HomeNewsDo religions legitimize inequality between men and women?

    Do religions legitimize inequality between men and women?

    Christ, Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene, bas-relief preserved in the Louvre (late 15th century).

    Rreligious systems have clearly contributed to the establishment of gender inequality. In monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity or Islam – masculine dominance is prevalent, if only by the fact that God, unique and all-powerful, is thought of as masculine.

    In fact, the religions of the Book are highly marked by patriarchal thought, where women are considered inferior to men, to whom they must be subjected, while religious power and access to the sacred are reserved for men.

    It must be emphasized that this unenviable fate reserved for the female gender is not exclusive to monotheisms: All the great religious traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism, which we tend to idealize, are imbued with a more or less latent old fund of misogyny.

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    Texts need to be contextualized

    However, religious texts are the fruit of their time. The notion of equality between men and women is recent. The first Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizensattributed to Olympe de Gouges, dates from 1791 and the French Revolution, a period not very favorable to religion (in this case Catholic).

    The great founding texts of religions come from civilizations or times when this notion had no meaning. When the apostle Paul wrote: “The head of the woman is the man” (1 Corinthians 11:3), or “Let your women keep silent in the assemblies, for it is not permitted for them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14: 34), he was simply expressing what was obvious to his contemporaries.

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    Moreover, the message of the great religious books is far from exclusively misogynistic. Thus, Jesus was very close to women, at a time when they were relegated to the background. Is Mary Magdalene, the first witness of Christ’s resurrection, according to the Gospels, not sometimes called the “apostle of the apostles?” As for Paul, he had a very strong statement, affirming that “There is no longer male and female” (Galatians 3:28), expressing the idea that men and women are equal in Christ.

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    Muhammad, on the other hand, limited the number of wives for each man to four (Qur’an 4:3), whereas previously there had been no limit to the number. In doing so, he laid down a social rule to protect women from promiscuity and men from forced celibacy.

    Moreover, when the Koran fixes the share of inheritance of the daughters to half of that of the sons, (Koran 4, 11 and 12), it obliges the families to pay a share to the daughters, which was possibly not the case at all at that time. As for the famous Islamic veil, the custom of veiling goes back to antiquity, thus well before Islam, and initially had nothing to do with religion.

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