Women’s place in religion affects women’s place in society; as such, in the search for more equal rights and recognition in the society, one must examine women’s role in religion. Our Liberian society is one that is heavily tied with religion and culture, and Islam, Christianity and traditional African religions are the most prevalent religions.
Let’s take a look into these religious sects. In Christianity, both sexes don’t have equal rights and roles, especially in the marriage institution. In Genesis 3:26, the Bible states that women are “to be ruled over by their husbands.” Ephesians 5:22-24 also states that “women are to submit to their husbands as he is the head.” Now, even outside the institution of marriage, in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, it’s said that “Let a woman learn by listening quietly and being ready to cooperate in everything. But I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to listen quietly, because Adam was formed first and then Eve. And Adam was not tricked, but the woman was tricked and became a sinner.” On the role of women in the church, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 states “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
This lack of equality between the sexes can also be seen in Islam. The Quran allows for men to marry as many as four wives, (Quran 4:3 “Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess.”), but this same freedom is not allowed women. And while there has been extensive debate on the interpretation and translation of verse 4:34 of the Quran, it has largely been used to justify domestic violence against women. According to Yusuf Ali’s translation, it states “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).” The ambiguity in the definition of the term “lightly” has been used to justify domestic violence against women.
The more one understands nature and the forceful power that is the woman, the more one questions the stories, or lack thereof, pertaining to women in the Holy Scriptures. One might argue that these Holy Books being written by all men was a deliberate attempt to diminish the roles women played in ancient religious times. There is no proof that women were also prophets and touched by God, but neither is there proof that ONLY men were sanctified and touched by God.
Let’s analyze the creation story. God created the earth and the sky, light and darkness,etc. “And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” Genesis 2:7. After that, God made every animal and every tree and gave Adam dominion over them. And then God saw that Adam was still alone, and according to Genesis 2: 21-22, “the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”
According to this version of the creation story from the KJV, woman was created as: (1) an afterthought, and (2) a helpmate to man. She was not created in the image of God, who shockingly *feigns disbelief* is referenced as a man, but rather formed out of the man created in God’s image. With this logic, a female could never say, “I was made in the image of God.” A cis-gender female is not a man and according to most religious folks, God is. But isn’t God an all seeing, all knowing, spiritual entity? How has that Being been reduced to mortality, and a fundamentally human construct such as gender, for the convenience of humankind? In order for men to claim dominance and superiority, they have reduced God to a “man” whose image they were made in. The entire Bible follows this trend of seconding, and sometimes ignoring, women and glorifying men. The times women were given space in the storytelling are scarce and the stories that do exist tend to be lacking the aplomb and reverence afforded to just about every single man worth his salt in the Bible stories.
A country like Liberia could never achieve gender equality for as long as we hold on to Religion based traditions and refuse to leave room for growth and movement. As long as women are seen and referred to as second class helpmates whose sole purpose of existence is to ease the male experience, we will continue to live in a patriarchal society that’s unsafe for so many girls and women. As long as women are second class citizens because “that is the way of God”, the further the country will sink into chaos. Women carry and give life; they birth generations and are the bedrock of every society. The state of a country is greatly influenced by how the women are treated. Society has spent generations prioritizing male education over female education, prioritizing male pleasure over female safety, prioritizing male comfort over gender equality, and all this has done nothing but widen the gender gap and put more young girls at a disadvantage. Religion is the bedrock of patriarchy, or maybe it’s the other way around, and until we approach religion, with faith, logic and room for different interpretations, Liberia will remain a patriarchal society where women are disproportionately victims to a lot of unfortunate and unnecessary circumstances.
Authored by Fanoraine Dohr & Dounard Bondo
Featured picture by Eric Segall