Religion and Tradition

"Tradition has developed a sort of hierarchy in the relationship between men and women and that leads to discrimination."
Graça Machel

For too long, tradition and the distortion of religious values have been used as an excuse to mistreat, and discriminate against, women and girls across the world.

They bestow false legitimacy on claims that women are inferior and second-class citizens and are abused to give men control over women and their bodies.

Yet the world’s major faiths and cultures stress the ideals of peace, equality and the dignity of all.

The failure to root out prejudice against women and girls is one of the major barriers to progress and prosperity.  

Religious and community leaders, men as well as women, need to show courage in challenging harmful religious and traditional practices and teaching, no matter how ingrained, and draw out positive messages from  our great faiths and the history of our societies to promote equality.

No society can yet claim to have removed discrimination against women. It is found, in different ways and to different degrees, in every country.

This prejudice and inequality is a major brake on our collective ambitions for our world. We can’t build healthy, stable and successful societies if the talents and views of half our population are ignored.   

The roots of this inequality often rest on harmful traditional practices and the interpretation by religious leaders – usually male – of the values of the great faiths.

These customs and practices affect every aspect of our societies.  They deny wives, sisters and daughters the rights, freedoms and choices that men take for granted.

They are used to justify violence against women. They hand control over women’s lives and bodies to fathers and husbands. They prevent women owning property or having an equal voice in their communities. They are the reason why more boys than girls are sent to school. They are used to justify child marriage, even when it is against the law.  
   
These customs, and their impact, are not restricted to the developing world. They help explain why women are still paid less than men for equal work and to justify hours and work practices which put women at a disadvantage.
 
So ingrained are many of these attitudes in our societies, that their roots are often forgotten. But the abuse of culture and religion to subjugate women and to protect power and influence must be exposed and challenged.

When this happens, attitudes can be changed.  In Rwanda, traditional proverbs and stories about the protection of women were used to undermine claims that gender equality and action to reduce rape and assaults were somehow imported western ideas.

We must follow this example. Prejudice and harmful traditional practices are in breach of international human rights agreements and, often, domestic laws. They badly damage the health, strength and prosperity of societies.

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