preached gender imbalance when one looks at the examples of their founders. Both Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) give women an elevated status in their ministry even though the culture of the societies where they lived supported men’s domination over women.
Women such as Mary the Magdalene and Martha featured prominently in the ministry of Jesus. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) maintained that men and women have equal ability to serve God. He also advanced women’s rights in marriage, inheritance, and divorce while he also limited the number of wives a man could marry to four while charging them to take care of the wives equally and show them the same level of affection.
For me, the problem after they died was that they handed over their ministry to men who are culturally supported by their culture to be superior to women. Since it was men and not women that controlled the writing and compilations of the scriptures as we have it, it is only wise that they use it to favour their course.
That is why there are no female imams anywhere in the world and why women are often excluded from holding in the church. Because the religious sphere is controlled by men that believed they are divinely sanctioned to be lords over women, it is difficult to start the movement for the emancipation of women from every form of gender-based discriminations.
Culture and traditions on their own are powerful in shaping how one views life and when some of those views found support in religion which scripture is believed to be infallible and inerrant, then it becomes a problem. Belief, as they say, is the death of reason.
It is obvious that the most religious nations of the world and countries where most men believe they have a God-given authority over women are not the most prosperous. Religion has no power of its own and it is nothing without the adherents. Religion is what the people practising make it.
The onus is therefore on us to demand a system that rejects every form of gender inequality and discrimination that are rooted in religious beliefs. The modern man now uses religion as a tool for subjugation and promoting patriarchy. It is our duty to demand equal rights, representation, and resources for women. It is nobody’s choice to be born either as a woman or as a man.
Once we are able to conquer religious indignation against women, women will face lesser problems as human beings because we would have successfully defeated the divine mandate that places men higher than women. Even God will be free from being accused of creating a system that favours gender imbalance whereas it was the people He created that made it so.
Religion, therefore, doesn’t create any barrier to women’s freedom but the men that control it. Inasmuch as the religious world is still dominated by men, men will always lay claim to their God-given authority over women. And the more the belief is being held by many, the longer women will strive for total emancipation.