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Religion, Culture and the Rights of Women Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Pedus, Australia Dec 22, 2007
Culture , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions
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It has always been an interest of mine to read about men and women alike who have excelled in their chosen fields, whether in science/technology, education, entrepreneurship, politics, religious vocation, etc. But recently I have been critically looking at the issue of women’s right from a global perspective, and how religion and culture have influenced or affected some of those rights, particularly in Asia and Africa with specific emphasis on contemporary but often ignored women’s rights concerns in these regions. The term women’s rights traditionally refers to the freedoms inherently possessed by women and girls of all ages, which may be institutionalised, ignored or suppressed by law, custom, and behaviour within a societal context. For some people, when the issue of women’s rights are raised, there is a subconscious articulation and simplistic generalisation of the concerns within specific contexts, with most obvious concern being the rights of the western woman and not the rights of all women no matter where they are found. Although the liberties associated with the rights of women are not, for the most part, broadly addressed within the confines of wider human rights; it is imperative to recognise that women rights are human rights! The issue of looking at women’s rights around the world is as complex as discussing the socio-political and economic realities of different human communities within a global context. However, of particular interest is how religion and culture affects the rights of women in specific regions of the world, which could be possibly extrapolated to contemporary human rights realities elsewhere.

To begin this discussion, it is important to recognise the inherent differences in socio-cultural evolution of different women populations and the overarching influence of cultural myths, legends and realities on the psychosocial development of different women across the world. And this is the reason why some women are presumed to have more rights than others; but again, due to environmental effects on psychological and social development, what is acceptable as freedom and right for a woman in one part of the world may be perceived as an affront and insult in the other, making it difficult to fight the cause of individuals who are not ready to admit to subjugation, and abuse. The broader notion of women’s rights could be articulated within a very multifaceted context that may include but not in any way limited to the right to universal suffrage; right to hold public office; right to work and make a living; right to fair and equal wages; right to own property; right to education; right to serve in the military; right to enter into legal contracts; marital, parental and religious rights among others. It is a desire to be granted these rights in society that some women and organisations, most notably in the west, have dedicated and continue to dedicate themselves to the campaign of extending to women these rights that men automatically inherit in society by virtue of biology.

It is reasonable to say that most contemporary human societies follow a patriarchal social order as a natural order in which women are expected to be heard and not seen. While the 16th century reformation allowed women like Jane Anger, Anna Trapnell, Aemilia Lanyer to add their voices through religious education in convents, closure of some of these convents essentially deprived women of the right to education thus suppression of their right, not just as women but as humans. But then women’s right was as in insignificant as human rights in general. Today, most countries, at least in paper, as signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant conventions and protocols, observe essential rights and extend such rights in sometimes limited ways to both men and women, but observably more liberally to men than women. This is worse in some regions of the world than others. In 1948, the United Nations (UN) issued its Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which protects “equal rights of men and women”. Almost 60 years on, women are still marginalised on some fronts. Without delving into mainstream, long-debated issues of voting rights and employment equality, etc, it is important to recognise and discuss specifically why in some countries women are forced to hide in a cloak; never allowed to drive or work and in others women are subjected to excruciating and sometimes life-threatening genital mutilation. Also important is the role of women in religious leadership. Does it mean that these women genuinely desire to hide in a cloak or are they forced to by traditional laws and customs? Are these women willing to express their inherent freedoms to drive and move around freely and visibly or they don’t have a choice? Is there any genuine excuse for essentially butchering women in some African countries and parts of Asia in the name of circumcision? Does female genital mutilation have a place in modern society? Does society encourage men to legislate over women’s rights but forbid women from doing same to men? Can the churches in the west sustain the momentum of ceding leadership to women or will succumb to pressures from conservatives? It is particularly interesting to observe with dismay the deep influence of religion and culture in most religiously conservative and ideologically driven societies, particularly those that ascribe to Islamism and some retrogressive countries of the African continent.

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I was born in Nigeria and was educated in Nigeria, USA and Australia. I am the founder and president of Christina-Mae Recruitment Consortium Australia and the author of the book "When Things Go Wrong: Concepts of Change". I am also the co-founder of Child Aid Survival and Development International (CASDI). As a freelance journalist, I have contributed to a number of professional journals and newspapers, as well as worked in a number of e-journalism projects. I have traveled extensively and currently call Australia and the USA home with extensive involvement in African Human Rights issues.
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