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Gender and Religion

According to M N Shrinivas It (the changing position of Indian women) has many facets and generalization is well nigh impossible because of the existence of considerable variation among regions, between rural and urban areas among classes and finally among different religious ethnic and caste groups.

In most of the religions there is great philosophical and theological teachings about essence of human life including equality of sexes. Woman is seen endowed with a soul, a divine spark or is part of the same atma. This ideal is hardly practiced in the real sense as much of the ethical teaching and the religious counsels reflect the social position of women in a particular environment. As a result we possess many sacred texts which relegate women's place to lower or secondary rank to man. Such texts are frequently quoted as the spiritual basis for the legitimization of women's low status through the ages. They are the sacred authority that teaches that woman's status has to be low and unequal to that of man.

One important point in understanding the value structure in Indian society is the dual concept of the female in Hindu philosophy. On the one hand woman is fertile, benevolent, bestower of prosperity on the other hand she is considered aggressive, malevolent and destructive. This dual character manifests in the goddesses also. The value structure by presenting the dual character of women seem to have been successful in creating a myth that Indian women possess power may be not in visible terms. It is an important concept in understanding the high and inferior position of women in India. Hence we have the paradoxical situation that in some religious teachings an idealized exaltation of women in role as mother and wife occur in some instances an ideal of woman in her eternal essence is projected when in actual social life subjugation is woman's common lot.

In the contemporary world religions are faced with an entirely new challenge. Since the social, economic and political emancipation of women has become widely accepted new pressures from the social environment are affecting all the religious traditions and the inadequacy of their traditional teaching regarding the general status or image of woman is fundamentally questioned.