There should be no difference whatever between man and woman when it comes to dignity. Both are the same species. Both are required to reproduce the species if nature’s rules are respected. They are counterparts of each other. The concept of Ardhanarishvara in Hinduism eloquently illustrates the quintessentially complementary nature of man and woman.
Yet women have been suppressed and oppressed in most parts of the world for a very long period of history. The morning prayer of the Jewish men may be the most blatant outrage perpetrated on women theologically. “Thank you, Lord, for not making me a woman,” the man prays every morning. The woman is the cause of the human sinfulness, according to the Old Testament which is sacred to both the Jews and the Christians. There is no female Rabbi in Judaism and there is no female priest in Christianity, though the discrimination is slowly relenting.
Islam is worse than its two Semitic predecessors when it comes to women’s rights. Sexism becomes mathematically established in Islam. “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females,” says Quran 4:11. When it comes to bearing witness in the court also, one man is equal to two women in that religion (Quran 2:28). The Hadith and Al-sira are thoroughly soaked in male chauvinism.
We are very familiar with what Hinduism did with its widows. The system of Sati was more inhuman than all the sexist oppressions and suppressions perpetrated by the Semitic religions. Even today the purdah continues to veil many female faces in rural North India. In spite of such wonderful concepts as Ardhanarishvara and Durga, women were flagrantly oppressed in Hinduism. Manusmriti, for example, subjugated the woman to the father when she was a girl, to the husband when she was a woman and to the son when might be a widow. But the same text also very contradictorily suggests that “where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, no sacred rite bears any fruit.” Hinduism had highly ambivalent attitudes towards women like many other things.
These are just some examples of how religions were highly sexist. And religions shape people's attitudes to a very great extent.
Religions took a backseat in the 20th century. Consequently women began to find emancipation. Today we speak about empowerment of women, not just emancipation. It’s a great change. Women are no less than men in any way. Given the right opportunities they will perform as well as men in any field. Women’s empowerment is precisely about giving them equal opportunities and rights. However, we find India still grappling with obscurantist and obsolete notions regarding women.
There is a lot of contradictoriness in our attitudes towards women. Maybe, it’s part of our very culture and tradition. We should resolve those contradictions and bring about a society which puts women on the same platform as men. That’s the real empowerment of women.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 168. #womenempowerment