January 20, 2010

So many religions oppress women – and that includes Christianity, Judaism, Islam. Oppression isn’t limited to one faith. Nicholas Kristof writes eloquently about this in his 01-10-10 op-ed column in the New York Times.

He observes: Our societies – the social contexts – often make women second-class citizens. Religions have helped to shape this social context and don’t push hard enough for change. Kristof quotes President Jimmy Carter, speaking to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia last month. Carter said: “Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.”

Shame on our religions. Shame. Shame. Shame.

But there’s a new movement, says Kristof: the Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela (and including religious leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu). The Elders are examining the role of religion in oppressing women. The Elders have publicly called on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

Kristof ends his column with this: “[W]hen religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior. The Elders are right that religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any person’s human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals.”

Read Kristof’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, co-authored with Sheryl WuDunn. The book won the Publizer Prize. Read also Michelle Goldberg’s book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World.

Oppression is a shameful thing. Systems, institutions, and people who perpetuate oppression are shameful. Oppression is a global pandemic – starting at the beginning of humanity and seemingly never ending. And oppression of women? Oppressing more than 50% of the world’s population? From rape and genital mutilation to unequal pay for work. From women doing more caregiving and the mommy track in employment and the paltry number of women holding elected office? None of this is banal. All of this is unjust. All of this is oppression. All of this is, yes, abuse.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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