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Summary of World Views about Gender

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BIG QUESTIONS:    

    There is no Gender for God?
    Does religion say men are superior to women?
    Why are all religions dominated by men?
    Can my priest be a woman?
    Can a transsexual go to heaven?
    What’s the difference - we’re all born equal?
    Why do men always hold onto power?
    Why can’t women be priests, imans or bishops or Jathedar?
    Is religion anti-women?


COMMON THEMES:
Gender and difference are recognised in all contributions as being difficult - firstly, as issues of religious and soul principle, and even more secondly, as social and cultural issues relating to the time and contexts when both religions and secular moral traditions were first developed, and the times and contexts when different scriptural texts were written.  In addition, in all traditions, there are widely different and conflicting experiences within each tradition, especially since the rise of social views based on equality between the sexes, and across all areas of diversity in all societies over the past few centuries.
Despite the differences in origins, there is remarkable congruence between the contributions from all traditions on this topic:
    •    All start from the principle that men and women are basically created or born equal
    •    There are some obvious differences based on physical characteristics (eg genitals, perinatal/childbirth) which have often been carried over into social/family roles (eg home/work)
    •    In nearly all religious and political structures, men have traditionally taken the predominant roles
    •    Most cultures and religions have sanctioned unethical practices towards women - leading to considerable conflict
    •    Most traditions say something about the essential harmony of the sexes - and on taking steps to promote gender equality


DISTINCTIVE VIEWS:
Sikhism has one of the clearest statements:
    •    Guru Nanak made a particular point of banning practices which discriminate against women
    •    The Sikh faith, scriptures, belief and practices are gender-free
    •    Sikhs male and female are seen as ‘soul-brides’ of the (male) ultimate, eternal reality
    •    In various times and cultures, discrimination has taken place - eg most temple (Gurdwara) officials are male


The Buddhist contribution also emphasises the differences between belief and practical reality:
    •    No gender distinction at the level of ultimate reality, but plenty of deep-rooted distinctions at the level of conventional reality
    •    A recent conference led by the Dalai Lama confirmed that there should be no distinctions (eg between Buddhist monks and nuns)
    •    Contemplation of difficult issues such as (for many men) gender is a way of freeing yourself from deep prejudices and understanding male and female aspects of our nature
    •    We desire life to be perfect, but it isn’t - suffering and unfairness is normal and we can learn from it


The Christian contribution focuses on the complexity of gender and religion:
    •    There is a strong modern current of feminist theology which rejects patriarchy
    •    But the Church structures, language and belief are, even after women priests/ministers, so sexist and patriarchal as to lead some women to rejecting the Churches
    •    In the Bible, God is ‘Father’; women mostly have relatively minor roles
    •    In much of the history of Christianity women have been ignored, or belittled
    •    But Jesus’ message is that God’s love is meant for all - it is gender-free
    •    And St Paul, founder of the early churches, said: “There is no longer male or female: for all are one in Christ Jesus”


The Hindu contribution points to a similar clash between ideals and reality
    •    Living things are an expression of the Spirit (Atman) which has no gender
    •    Gender equality is visible in Hinduism. The central prayer of the Hindus, the Gayatri Mantra addresses God as She.
    •    Many prophets, sages and seers in the Hindu tradition were and are women.
    •    Hindu women were not barred from taking on any religious role
    •    Sati (burning widows), child marriages and the dowry system never arose from religious injunction
    •    In modern India there is no role a woman cannot aspire to, religious or secular.  


The Humanist contribution is brief and to the point:
    •    In the past, women have been seen as inferior and denied rights
    •    In the past century there has been a growing recognition of equality, and new roles for women - and men
    •    Humanists celebrate this richer variety and greater potential for women and men

The Jewish contribution emphasises that:
    •    In Jewish tradition, leadership roles and the scripture have been dominated by men
    •    On gender, as on most issues, there are orthodox, reformed and progressive strands of Judaism
    •    Some Jewish rituals have always been part of women’s (home) domain
    •    The view that women are equal but different, with men leading in the public sphere, and women in the private sphere, is rejected by a large number of women
    •    In marriage and divorce, contracts which used to be seen as ‘protecting’ women, are now seen as chaining them


The Muslim contribution is absolutely clear on gender equality:
    •    The Qur’an sees women and men as absolutely equal - two halves of one whole (soul)
    •    Their religious, moral and social responsibilities are the same, as are their rewards and punishments
    •    For example, both must cover their bodies, pray daily, etc; both were responsible for the Fall
    •    But women are different as well as equal: for example women are exempt from certain religious obligations during pregnancy, etc.