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The Elders Name Religious Tradition and Practice as Sources of Harm to Women and Girls

Aug 04, 2009 — Categories: , ,

“. . . we believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.”

The Elders are a group of world leaders first gathered by Nelson Mandela to offer their wisdom and influence to support peace and the alleviation of suffering around the world. They recently released a statement naming religion as a source of justification of discrimination against women and girls:

“. . . we believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.”

This multi-faith group of male and female leaders has recently been studying the basic causes of violations of women’s rights and they go on to link the subordination of women and girls as justified by some religious teachings as a source of sexual and domestic violence.

Former President Jimmie Carter is one of The Elders and he amplified the statement with an article last week which I addressed in my last blog. He specifically said:

“The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

We want to commend The Elders for their leadership on many issues and particularly for their clarity in challenging faith leaders to end the teaching and practices which can contribute to violence against women and girls.

But we also want to expand on one point that President Carter makes in his recent video statement that this is the first public discussion of this issue. Actually many women and men of faith, including many survivors of abuse, have been challenging our own traditions for years and drawing the connection between sexism in religion and the abuse of women and girls.

As a pastor of a small congregation and a volunteer at a local rape center thirty years ago, I witnessed women who were not receiving the help they needed when seeking refuge in their churches, synagogues or mosques. We at FaithTrust Institute continue our commitment to raising awareness among religious leaders and educating them about the religious issues related to sexual and domestic violence.

So we welcome President Carter and the Elders to our ranks and pray that some people will hear with new ears the challenging words The Elders offer. We also invite The Elders to sign FaithTrust Institute’s National Declaration which stands beside their powerful statement as a means to raise awareness and promote change. These two statements combine to give faith leaders an opportunity to lead their people in confronting sexism in their own religious traditions and in addressing violence against women and girls.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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