Let’s honestly face it!
Feminists and gender activists often shy away from religious debates.
At the level of practice, discriminatory attitudes are regularly condemned but in a half-hearted way. It is because some of us believe that religious doctrines are basically gender biased and sacred books cannot be used to promote gender equality. Yet sacred texts can become useful material in the uphill fight against sexism if properly handled.
Take for example the story of Adam and Eve. This is what is found in Good News Bible published by United Bible Societies. Genesis, ch 2, verses 21-22 (page 5) says: “Then the LORD God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh. He formed a woman out of the rib…” This is often used by male chauvinists to argue against gender equality. Yet some scholars believe that the use of the word ‘rib’ is the result of a mistake in translation. The Hebrew word used in the original is ‘tsela’ which means, according to Wayne Simpson, (‘Adam’s Rib’, 1996, distributed by the Biblical Research Foundation, 629 Lexington Road, Sapulpa, Ok 74066, http://www.jasher.com/Adamsrib.htm) an entire side or half of Adam’s body. Moreover there is another word which might have been wrongly translated. In Genesis, ch 2, verse 18 (page 5), we read “… I will make a suitable companion to help him.” (my emphasis). The Hebrew word in the original is “azer” which “means not just assistance, but a significant and substantial kind of help. … Eve was made to be everything Adam was not. She was his complement.” (Wayne Simpson)
This new reading is in line with what we find in Genesis, Ch 5, verse 1: “(When God created human beings, he made them like himself. He made them male and female, blessed them and named them “Humanity”.)
The Koran is explicit on this issue. Sura 4, Aya 1 says the following: “O mankind! Fear your Lord who created you from a single soul. He created its mate from it …” (page 56, The Qur’an, translated by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, GOODWORD BOOKS) A single unit is used to create a pair of humans of both sexes. The text seems to suggest that men and women were made from the same material and at the same time. So they must be equal.
In Hinduism “the Supreme Being contains both masculine and feminine traits. The female part is as important as the male part. One has to consider the feminine aspect of the divine, in order to know the ultimate truth. It is believed that all goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are special forms of the divine mother – Shakti. To recognize the feminine aspect, it is necessary to restore wholeness, completeness and universality.” (http://www.iloveindia.com/spirituality/goddesses/index.html)
With so much evidence in religious literature to support gender equality, why is it that most religions discriminate against women?
The answer is simple. These religions developed under a patriarchal system whereby men have all powers. Re-interpretation of sacred texts by women and men who believe in gender equality and democracy is now a must. This will pave the way to a higher form of civilisation.
* Published in print edition on 21 February 2014