Women and Religion: Yet Another Area of Gender Inequality

The two things you’re supposed to avoid at the dinner table: religion and politics. Both are complicated and emotive topics, so it’s with some trepidation that I tackle the topic of the change in legislation that occurred this week in the Church of England. I’ll hold my hands up now—I have such a vested interest in the workings of the Church of England because I grew up with Sunday school every week and am a fully confirmed member of the Anglican church. As a woman, the news that the Anglican Church is now permitting the ordination of female bishops was very welcome. “The stained glass ceiling,” as The Independent put it, has finally been broken. What is really concerning to me is why it has taken so long and how little people seem to understand about the process or issues of women in religions.

Church and religion aren’t often discussed, especially amongst the younger generation and there has always been a lot of blame placed upon religions as tools used to police the behavior of women. But with the head of state as the head of the national church, there’s an inescapable link between the Church and the State in the UK. In 2012, when the vote in Synod (kind of like the Parliament but for the Church) to permit the ordination of women bishops failed to pass by six votes, I was outraged. The vote failed in The House of Laity, which means that lay members of the Church had voted against it. This means that it wasn’t the priests who threw out the possibility of having female bishops; it was the confirmed members of the Church, those people you sit next to in pews on Sunday if you go to Church. Little discussion arose about what this meant in terms of showing a continued underlying bias against women in society. Surely watching a huge institution which is tied into the national identity of Brits announce that it did not want to practice gender equality was a worrying issue for feminists. But for the most part, women were not as concerned as they should have been.

It’s only been 20 years since women were allowed to become priests in the Church. This seems completely at odds with the fact that the nominal head of the Church of England is The Queen. I would wager that people who hadn’t lived through the changes wouldn’t have any idea that female priests hadn’t always been a hallmark of the Anglican faith. The Catholic Church doesn’t even allow women to be priests, and it is one of the largest Christian groups in the world. Over 1.2 billion worshippers form a Church that does not permit women to have any say in its continued development. Isn’t that an issue that feminists ought to be concerned about: that such a large number of people are brought up to practice a faith that inherently supports gender inequality? If that isn’t a clear indication that we still live in a society where women are second-rate citizens, then I don’t know what is.

Women being subjugated through value systems placed on them by religions occurs worldwide. Everyone has been shocked by the pictures of women in places like Afghanistan in burkas being herded out of the classroom, or women being stoned for not being virgins when they are married. In the West there is a strong feeling that Islam is often used by men to control women. The Taliban stopping the education of girls is just one example of this. But what the West really needs to do is look closer to home. It is shocking that women priests have only been permitted in the Anglican Church for 20 years, it is shocking that the Catholic Church doesn’t allow any female clergy, and it is shocking that people are not more angry about this inequality.

Title image source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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