Sexism In Religion

Angalee Nadesalingam


What could drive a man to throw acid onto women’s faces? What could force people to savagely stone a woman to death?  Religion.


From the earliest times, sexism against women has been driven by religious and cultural beliefs. For example, in ancient Palestine, a man could divorce a woman by simply handing her a scrawled note (for an offense as slight as burning the morning toast). This cultural bias existed because of the inherent ideas in the religious texts which restricted women from equal opportunities to experience liberty and freedom. These types of philosophies still exist in the Middle East. Married women in Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Oman and Yemen must have their husband’s written permission to travel abroad, and may be prevented from doing so for any reason.


However, the issues of religious domination over women’s rights have also existed in Western countries. The Bible, in Timothy 2:12 reads, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet”. Such sentences in the Bible and other religious texts have been used to demoralize the importance of women, and to bloat the egos of many narcissistic men. Similarly, in ancient Rome, before the time of Christianity and during the time of paganism, Roman males regarded their wives as inferior beings, not worthy of citizenship or political privileges. Throughout the course of time, these restrictions have been an overbearing curse on the lives of women, forcing them to live in nearly slave-like conditions.


In early India, Hindu priests have sometimes forcedly burned women alive on their husband’s funeral pyres in a ceremony called “Sati” to honor their husbands’ death. This practice essentially cast women down, implying that they have no right to live without their husbands.


Despite these extreme actions, many of today’s major religions (based on the actions of their saints and gods) support the liberation of women. This seems like a major paradox. That’s because it is! Atrocities under the name of religion are committed because of the contradictions in the text that allow for misinterpretations. This is one of the biggest flaws of religion. However, these ambiguities may now be the only way for women to gain freedom within religious constructs.


In the Bible, Jesus is well known for befriending the Samarian women at the well of Sychar, and also speaking publicly for the widow of Nain. The Christian faith asserts the equality between men and women in Eph. 5:33, saying, “let each one of you love his wife as himself.” As a result, it was overwhelmingly women who tried to keep Christianity alive in secret by having white masses after the French Revolution tightened the rules on Christianity. This proves that these religions can also provide support and stability for women who wish to take leadership roles.


However, the women’s suffrage movement, and the recent women’s liberation movement have also been key factors in delivering freedom and rights to women.  Women around the world are now able to vote and engage in politics because of the courageous stances taken by our ancestors.


Changes to the law are being made to this day to offer more freedom to women. For example, The Economist reports:

“Earlier this year … Morocco adopted a progressive family status code which, among other things, grants both sexes equal rights to seek divorce and to argue before a judge for custody of children.”


This all goes to show that religion can be a force of evil and a force of hope. It must be taken with a grain of salt, and viewed from a modern perspective. We must understand that religion is not a replacement for morals and sound judgment. As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Religion is a method to guide our lives; it should not dominate or ruin our lives. People, especially women, have suffered and continue to suffer because of religion. But, it is not religion that needs to be changed. It is the people that need to be changed. We should look at others as human beings and not as clay that has to be molded to fit within the boundaries of our interpretations of religion.