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Worse than fiction: discrimination against women

Women
Australia
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Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected 10 years ago in 2006 as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church and also the first female primate in the Anglican Communion.

Domestic violence has deep roots within modern society, but too often our legal system privileges the status quo instead of protecting the vulnerable, writes Brian Loffler.

It was 15th May. Abhimani Dasgupta was meeting with the Chair of HiTechFutures and was quietly confident of winning the appointment as CEO. She was the perfect candidate: highly educated, well connected and having a strong CV that matched perfectly with the leadership needs of the company. As the two of them chatted animatedly, Abhimani’s confidence grew; it was as if the job was designed for her.

But then the tone of the conversation changed. The Chair’s face grew serious as he said ‘I don’t know why you applied for this position. You’re obviously highly qualified and well suited, but you must know that we have an unwritten policy of not promoting people from South Asia to leadership positions?’

Abhimani was shocked. This was blatant racism, and discrimination was not only unethical, but strictly prohibited by law.


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Months later the Supreme Court upheld Abhimani’s claim of discrimination on the basis of race, and the Chair received a hefty fine.

The case received widespread publicity and there was outrage in the community. ‘This feeds into a culture of disrespect; it encourages and emboldens those who stir up inter-racial violence.’

The story is fictional. But now consider this slight transposition to another fictional (but based firmly on reality) story:

It was 15th May. Sonia Bittner was meeting with the Bishop of Australia and was quietly confident of winning the appointment as District President of the church. She was the perfect candidate: highly educated in both theology and management, well connected and having a strong CV that matched perfectly with the leadership needs of the church. As the two of them chatted animatedly, Sonia’s confidence grew; it was as if the job was designed for her.

But then the tone of the conversation changed. The Bishop’s face grew serious as he said ‘I don’t know why you applied for this position. You’re obviously highly qualified and well suited, but you must know that we have a strict policy that leadership positions in the church are for men only?’

Sonia was shocked. This was blatant sexism, and discrimination was not only unethical, but strictly prohibited by law.

But there was no happy ending for Sonia. In outrageous deference to patriarchal religion, the law provides an exemption such that churches can exclude women from whatever leadership positions they choose.

Sonia’s case should have received widespread publicity and there should be outrage in the community. ‘This feeds into a culture of disrespect; it encourages and emboldens perpetrators of domestic violence.’

Churches often claim to provide a moral compass to society. But in so many areas, the opposite is the reality. Churches are dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century as they doggedly hold onto customs from the dark ages: subordination of women; discrimination and persecution of homosexual people; ludicrous attitudes toward birth control and protection from STDs; the discrediting of the science of global warming.

It’s sad, because within church memberships are many good people, working in social welfare and environmental activism.

But whilst church leaders pay lip-service to concerns about domestic violence, they do everything in their power to retain the patriarchal privileges and attitudes that fuel violence against women.

Domestic violence will never be brought into check for a long as church ‘leaders’ hide behind the patriarchal and discriminatory exemptions offered by the law.

It’s way past time that we reform the law so that churches are no longer exempt from provisions that guarantee equality and protect against discrimination. These are values that are cherished by our contemporary society.

We need a new generation of politicians and law reformers who are prepared to stand up to the pious hypocrisy of religious intolerance, who are prepared to usher in a new era of true equality.

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