By Izzy Woodcock – Women’s Campaign Representative Candidate
While deciding what to put in my women’s rep manifesto, I wanted to talk about issues that affect women of many identities, and women of faith are close to my heart. It’s something that rarely gets discussed and if it does then it’s usually about a man’s negative behaviour. Not mentioned is how women have impacted their religion or inspired others of faith. Instead, they are chastised for their faith because of misogynistic behaviours.
Are we isolating these women by imposing a view that their faith inherently misogynistic? Instead of empowering women in their faith the status quo seems to look down upon women who follow a religion, especially one considered mainstream. However, to me, this seems hypocritical. Do we not all, of faith or not, subscribe to a society that is patriarchal? Society oppressing women in another way by telling them what they should and shouldn’t believe. Western society as it stands is quick to point the finger at religion as a source of misogyny as if its own society is not entrenched in sexism.
I can only speak from the experience of being a woman who is also a Christian and I in part I agree with this statement. Religion can be misogynistic; faith and belief doesn’t have to be. On the contrary, my own faith is based on self-worth and a belief that people are all equal.
Sexism towards women of faith by those of non-faith and western society has widely been ignored, despite most major faiths being made up of mostly women. Some research even goes as far as to describe women as being more devout than men, especially in Christianity. So, when we are pointing the finger in the general direction of religion rather than individuals we are mainly pointing at women. You see the dilemma? When we discriminate against religion as a whole, we are discriminating against women indirectly.
That is not to say that there is not sexism within a religious establishment, such as the church of England. I have witnessed first-hand the kind of sexism that puts men in charge and allows churches to still deny women in leadership. This is not a problem with religion, this is a problem with society. The kind of sexism rife within religion is also rife in western society.
It tends to be the more liberal groups who are more ready to reject religion as a worthwhile endeavour, citing it as remanence of a bygone era. This seems to be contradictory of liberalism and incorrect. Quakers, a well-established denomination of Christianity, were progressive for their time. The majority of preachers were women and published their work, which was extremely rare for that time.
Women who follow Islam are also disproportionately discriminated against. Wearing a hijab or any form of religious clothing means some Muslim women are often visibly religious. It’s no secret that hate crime and islamophobia are on the rise in the UK. In this respect, Muslim women who wear a hijab are potentially at greater risk of racism as they are immediately identifiable as followers of Islam. Yet every day they refuse to be intimidated by this. How women cover their bodies is a contentious subject in western culture as well as in more conservative countries. Some countries like France have even restricted the freedom of what women wear. When did it become acceptable to limit someone’s freedom to express their identity? To some, the headscarf has become a symbol of oppression and signifies a woman needs to be rescued.
Sounds familiar, right?
A society who treats women as weak and men as the strong rescuers. A woman’s freedom of religion includes expressing faith as an identity and in some contexts a rebellion against the status quo and an expression of individuality, as has been in the past.
Instead, we should be empowering women of faith, supporting them as they fight the gender bias within their own religious establishments. Through events, socials and collaborations we will celebrate the wonderful diversity of women of faith together.
Visit the SU website to cast your vote. Polls close on March 20th at 2 PM.
Disclaimer: This article has not been edited by The Ruskin Journal. The Journal will publish similar submissions from other election candidates that want to get involved. Contact the editor for more information.