The Role of Women in Religion: A Shifting Paradigm

The Role of Women in Religion: A Shifting Paradigm

by Dr. Sharon Mijares

The following article was presented at the Ninth Annual Sufism Symposium in Bellevue, Washington. © Dr. Sharon Mijares. All Rights Reserved.

Bismillah er Rahman er Raheem

Whatever affects one segment of the human population affects the entire human family and the body of earth–for we are all connected, intimately related. As Chief Seattle says in his famous letter to the US President in 1854, “We are part of the earth and it is a part of us.” It is time to recognize that we are all connected and act on our responsibility to nurture a healthier human family.

Many people believe that women have an important role to fill in helping to build a healthier future for all humanity. Given women’s innate ability to support and bear life, we also have the inherent potential to create positive relationships. This creativity can birth more conscientious relational communities and thereby create a healthier and safer world.

Thanks to Dr. Angha many women on the Sufi Women’s Dialogue became aware of a significant petition circling our globe in 1997, co-sponsored by Women’s organizations from countries around the world. They represented human rights groups from Africa, across the UK, Italy, France, Europe and the Netherlands, USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, South America, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, India, Poland, Philippines, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. The petition’s heading noted that it was from the “Women of the World” and was addressed to the “Governments of the World seated at the United Nations General Assembly.”

The message preceding the signature lines read:

We are horrified at the levels of violence witnessed during this century and that women and children are the primary victims of war and poverty. On behalf of society at large, we, the undersigned women of the world, demand that annually, for the next five years, at least five percent of national military expenditures be redirected to health, education and employment programs. By doing so, one half billion dollars a day would be released worldwide for programs to improve living standards.

We also demand that war, like slavery, colonialism, and apartheid, be de-legitimized as an acceptable form of social behavior, and that governments and civil society together develop new institutions that do not resort to violence for the settlement of disputes.

Together, we commit ourselves, as half of the world’s population, to use our power to ensure that these demands, which will promote international peace and security, are met through legislation and action. We resolve that we will inaugurate a new century that rejects warfare and promotes well being, justice and human rights.

Many women had attended the Beijing conference on women’s rights to discuss historical and very present realities – for example, visualizing a better future. They held the vision that women can help shape significant and positive world change for the human family.

Humanity is ripe for another shift in consciousness. We’ve been talking about a new paradigm for a couple of decades now, but it does not appear that positive transformative changes are taking place. And now we are in the midst of increasing male dominated wars. If our humanity is going to survive and the gift of human evolution realized, there needs to be a foundational change and this change needs to be shaped and influenced by women. Women need to be more involved with the decisions affecting the destiny of human kind and the well being of our planet.

This gathering of women and the women’s panel would have been better placed on Saturday and again on Sunday rather than late on Monday after many people had already started leaving. What we have to say as women is vital to the well being of our future. We need to envision a religion that is not dominated by ideologies failing to honor all human beings. We can participate in actions that help to build and sustain human relationships around the globe. Every mother in every nation, race and religion would rest well knowing their children and the children of the world are safe.

The theme of this symposium is Harmony. Let’s examine what constitutes harmony. The word means rapport, friendship, compatibility, agreement, etc. We also associate harmony with music. A woman’s role in religion should be one of creating harmony and equality between all peoples. She manifests this gift of harmony in her mothering, her friendships and her marriage.

The hierarchical tendencies within patriarchy tend toward structures based on superiority. Although patriarchy has been the way of the human being for the last four thousand years, there is evidence that earlier humanity had a very different form of culture. These earlier cultures were not dominated by systems of dominance and destruction of “the other.” Religious women need to be more aware of the entirety of human history – for there was a time when the female was reverenced as divine. Early humanity acknowledged the woman’s capacity to bring forth life and saw her as a divine vehicle. Archeologists have found icons reverencing the female; they were placed in alters in dwelling places.

Biblical history tells us of the women of Babylon and other goddess reverencing cultures and cheers their destruction. Religious women need greater clarity regarding what was taking place during that stage of human development. As human beings we lived more in harmony with nature, and acknowledged the various archetypal representations of God as divine—so there were many gods and goddesses. This was the heart of paganism. Sexuality and fertility were not separate from the divine. Plants, animals and human beings were sacred – a very different consciousness than we have now about these manifestations of life. These matriarchal societies were more horizontal in nature. With the rise of patriarchy we developed a vertical perspective of life. This development (fostered by a rise in male dominance) brought about significant religious and spiritual development. The Egyptian sage Hermes recognized divine unity.

The Jewish Prophet Moses and the Prophets that followed acknowledged the One God. This was a great spiritual development. Humanity was realizing there was something beyond the archetypal Gods and Goddesses. This was the positive side of hierarchy and the world religions manifesting at this time; but on the negative side women and nature were debased and devalued in the process. Patriarchy is hierarchical and this means that someone always has to be “superior” (on top) so women were relegated to second position in the course of life. We have been conditioned to accept this as “the word of God,” but this is not the case. It is not the word of God, but rather the teachings of men. This should be questioned – not only for the sake of women, but also for the sake of our men and the future of this planet.

As long as men are dominant we will not have peace because it is an imbalanced life. The Taliban regime evidenced an extreme example of the male psyche lacking feminine balance. Women were despised and hidden from view. The male was dominant and uninfluenced by the outer female and the inner feminine archetype. As a result, the Taliban men evidenced a lack of caring and respect for anything outside of their own ideals (for example, the abuse of women, the destruction of anything outside of their own limited ideology including the dynamiting of the precious Buddhist statutes). These are examples of the disrespect for life that can happen when the feminine presence is absent.

The pre-historic male was predominantly a hunter, conqueror, warrior, and protector. It assured the continuance of the human species. Turn on CNN and listen to the news! This style is still the dominant response. We have a few thousand years evidencing these patterned behaviors, which is why men need women’s active support before humanity destroys more life and our environment. We are ready for a new understanding of what being a “protector of life” really means. In this emergent era women and men will work together.

Dr. Angha and Dr. Kianfar are examples of this positive balance. They support one another and their efforts reach out to gather others from the world community to do good works and create more harmony in the world. Dr. Angha is not hidden behind Dr. Kianfar. He respects her individuality, and they both support one another. I don’t believe that Dr. Angha would marry anyone who would not fully respect her rights as a human being. This is an example that needs to be followed, by both women and men. We should expect men to give us the same respect we give to them. The destructive, diminishing effects of patriarchy have to change. Together as healthier men and women we can create positive changes. This is the balance our world needs.

And as women we need to support one another to enter into co-leadership roles in all of life’s endeavors—especially in changing policies that make a difference in our world; in creating and supporting schools that help our children to feel good about education; to improve health care that has been taken over by greed and mismanagement; to protect our environment so there is a healthier world for our children and their descendants to grow up in; and to care about and safeguard all of humanity. Each one of us is gifted–a unique, valued individual in this world community.

What can you do to bring about healing and transformation? Listen to your heart and act upon its prompting.

© Dr. Sharon Mijares. All Rights Reserved.


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