As International Women’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking of how many times in recent years I have written, tweeted or posted about how transformative feminism and women’s leadership have been on religious communities. Historically, most religions, like most cultures, have been infused with patriarchy. But the times, they are a changin’. I could list endless examples but here are a few, some which I’ve mentioned before and some new ones. I hope too that among the links you might find a book, a podcast, or an interview to not only mark the day, but to hear and learn from these brilliant and brave women:
- For First Nations, many women have played leadership roles including Phyllis Webstad, who founded Orange Shirt Day based on her own story of being a six-year old, proud of her brand new orange shirt on her first day at a residential school. They took it from her, literally stealing her agency on day one, clearly showing how First Nations children would simply not count as people. Part of the power of Webstad’s story is it is so relatable whether you are seven or ninety-seven. Another woman that impacted me is the CBC’s Connie Walker whose incredible podcast Missing and Murdered tells some of the most gripping stories I’ve ever heard of two Indigenous women who were killed. The list could go on but I will end with Tanya Talaga, journalist, author, and Massey Lecturer who does so much to give voice to Indigenous lives and concerns.
- So often in religion, people think liberal communities foster increased rights and presence for women. But heartening is how many women in conservative communities are gaining a voice, often seizing opportunities to make themselves heard. To that end, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Avital Goldschmidt, a fascinating and thoughtful Orthodox Jewish woman who, in a community with very traditional gender roles, is also a journalist and writes critically of her own community. She often gives voice to women’s issues and other subgroups in the community that lack power. My interview was not recorded but she is interviewed here on CBC’s Tapestry with a link to an article she wrote, exposing how the pressure to be thin to attract a mate has been leading to eating disorders.
- This article on Sikh women shares how many Sikh women in the West have started wearing the turban, traditionally a garment for male Sikhs. Part of this commitment means never cutting your hair again and some Sikh women thus reject Western standards regarding women and facial or bodily hair. I met a young, proud woman like this in Vancouver years ago. She had facial hair unusual for a woman in Canadian society. Also, she had zero shame. Honestly, she beamed with pride. I remember thinking you don’t often encounter strength like that.
- I blogged about how Muslim women have been using platforms like TikTok to become well known Qur’an reciters. Traditionally, these roles have been reserved for men but a BBC podcast showcased how some women are using technology and becoming famous for the beauty of their recitations.
- Much is happening in American evangelicalism and, while not all of it is good in my eyes, one admirable shift is there are new challenges to the tradition’s patriarchal forces. Beth Moore, possibly America’s most well-known female evangelical, publicly denounced Trump for his misogyny and refused to back down when his supporters gave her trouble. And secondly, I cannot overstate the impact of Kristin Kobes Du Mez, whose book, Jesus and John Wayne, has been a tsunami in evangelical circles for its lucid and undeniable exposure of patriarchy in the movement. Du Mez is an insider to the tradition and her book took off via word of mouth, creating shock waves in that community like no other book I know of. I was also honoured to interview her and blogged about her wonderful book here. I highly, highly recommend.
There are so many more. I think too of what I have gained from my own interactions with a number of women just in the opening two months of this year. Folks like: Sema Burney who I will be doing a workshop with on Demystifying Islam: Being an Ally to Muslim Colleagues; the head of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Nuzhat Jafri; and Olga Vigil Letang and Sara Sayyed, new diversity, equity and inclusion hires at the cities of Cambridge and Guelph respectively. All of these women have shared insights with me and do amazing work to make our communities better.
Patriarchy robs us all of much of the talent of half the population. So here’s to the growing list of women leading us in new and interesting directions. Happy International Women’s Day to you all!
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