Friday, October 14, 2011

The Unchanging Role of Women in Culture and REligion

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“Her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, and her sons protect her in her old age a woman is never fit for independence” The book of Manu Smirti- Hindu Scriptures.

Religion plays a big role in a lot of modernized cultures around the world. It inspires the laws that are made to protect us and provides a hope for a better society around us. In many instances, it also sets the scene for which individuals within or outside our communities should be treated; Individuals such as women. Some religions tell them to dress modestly, obey their husbands, and not to ask questions when given orders by a “superior” male. To some this may seem exaggerated, or even a little out dated, but the truth is that the, situations above are very much a reality for many women around the world. Even today, in the 1st Century, women around the world continue to be suppressed by religion / culture. Imagine not having the right to decide your child’s birth, family, the way your body should look, your education or even your job, simply because your God or Gods disagree with your gender’s privileges. It may seem shocking but indeed it is fact, and by simply reading on, the horrific rituals of the underground world that women have so unjustly come to accept will be revealed. The family rights, the birthrights, body politics, work rights, as well as the privileges of women are all topic of which will be explored in the next few paragraphs.

First of which will be the family rights of women in religion / culture. Some religions teach us that a woman is put on Earth for the sole purpose of dealing with family-related issues. Even in these religions, women are not in the right authoritative position to make proper decisions for the family. Women of Hinduism are told at a young age that they will marry a man of their father’s choice, and that this marriage will quite possibly occur before the young girl is even 15 years of age. “Marriage often places women under the control of their husbands”1. The idea that married women belong to their husbands still dominates social relations � and law � in many societies, sometimes expressed subtly, sometimes crudely. Some women are considered the legal property of their husbands and can be “inherited” along with their other property. This belief stems from the Islamic religious practices of “Suttee” in which wives kill themselves on their husband’s death. This suggests the extent to which “women without husbands are considered to have very little to live for”. However, even in such cultural beliefs as the Mayans, a man’s wife is to be given up for sacrifice to “please the Maya Gods”. Furthermore, for millions of women, the home is a cradle of violence. Domestic violence exists virtually everywhere in the world and “women of no race, class, age, or religion are exempt from its reach”4. So more women are under increasing pressure to “conform” to restricted roles prescribed by fundamentalist religious interpretation, especially Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism. Moreover, these restrictive interpretations strip women of the birthrights.

Birth is a big issue for anyone no matter what religion, but there are some rituals in these religions that create and unsettling fear in the hearts of nearly all mothers. Though these rituals may differ from faith to faith, some are extreme ad considered to be the utmost inhumane. For example, in the Chinese Traditional religion, the preference for a male child is so strong that several families seek out abortions, or commit female infanticide to rid themselves of any or all, female children. Of those who do not abort or murder their daughters, several practice malnourishment or neglect of their female children. Even the Chinese government has stepped in introducing population policies in order to control female’s fertility so that “women may only have two children”. Also the Catholic Church teaches women not to use a contraceptives (due to the sex after marriage rule) and not to have an abortion, which is extremely dangerous when living in some areas such as Africa where AIDS runs ramped. Even in cases of rape, some women of ethnic religions such as Hinduism and Islam are forbidden to have abortions because no one would pay to “fix damaged goods”5. Once a woman of these religions is raped, her family is shamed. Then again, in cultures such as Judaism with patrilocal marriage traditions, “sons bring wives into the family, whereas the girl’s family loses their daughter, and her labor, and value, to another household”6. This proves that women around the world continue to be suppressed by their religions and cultures when it comes to conceiving children and the social views surrounding childbirth.

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More over women also continue to be suppressed in terms of body politics, which is the next topic of discussion. Body politics are the opinion you hold with respect to political questions concerning the female body and are a growing issue among women of the world. Mostly because women are being silenced by their gender role in their culture so more and more women are dying during birth, despite having better health facilities, more women are undergoing risky surgeries and are being violated in such ways as rape. “About 600,000 women die each year during pregnancy and child birth”. The largest direct causes of which are hemorrhaging, sepsis, anemia, eclampsia, and obstructed labor. “For every one women who dies approximately 0 more incur injuries, infections and disabilities”. These impairments usually go untreated and unspoken of, but can more often be humiliating, painful, debilitating, and lifelong. “The conspiracy of silence surrounding [death during childbirth] is a reflection of the fact that women are conditioned not to complain, but to cope”7. They must cope with the silence and the dangerous surgeries such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which involves a circumcision or Infibulation of the female genitalia. Quite often this procedure is performed with unsterilized tools, or illegally and is an extremely painful operation. It is executed by several ethnic / religious groups in order to prepare girls for marriage. “FGM is performed…to ensure sexual purity, and to shape girls bodies to conform to prevailing notions of femininity”. In some cultures, female genitalia are considered to be unclean, and the ritual circumcision serves to smooth and purify them, and some groups even consider it to be a contraceptive. This is an extremely dangerous operation that often causes painful intercourse in later years and puts women at greater risk for transmission of HIV / AIDS. However such procedures are not the only cause for concern when it comes to the transmission of HIV / AIDS. Rape is also a great cause for concern among women of the world. Women everywhere are terrorized by rape and the ever-present threat of rape in their ordinary lives. Rape is not an impulsive act; rapes are premeditated and are usually committed when and where men can get away with it, often in the home and without regard to a woman’s age or appearance. If a woman puts up a fight, she may be seriously injured or killed; if she does not fight, she is assumed to have been complicit in the act. Rape, in some cultures is considered to be a “privilege of power” and varying by culture, female sexuality � and virginity � are often considered to be legitimate interest of the state of the family. Sex crimes are thus seen as violations of the community and family, which displaces women as the harmed party. “The criminalization of rape was not designed to protect women, but to protect male property”4. Most explicitly in some Islamic states, where the rape of a man’s wife or daughter is considered to be a serious crime…AGAINST HIM! Needless to say, it is obvious that women continue to be suppressed and in some cultures, not only do women have few civil rights, but their right to be a victim is also taken from them along with their right to work.

Some women don’t even have the right or opportunity to work, read / write, be educated or even own property because their religious ties bind them to “stay in one place…their place”7. So often women are given time budgets and unequal opportunities due to the cultural suppression of women. Thus, “women spend much of their time doing informal work, unpaid work and household work”. This means that most women’s work is invisible in conventional economic measures, and that women often go unpaid for their hard, backbreaking labor. Even in Asia, there is often only ever “one woman for every one hundred men in the work force”, and an estimated 64 million women cannot read or write. “These higher rates of illiteracy are a result of…religious scriptures and assumptions that lie behind such restrictions”. Girls are still held back by presumptions that educating them will be a “waste” because they do not need to be educated if they are “only going to be wives and mothers”1. Due to such unversed thoughts, total schooling for girls is, in some countries, less than one full year. Without education it is hard for a woman to get a job or property. This is why so many women depend on men for survival. Women are “pressured to turn over property and financial matters to male relatives and also not to practice their full inheritance rights because they are socialized to believe that financial matters are beyond their realm”. For this reason, many women consider getting married an implication of becoming landless and penniless, especially when in such cultures / religions as the Hindu faith, where women can be inherited after the death of their “lord”8. If the fact that women are considered to be equal to furniture does not prove the suppression of women, what does?

It is an understatement to say that the religious beliefs of cultures worldwide are a cause of the subordination of women when in fact it is a reason! It is the religious doctrines of cultures worldwide that are largely responsible for the social, mental, and emotional suppression of women. Religious teachers preach about family and we listen. They preach about birth, beauty and possessions, and we listen. They teach us that a woman “must never be independent” and must always be obey her lord’s orders. But woman needs neither a “Lord”, nor beauty and possessions to be recognized for greatness and accomplishment. A woman does not need to answer to anyone other than a strong government that recognizes her as a person. A woman needs faith in the future, love in her heart, and an educated independent mind to show the world that she is someone that is not above or below anything, but that she is equal. And, as a wise woman named Margaret Mead who once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world because, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

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