WOMEN AND GENDER 9
Womenand Gender in Modern World
Womenand Gender in Modern World
Religionplays an important role in shaping women’s decisions, perceptionsand lives. It can be a positive force to steer social change as faras it provides people with better alternatives that seek to improvetheir current conditions of life. However, religion can be a tool foroppression especially towards women. Despite the fact that religionhas, throughout history, served as a crucial social structure, it hasalso been associated, more often than not, with oppression againstwomen.
Nearlyall major formalized world religions have, throughout history, been atool for women oppression. According to Ward & Edelstein (1999,p.174), world religions manifest colonialism. As they contend, it isfrom this foundation that labor was divided on the basis of sex. Inthis regard, religion becomes an occupation strictly assigned to themale members of the society. Moreover, the alliance of religion andthe government leads to sidelining of women making the males as theimmediate financial beneficiaries from the government. The role ofwomen is restricted to that of supporting and feeling.
Forexample, the Orthodox Jews have been known to separate men and womenin the course of religious services (Phyllis, 2005. P 231). Women arenot allowed to participate in certain rituals that men are notrestricted. Orthodox Jews focus more on enforcing rituals thatprevent women from behaving in certain ways rather than on thosewhich actively involve women (Brettell & Sargent 2013). Moreover, in many Islamic states, women are subjected to femalegenital mutilation. In Somali for example, every young girl has tohave her clitoris excised at a very tender age (Phyllis, 2005. P256). The rationale behind this practice is to ensure that girls staymorally upright and pure.
Islamalso allows wife beating, daughter beating as well as sister beating.This tradition is protected by the Muslim clerics. For instance, in2005 Chad (a nation in Africa) tried to incept a law against wifebeating (Phyllis, 2005. P 346). The Muslim clerics were against sucha law terming it as un-Islamic (Chesler, 2005). Another form ofoppression against women steered by Islam is polygamy. Islam allowsmen to marry more than one wife. This practice: polygamy reduceswomen to the level of mere commodities and objects to satisfy men’sego and sexual gratification. Its roots are to be traced from IslamHoly books. Divorce is also rampant in the Islam society. Given thatwomen are taken as mere commodities, one can freely choose when tomarry and when to divorce at convenience.
Christianityhas also been an oppressing religion as regards its treatment ofwomen. Male dominance in Christianity is to be traced from thecreation myth in the bible. Genesis features woman as created as anafterthought when God realizes that man is lonely. She is created soas to be the man’s helper. Women subornation is viewed as the willof God. Historically, the catholic clergy bans women from the clergy.In the Anglican Church, women could only be priests but not bishops.However, in November 2014, the Church of England adopted a law thatwould allow female bishops. As a result, the first female bishop ofthe Anglican Church was consecrated on 26thJanuary 2015.
Historically,women have been denied various aspects of religion that are enjoyedby their male counterparts. Spiritual oppression thus had deterredwomen from participating or forced them to participate in somerituals. However, with the rise of globalization, world democracies,affirmative action and feminism movements, women have sought equalreligious rights with their male counterparts. For example, the 1970switnessed the rise of Jewish feminism which laid focus on equality(Brettell & Sargent, 1993. p. 136). Jewish women fought foraccess to male-associated rituals such as donning of the sacredgarments. Women activists seek to fight against those rituals thatare forced on women and are considered as oppressive. The need toliberate women has therefore led to the much interest focused womencentered rituals.
Spiritualityfocuses on the fundamental issues regarding the meaning of life inits relation to the transcendent. Women spirituality refers towoman’s alignment with the intellectual, physical self, theemotional and the psychic. Hence, woman spirituality is that which‘is’ within a woman’s body. Women carry within them the valueof life, empathy, diversity, receptivity, creativity and the sourceof life and power. Women spirituality can inform contemporarymedical practices in various ways. For instance, the spirituality ofwomen’s birth and menstruation experiences are some of the aspectsof women spirituality that can be integrated in contemporary medicine(Brettell & Sargent, 1993. P 188).
Obstetricmedicine is used in birth practices but contemporary medical practicehas not taken the spiritual domain into consideration. The birthprocess is conducted in hospitals where specialists consider it as anentirely physical process. This reduction leads to cases of birthtrauma, hardships in mother-baby bonding as well as after-birthdepression. There is need to incorporate the spiritual dimension inbirth process so as to remedy some of these problems. Birth shouldnot be treated as an entirely physical process but also as aspiritual process requiring spiritual intervention (Moloney, 2009).
Despitethe fact that women have been sidelined in various world religionsand their roles limited due to male domination, it does notnecessarily follow that that women do not play an important role inthe society. There is a whole realm of religious practices thatincorporate women and which play a crucial role in the society. Inthe history of many world religions, women have acted as healers,herbalists, shamans, and spiritual leaders (Ward & Edelstein,1999, pp.177). According to Bretell & Sargent (1993, p.395),women in non-western societies have ritual roles that are core andindispensable to the unity and cohesion of the society’s wellbeing. This is unlike in the western societies where the role ofwomen is taken as marginal and purely secondary. This results fromthe dominance of males in hierarchies and prevailing organizationaldogmas.
Dueto modernization, the significance of women in healing and otherrituals has shifted from an important aspect of the society’s wellbeing to witchcraft and illogical folklore. As a result, traditionalmidwifery, has diminished and replaced by male specialists andwestern medicine (Ward & Edelstein, 1999, pp.179-180). There hasbeen a turn to knowledge based on scholarly authority in place ofintuitive knowledge based on religious institutions. Ward &Edelstein (1999, p.173) argue that even though women’s intuitiveknowledge based on religious institutions lacks in scientificverification, it is, to a great extent, credible. Ward &Edelstein (1999, p.173) contend that the lack of scientificverification for women’s gut feelings and intuitions does not implythat the feelings are all a creation of the mind.
Accordingto Ward & Edelstein (1999, p.171) life lessons or health ailmentsrage from losing homeland, abuses, betrayals, body sicknesses,personality sickness, discriminations, infertility, lack of husband,lack of financial support from the husband and oppression amongothers. Ward & Edelstein continue to argue that all these lifelessons lead to a great suffering and of stress and may lead tophysical illnesses that may not be diagnosable or curable by modernmedical practitioners. For this reason, women may involve indivination even though they are aware that their intuition lacksscientific proof (Ward & Edelstein, 1999, p.173, 179).
Giventhe fact that life lessons lack empirical proof, it follows thatscientific tools cannot be applied in their measurement anddiagnosis. This fact challenges medical practitioners a great deal inthe detection, diagnosis and treatment of such ailments (Ward &Edelstein, 1999, pp.170). This implies that modern western medicalpractice does not go at par with traditional herbal interventioncarried out by women healers and midwives.
However,modern medicine cannot be entirely dispensed with owing to its greatlevel of sophistication. In this regard, it follows that it iscrucial to and beneficial for modern medical practice to incorporatetraditional women healing endeavors. This involves not just the mereincorporation of female healing methods in modern medicine but alsothe change of the psychological conception of these practices asillogical and witchcraft.
Spiritpossession is the view that transcendental beings such as demons,gods and spirits animate and take the control of human body. Theperson whose body is taken over by the claimed ‘being’ is said tobe possessed. This condition has been termed as the Spirit PossessionSyndrome. Clinical evidence has established that the spirits of thosewho died in the past can form a mental or a physical connection withthe living. This connection leads to detrimental emotional andphysical symptoms and conditions. This condition is referred to aspossession state or spirit attachment or possession disorder.
Inwomen-centered religions, women are known to claim of spiritpossession. The possessed women portray various behaviors such astalking in a mixture of languages, deliver messages from the power incontrol, and prescribe medicine and spirit controlled dancing amongother behavior. Spirit possession is an involuntary phenomenon for itdoes not require the authorization of the subject for him/her to bepossessed
ForWard & Edelstein, women who have had life lessons are, mostly,possessed by Zar-spirits because such women need the spirits. Ward &Edelstein add that Zar, as a ritual, is concerned with curing viapossession states and trances. In the course of a ceremony the spiritpenetrates a married woman’s body in order to make the woman airher marginalization (Ward & Edelstein, 1999 pp.172). This makesthe woman able to make communication with the spiritual world. Thespiritual world may include the dead or the ancestors. Women who arepossessed may also experience visions that may assist them in solvingtheir problems in the actual world.
However,spirit possession and healing rituals does not imply that these womenare crazy. These rituals are known to acknowledge the reality ofsuffering (Ward & Edelstein, 1999, p.178). Male dismiss theevents in spiritual healing of women as crazy behavior. As Ward &Edelstein even when females have beliefs based on intuition, malesalways require that women give tangible evidence over these feelings.However, the ritual healings conducted by women provide publicconfirmation that the world has real sufferings and that curing theailments is necessary regardless of their lack of a scientificnomenclature. Moreover, the healing woman has experienced pain andsuffering (Ward & Edelstein, 1999, p.178). This implies thatthese women are not crazy. The possessed woman’s behavior can onlybe termed as illegitimate if and only if it is incoherent with hercult’s conception of spirits.
Inconclusion, women spirituality is an aspect of humanity that has beendismissed by men not due to its lack of rationality or substance butdue to the tendency for women subordination by men. When womenacknowledge their oppression, they are able to lead a successful andreduce their suffering. Moreover, rather than categorizing spiritpossession as an illness of the mind, it is important to incorporateit in modern medicine for it handles life sufferings that modernmedicine cannot. If this is done, then women sufferings will nolonger be ignored by religious institutions and medicalprofessionals.
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