In Australia, gender inequality continues to be a major barrier to the realization of rights and access to opportunities for girls and women. Deep-rooted structural and systemic gendered inequalities, and societal attitudes and traditions around gender roles and power, have resulted in unequal status of women and girls in Australia. For example, recent media reports have highlighted concern over the issue of inequality for working women in financial and superannuation benefits.
Recent statistics indicate that 40% of older single retired women live in poverty and experience economic insecurity in retirement. And women over 55 are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. Young women too, are becoming increasingly represented among people experiencing homelessness, primarily due to domestic violence of some form. You can find the statistics on abuse of all forms against women on many websites, and they are quite disturbing.
There are wide impacts arising from gender inequality. This includes the profound and long-term toll on women and children’s health and well-being, on families and communities, and on society as a whole. There are also increasing financial costs upon the Australian economy. And more importantly, violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights, and one that Australia has an obligation to prevent under international law.
But it is not only for human rights, economic or legal reasons that Christians should speak up against gender inequality. As disciples of Christ, we are expected to follow Jesus’ example on how to treat others, including women. Jesus demonstrated concern and compassion for women which was quite radical for his time. In Christ we are all valued equally and as we claim in our Parish purpose statement, ‘We believe that everyone is a person known and loved by God; and should be supported to know their intrinsic value, and to become the best that God intends for them.’
Sadly though, I think that much of the gender inequality in Western society has been supported by how we have interpreted the bible. Literal readings of the Old Testament with its accounts of the Patriarchal Hebrew society, and taking verses of the bible out of context have contributed to the belief that men are created to be superior to women, are to have authority over women and may treat women as possessions.
In addition to Old testament scriptures, we might think of verses such a 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, where Paul says that, ‘the husband is the head of his wife …’ and that women must cover their heads as a symbol of the authority of man over them, if they are going to pray or prophesy while in church; and in 1 Cor 14:34-35, he goes further, saying that ‘women should be silent in the churches’ that they are ‘… not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate …’ according to the law.
And then there are the verses in Ephesians 5:22-24 which say, ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands … for the husband is the head of the wife’ and that ‘… wives ought to be, subject in everything, to their husbands’. I remember a man using these verses to justify beating his wife with a broom handle. Of course, such men ignore verse 25 which says, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …’; in other words, a sacrificial love that bestows blessings upon the beloved.
As we read the verses from 1 Corinthians, we must remember that Paul was addressing a particular issue that existed in a particular societal context, i.e. propriety in public worship. He was not addressing male-female relations in general. And in Ephesians he is speaking about mutual submission, i.e. yielding one’s rights to support and grow the relationship – he is not speaking about obedience!
To take such verses out of the context of the rest of the bible and out of context of the society in which such guidance was intended is to misuse scripture. And using such scriptures to support gender inequality is something that we must not condone.
We ought to be concerned about the increasing abuse, homelessness and inequality of women. Taking Jesus Christ as our example we ought to speak against such injustices and take any opportunity to address gender inequalities and empower women and girls.