Women have the right to equality, it is clearly stated in religious texts and by the prophets of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism, according to a panel of academics and cultural leaders.
The call for women’s empowerment came during an interfaith seminar held by the British Sikh Association in London on December 2 2015, compered by the Association’s Vice Chairman, Mr Hardyal Luther. While emphasising the history of women who played key roles in shaping the core values of these religions – often working alongside male prophets and leaders as mothers, siblings or spouses – the panel broadly accepted that modern society has lost sight of these values that advocate women’s empowerment and equality in many religious texts.
The panel, which included British Sikh Association Chairman Dr Rami Ranger MBE, Ms Laura Marks OBE, founder of charity Mitzvah Day and co-Chair of the Nisa-Nashim Muslim Jewish Women’s Network, Lord Sheikh of Cornhill and Dr Sukhbir S. Kapoor OBE, addressed the question first posed in the 13th century by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism: ‘Why condemn women who bear prophets and kings?’
Dr Ranger focused on the importance of education for women, which allows them to raise their families more effectively, not only by bringing in extra income but also through broader shared experiences. Attitudes and aspirations of both girls and boys are unlikely to change, he said, if they see their mothers staying at home and often treated as subservient.
Ms Laura Marks asked why, in both communal and business leadership, so few women are to be found at the top. She stressed that everyone should be promoted on merit, but often women’s merits are not recognised in business because the requirements of organisations are fundamentally male. Business models, argued Ms Marks, do not currently allow women to come through.
For Lord Sheikh, a key concern was that Islam is not at the moment treating women according to the tenets of the faith. He highlighted the need to give women recognition in society and in business, based on merit, and challenged the notion that men cannot work under women in Islam, citing the example of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who worked under Khadija, whom he later married.
Despite describing Sikhism as a ‘young religion [in relation to others] in which women have played an important role’, Dr Kapoor was frustrated by the fact that modern Sikh women appear not be experiencing the values of equality espoused by Guru Nanak.
The panel called for business, political, educational and religious leaders to re-examine the core religious texts and reflect on the clear statements and values within them which call for the empowerment of women in religion and society.