Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Religion And Women

Nicholas Kristof quotes Jimmy Carter on the topic of religion-based oppression of women:

"Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified," former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Australia.

"The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God," Mr. Carter continued, "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 women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo."

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the "basic causes of the violation of women's rights," is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to "change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions."

This is all excellent, of course, and something I've been preaching here for a long time. Well, except for the Elders bit. They haven't asked me to join yet. That will come, I'm sure.

But however wonderful it is to read these arguments it's pretty important to remember that the subjugation of women for some religionists is not a bug but a feature; the main reason why they buy into the whole program. The Taliban is not going to change its views on women holding jobs outside the home or on girls going to school any time soon.

What always scares me a bit is how very much the values of some American fundamentalist groups are a kinder, gentler version of those values. They don't ban women from holding paid jobs but they teach girls that women should stay at home and let their husbands worry about all public life. Neither do they burn girls' schools down but they think that perhaps their daughters should not go to college or prepare for a job in the labor force. Should the future marriage go bad the woman brought up that way has very few alternatives.