In 2013, former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, announced that he was losing his religion for equality. As a practicing Christian for all of his life, it was a painful and difficult decision. He said women and girls have been discriminated against in a twisted interpretation of the word of God for too long, and that’s what brought him to his life-altering change.
The belief that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion, Carter says, and its influence doesn’t stop at the walls of the synagogue, church, mosque, or temple. He says this discrimination has been unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority and it has provided an excuse to deprive women of equal rights around the world for centuries.
Carter says the belief of some religions that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence against women, genital mutilation, and laws that that don’t include rape as a crime. He believes it’s the same discriminatory thinking that lies behind the current gender gap in pay between men and women, and it’s also the reason why there are still so few women on leadership teams in the western world.
The root of this prejudice, says Carter, is buried deep in our history and it’s not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages men and women alike. Research shows that when societies invest in women and girls, the whole of society reaps major benefits. It doesn’t make sense that any society would discriminate against half of its population. We need to challenge our outdated attitudes and beliefs.
Religion and tradition are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge but challenge them we must, says Carter. Before his illness and death, Nelson Mandela, brought together a group of eminent global leaders to work toward addressing major causes of human suffering, and to promote the shared interests of humanity. This group decided to draw attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. They are now calling on all leaders to challenge and change harmful teachings and practices that justify discrimination against women. They ask that all leaders have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize positive messages of dignity and equality.
According to Carter, male religious leaders have had, and still have, an option to interpret holy teachings in a way that either exalts or subjugates women. He says that for their own selfish reasons, they have overwhelmingly chosen the latter, and their continuing choice justifies much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women all around the world.
Carter reminds us that during the years of the early Christian church, women were revered as pre-eminent leaders. They served as deacons, priests, apostles, teachers, prophets and priests. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men according to Carter, twisted and distorted religious messages to ensure their own rising positions within the hierarchy of their religion.
Carter concludes that it’s time we have the courage to challenge these patriarchal and traditional views. It’s time we call for the proper and equitable treatment of women and girls everywhere.
When we do, men, women and children everywhere will benefit.
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Debbie L. Kasman
Principal Newcastle Public School and Author of Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul