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Human rights


The status of women,
now and throughout history

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  • Former President Jimmy Carter, speaking to the Parliament of the World's Religions in 2009-DEC said:

    "The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."

  • Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

    "... we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always right to do right."

  • Tertullian (160-220 CE), a very influential early Christian theologian, expressed two very negative views of women in his book De Cultu Feminarum (On Female Fashion):

    • "Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil's doorway. You should always go in mourning and in rags."

    • "Do you not know that you are Eve? The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree [in the Garden of Eden], and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die."

He is here expressing the belief that the sin of one person -- in this case, Eve in the book of Genesis -- can be transmitted to that person's descendents through hundreds of generations, apparently without dimminishing or ending. It does not appear to have been obvious to him -- or to orthodox believers in Christianity -- that people alive during the second century CE can hardly be held responsible for evil deeds committed millennia before they were born. Yet this theme of scapegoating runs through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

Webmaster's comment:

Horrendous atrocities were committed during the First World War. and before and during World War II, including the systematic murders of about six million Jews during the Shoa, a.k.a. the Holocaust. Some of these atrocities happened before I was born; the rest happened before I reached the age of six. I am greatly saddened by these misdeeds, but absolutely refuse to accept any responsibility for them. Similarly, in my honest opinion, nobody should feel guilty for evil events that ocurred before they were born, or before the age at which they could have become involved in fighting them.

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Overview of this section:

Almost all oppressed groups in the world are minorities. Women are a notable exception. In spite of wide-spread gender-based abortion access in some Asian countries and elsewhere in the world, women still form a slight majority of the human population.

Centuries ago, the assignment of second class citizenship to women was considered as normal and natural a part of Christianity and many other religions as were human slavery and the routine execution of homosexuals, witches, and religious dissenters.

Women have achieved impressive advances during the last century, but progress has been uneven across the world. The main impediments to attaining equality have often been a combination of culture and religion. In North America, women have approached near equality in commerce, business, the military, etc. The main hold-outs in North America have been conservative religious denominations, of which the largest are the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of whom deny or restrict ordination or the attainment of other positions of authority to all women.

Essays in this section discuss:

bullet The role and status of women as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), where they were generally considered as  property, along with female slaves, male slaves, cattle, etc.
bullet The radically equal treatment of women by Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) and in the very early Christian movements.
bullet The rapid decline of women's rights as the primitive Christian movement matured.
bullet The current struggle of women who felt called by God to the clergy, but are refused ordination by sexist faith groups.
bullet The struggle of Christian women who find themselves ineligible for employment in conservative religious institutions.
bullet The processes by which Christian denominations change their policies in areas of sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. There are surprising similarities among these forms of discrimination.
bullet Significant events towards or away from equality for women around the world.

Topics covered in this section:

bulletQuotations by and about women, from inspirational to hate-filled
bullet The status of women in the Bible and early Christianity

bullet How religions established, changed, and continue to change their teachings on slavery, the role of women, sexual orientation, and other topics
bullet Discrimination and violence against women:
bullet Seeking ordination as priests or consecration as bishops
bullet In academia and other teaching positions
bullet At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
bullet"Spare the Rod:" an essay contrasting partnership and dominator cultural models by Riane Eisler
bullet Rape during wartime
bullet The status of women in India among Hindus
bulletGlobal day of action for Malala Yousafzai and for 32 million other girls across the world who are denied education

bullet2015-MAR: A sampling of information about pro-equality activity for women in the world

bullet2015-JUL: An article by Hajer Naili from Womens eNews titled: "Post-war trauma afflicts Gaza girls, and women"

bullet2016-DEC to now: A random selection of brief articles about progress or retrenchment for women worldwide

bullet2017: Saudi-Arabia is reducing some of its restrictions on women

bulletstar symbol 2018-mid: Allegations of sexual abuse & misconduct scandals within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)


2018: The MeToo era becomes widespread with a flood of news of male abuse of women. Congress drags its heels in legislation to prevent violence

bulletBooks about women in leadership positions in religion, science, technology, etc.

Women's rights activists and organizations:

  • Women's eNews is a very active non-profit "Covering Women's Issues – Changing Women's Lives." Their web site is at http://womensenews.org. They have a free daily newsletter and a weekly summary.

  • Women's eNews has a list of women's resources at: http://womensenews.org/

  • Chai Ling, a Chinese activist specializes in educating her country about the negative effects of the restrictive birthing laws in China. A list of her books can be found on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tertullian, The Tertullian Project, "De cultu feminarum," at: http://www.tertullian.org/
  2. Colby Itkowitz, The Health 202: In #Metoo era, Congress isn't prioritizing Violence Against Women programs, Washington Post, 2018-SEP-21, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Copyright 2006 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAY-29
Latest update: 2018-SEP-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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