The issue of women’s status in society has been a popular problem and a source of debates in the vast majority of the world’s cultures. At some point, every society raised this question and discussed it; in many cases, such discussions caused social instability, crises, and disorders due to the opposition between the supporters of gender equality and the protestors of it.
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Currently, the issue of women’s social status and the role is rather meaningful for the countries of Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu worlds. Multiple strikes, protests, gatherings, and crimes are the evidence of the religious and cultural clash going on within these societies.
In India, for example, the clash resulted in a series of rapes of Indian women that shook both Eastern and Western societies. This paper explores the meaning of women in Hinduism and Islam and the possible sources of such aggressive opposition to gender equality in some areas of Hindu and Islamic majority countries.
There is a common opinion that such religions and cultures as Hinduism and Islam are based on the discrimination of women and their social oppression. Thousands of feminists and secularists from the West keep protesting against the attitudes practiced in the Middle Eastern and South Asian Islamic and Hindu countries viewing them as regressive, oppressive, and old-fashioned (Feldman 33). There are also many domestic feminist movements in the societies of these states.
To understand the origins of the tendency towards violence and discrimination of women in these cultures it is necessary to study its religious basis. First of all, Islam and Hinduism are not only religions for the people of the Middle East and South Asia. They are also lifestyles. The norms and standards of Hinduism and Islam are reflected in people’s religious beliefs, the Gods they worship, the manners of behavior, dressing styles, traditions, and gender roles.
Primarily, In Hinduism and Islam, the humans of both sexes have been viewed through the perspective of their functions as believers and God worshipers. Being religiously righteous is seen as one of the most important achievements for both men and women in the Islamic and Hindu societies.
In Hinduism and Islam, the traditional functions of women are limited to the roles of daughters, wives, and mothers. The duties of women under these three images represent everything women are required to be, do, and know in life (AsiaPacificMemo). Being a good daughter, wife, and then mother makes a good woman in both of these cultures.
This puts men into the dominant position in the society, as daughters are obliged to obey their fathers, wives are obliged to answer to their husbands, and, in many cases, mothers are to follow their sons. For example, in some extremely male-dominated Muslim societies women that appear outside of their homes alone, without a man, are considered improper, this way, to go somewhere a woman is obliged to take her son with her. Even if he is a small child, his presence is required for a woman to be able to leave home and walk the streets.
In Hinduism, a woman is worshiped for being a mother, for having the capacity of childbirth and for caring about her family. Just like in Islam, women’s main functions are being a wife and a mother. Besides, in Hinduism women are viewed as natural vessels for religion (Bartholomeusz 33).
This means that women in Hinduism represent religion, contain it, and function as its carriers and caretakers. Hindu understanding of women dwells on the principle of duality; women are viewed as the source of creation and destruction simultaneously (Wadley 113).
This way, the men’s wish to take control over women can be easily explained by their desire to keep their religion in order, prevent it from getting violated, shifted, twisted or vandalized. Basically, the core of this desire is a positive intention of protecting one’s values. Yet, evidentially, this intension results in a variety of violent and dangerous actions directed against women.
Men’s attempts to control women normally lead to strict upbringing where girls are limited and restricted ever since early childhood. To enforce discipline on girls, fathers practice devaluation of women ensuring little girls that they are worth less than their brothers, that they need to stick to a completely different set of rules, and that their lives are determined by men and their decisions and choices.
Besides, not all men can maintain authority in the family without engaging in violent practices, so, since early childhood women are physically abused and victimized. Boys grow up watching this process of victimization of women and learn that females are creatures without rights or freedoms. This attitude has been practiced for centuries and eventually became the foundation of the societies of Islamic and Hindu countries.
Ever since first feminist movements promoting gender equality, freedom of choice and rights for education for women started to occur in these societies, huge waves of protests began to gather people with the opposing beliefs. In order to enforce obedience and “proper” order in Islamic and Hindu societies, men strengthened their control practices and employed fear as a tool to humble the women down.
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This resulted in multiple cases of acid attacks and rapes in the countries of the Middle East and South Asia. Statistically, the majority of acid attack and rape victims are the women that refused to obey men at some point. Almost always in these cases of attacks violence was directed at women and came from men. Viewing the deeper reasons of such behaviors makes it visible that its actual roots come from men’s fear to lose authority and have the habitual way of things in the society changed.
In Islam there is a tendency to promote women as the source of danger and chaos. This version can be understood if the logic is as follows: women and their bodies are the objects of attraction for men, women cause men to desire them, sexual behavior is deemed sinful according to the religious teachings, sexual desire may encourage men to commit adultery, distract them from other missions; it is their weakness.
Ergo, women’s physical presence in society needs to be restricted and limited. This way, women are forced to be modest and cover their bodies and faces and be as quiet as possible to stay away from disrupting the social balance. This way, wearing veils becomes not only a religious rule, but a moral norm, social standard, sign of respect, and also an element of fashion, since, in many cases, it is a practice enforced politically (Marginalia Review of Books).
Women’s disobedience and rejection of behavioral standards enforced by men lead to attacks from the side of men. The majority of targeted females are young; punishment falls on them when they refuse to provide sexual services to men. Another victimized category of women is wives; they are attacked by their husbands demonstrating authority.
It is important to mention that movements for gender equality in the Middle East and South Asia are the consequences of the influences from the West, where such movements started to be popular centuries ago. This is a demonstration of the social impacts of the process of globalization. The issues of discrimination of women in the Middle East and South Asia became well known in the Western world due to various attention raisers.
To promote awareness about this problem all over the world multiple strategies are used. For example, there are many female writers who originate from Islamic and Hindu countries, they write biographic novels about the social injustices they witnesses personally. Besides, social advertisement is another important means.
Moreover, popular TV programs and shows often feature interviews with female victims of oppression and violence telling their stories to the world. Finally, Women Studies Departments of many universities organize conferences to discuss the issues of gender equality and discrimination from various points of view.
The lives of victims of acid attacks and rape change forever after these horrible events. Burnt and injured women become doomed to cover their faces in public and wear their scars as the demonstration wrongdoing and shame. Raped women are punished even harder; they may also end up burnt with acid, banned from their families or even killed. Becoming pregnant after being raped is viewed as an ultimate disgrace for a woman.
In conclusion, Islam and Hinduism cannot be viewed as religions only. They should be studied as cultures and lifestyles. Islam and Hinduism have many layers and are designed to penetrate every aspect of people’s lives. Their impacts become even stronger when these lifestyles are politicized.
AsiaPacificMemo. Leila Ahmed talks to Ingrid Lilly about Islam and feminism. 2013. Web.
Bartholomeusz, Tessa. “Women as fundamental and fundamentalist women: the case of Buddhist Sri Lanka.” Fundamentalism and Women in World Religion. Ed. Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young. New York: T & T Clark International, 2007. 33-46. Print.
Feldman, Shelley. “(Re)presenting Islam: Manipulating Gender, Shifting State Practices, and Class Frustrations in Bangladesh.” Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia. Ed. Patricia Jeffrey and Amrita Basu, 33-52. New York: Routledge, 1997. 33-54. Print.
Marginalia Review of Books. How does contemporary Hinduism both revere and constrain women? – Mandakranta Bose [4/5]. 2010. Web.
Wadley, Susan S. “Women and the Hindu Tradition.” Women and National Development: The Complexities of Change 3.1 (1977): 113-125. Print.