I was speaking about it in my French class, and the teacher asked me why I wanted to do that course. I told her, as best I could in my limited French, that my reason was because there are lots of women living under oppression. I explained that the book I am reading postulates that religion is a major cause of this oppression, due to the patriarchal society it created. One of my classmates said: “Les musulmans”, meaning Muslims. He assumed that it was the Islamic religion to which I was referring. In fact, the book was talking about Christianity.
I wondered how many of us have considered the many women who are still living under oppression throughout the world, and even in our own society.
One key indicator of male oppression of females is the level of violence inflicted by men against women. If we look at the statistics, we find that a surprising number of women have experienced physical and or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In Australia, this figure is 57%. In certain areas in some countries, this figure is as high as 75%, depending on which statistics we look at. Violence by a current or ex-spouse is a large cause of such violence.
Regardless of the figures, it is obvious that this is a real concern for those of us who wish to create a peaceful world. Whilst governments would have us believe that the ‘war on terror’ has been and is being fought against Islamic groups like Al-Quada, it seems that the real defence against terror for the world’s women is taking place in their own suburbs, even in their own homes.
Whilst it is true that religion has helped to create patriarchal societies in many countries, and has sometimes been used as an excuse for the subjugation of women, women have been the victim of violence and have suffered oppression in every country of the world, regardless of the religion practiced there. All of these societies, however, can be seen as patriarchal.
It is possible to find justification for oppression in any religious text, but does this mean that the religion is at fault? Let us look at Christianity, for example:
1 Corinthians 11:3 : “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a woman is her husband”
1 Timothy 2:12 : “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to be kept silent.” And continues in verse 15 : “Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
It is not surprising then, that many a woman has abandoned Christianity entirely and sought other ways to love the God of love, she knows her to be. If a woman were to follow Christian teachings such as these, she would see herself as having no value apart from the children she could bear, and would be required to humbly and silently follow the wishes of her lord and master husband.
Islamic text, too, can be used as a tool of oppression:
An-nisa (4:34) “Men have authority over women because God has made one superior to the other… Good women are obedient…. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.”
Yet, we know from the examples of both Jesus and Muhammad that they were very respectful of women. The problem is that, because of the patriarchal society in which both of these prophets and their followers lived, their relationship with women was framed and reported in that light.
The time which Jesus spent with Mary and her sister Martha is an indication of his appreciation of women. (Luke 10:38-42 & John 11:1-5)
It is reported in the Hadith of Muhammad that, when a person asked him:
Allah’s Messenger, who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment? He said: Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order (of nearness).
Could it be that the verses which are used to promote the subjugation of women in any religion are merely a reflection of the times in which the texts were revealed or compiled?
Both Christian and Islamic texts hold verses which can and have been used to promote slavery, but slavery has been largely outlawed throughout the world. Slavery has now been seen by Christians and Muslims alike as not in keeping with the essence of their religions, which are based on emulating God. God is the Compassionate, the Merciful. God is Love.
The only way for us to create the world of peace we so desire is for us to focus on the essence of these and all religions, to focus on love.
If we wish to make oppression of and violence against women a thing of the past, it will take commitment from, not only the women of all faiths, but also from the men. Men of all faiths, and no faith, will need to stand up against oppression of and violence against women wherever they see it.
Together, hand in hand, man and woman can create heaven on Earth.
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