A Woman’s Work: Roles of Women in World Religions.
How do we view the changing role of women in religion in current times? The equality of women to men when it comes to holding authoritative positions and doctrinal and scriptural belief varies based on each religion. Some religions give more freedom to females, while others are still largely patriarchal and male-centric in nature. This detailed infographic from Christian Universities Online provides a succinct overview on the state of women in six world religions today, including: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, religion is a significant part of women’s lives: 86% of women in the United States are religiously affiliated, 63% say that a religion is an important part of their lives, while 44% attend religious services at least on a weekly basis. These numbers make it more imperative to delve into this relevant and sometimes controversial subject.
The majority religion for women in the United States is Christianity, with 70.6% of the population being a member of a Christian denomination. 31.5% of the entire female world population is Christian, while 55% of the protestant Christian group are women. When it comes to notable women in Christian teachings, we have Mary, the mother of Jesus, venerated as the Mother of God in Catholic doctrine, and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Of course there are countless other women in the bible, but these are the most prominent. The gender equality outlook also looks progressive when it comes to holding positions of power: there are plenty of women in preaching, teaching and missionary roles. The main of responsibilities of women in the Christian faith are to raise and teach children, maintain a Godly household, refer to husband on familial and religious matters and maintain social groups in church. As one can see, there are still what can be considered traditional responsibilities delegated to women in this religion.
An estimated 0.9% of the U.S. population is Muslim, with 23.2% of the world population being women in Islam. While still largely male dominated, 35% of Muslims in the world are female. The most notable women in Islamic scripture are Aisha, wife of Prophet Muhammad, and Hawwa, the wife of Adam. The outlook also looks favorable when it comes to women holding positions of power: they are active in politics and religious organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood. The main responsibilities of women are care for children, pass on traditions to them, serve the husband, follow gender-specific commandments, assist the husband and other male family members in political and religious decisions and retain and care for familial assets. It is evident that the authority of the husband is still largely recognized in Islam, and just like Christianity, traditional responsibilities are still held by women in Islam.
Of the entire U.S. population, 1.9% are women in Judaism. 0.2% of the world’s population are Jewish females, while 48% of the Jewish population are women. As for notable women in Judaism, there is Miriam, sister of Moses, while 7 out of 55 prophets in the Bible are female. Women have significant roles in the faith, with thirteen women having served as cabinet ministers since the establishment of the State of Israel and four women in the 34th government from a total of 26 ministers and deputy ministers. As far as female responsibilities are concerned, interestingly, the Jewish places less emphasis on gender roles, as God is considered both male and female. However, women are expected to perform more intellectual tasks, while men take care of physical tasks.
Hindu women make up 0.7% of the U.S. population and 15% of the world population. Of the entire religious group of Hinduism, 38% are female, relating to another interesting fact, that women in positions of power in this faith is still not very typical, except in very rich, powerful families. Women are not allowed to officiate ceremonies, and women are expected to raise and care for children, be part of an arranged marriage, help husband perform traditional ceremonies, care for elderly family members and maintain the household, tasks that can be considered largely traditional. Notable women in Hindu scripture include: Shakti, the Universal Mother, and Sita, part of the Godhead.
Like the female Hindu population, 0.7% of the U.S. population are female Buddhists, and 7.1% of the world population. Almost half of Buddhists around the world are female. Notable women in Buddhist teachings include: Abhirupananda, from the Order of the Buddha, and Jenti, a follower of the Buddha. Women hold positions of power, and are generally expected to maintain the household, help raise children, act as a stand-in for the husband in making decisions when he is unavailable, and possibly co-exist peacefully with husband’s other wives, if in a polygamous marriage.
Women are truly gaining more momentum when it comes to equality with men in power, responsibility, scriptural presence and role in the religious realm. This does not mean that the female gender should be complacent; there is still much to be done when it comes to diversifying women’s role and authority in religion.