Consent is a voluntary affirmative response required before engaging in any physical and/or sexual activity. As simple as this is, it’s unfortunate that the idea of consent is disregarded, rejected and even frowned upon in many parts of the world. Religion has also played a huge role is the violation of consent where it concerns women. As a result, many women and girls have been subjected to inhumane treatment and stripped of their autonomy – their rights over their bodies and lives.
For such a regressive postulation to have existed for thousands of years, various belief systems were put in place in different societies to ensure that it continues to thrive even at the dawn of civilization.
These belief systems include, but are not limited to,
- disregard for and demotion of the female child,
- male-child preference syndrome and the breeding of male entitlement.
Religion is the foremost method of propagation for these ideas. A lot of religions incorporate sexism and misogyny into their doctrine so much so that it is deeply ingrained into the minds of the religious. We see this in texts and doctrines, where women are afterthoughts, inferior to men, deemed as property or, incapable of assuming prominent roles in society. According to a lot of religions, the main role of a woman in society pertain childbearing and domestic subjugation.
This orientation contributes greatly to the general lack of respect of female autonomy, programming members of a society to feel deep disdain for the female gender, in turn, fuelling rape culture.
Since most religions are inherently sexist, we see the prevalence of blatant misogyny existing in societies that hold any form of religion to the highest esteem. We see this in the ways some religions praise women for an ability to raise children or the ability to ‘keep her home’, implying that any woman who is not interested in domesticity is deviating from her purpose. Women are encouraged/ pressured to get married so she can begin these duties, young girls are groomed from birth for ideal future husbands com liabilities, who are waiting on finding ‘a good wife’ to tend to them, as their mothers did.
Women are told that they are inherently evil, the cause of the fall of the human race, thus they spend the rest of their lives atoning for the ‘sins’ of a mythical woman. We are taught to be ashamed of our bodies, because ‘God forbid’ a woman loves the way she looks in a mirror and chooses to flaunt it. Women are taught that their bodies are temples, not for themselves, but existing for the pleasure of men.
The female body is seen as corrupt and sexually immoral, always a temptation for men, hence why the rest of the world become apologists when rape happens. We admonish the survivor, with nonsense about indecent dressing, and walking home late at night or leading men on, because for some reason, the seemingly logical and stronger male is unable to control himself when faced with the beguiling temptation that is the female form. This would also explain the reaction of the Nigerian population during periods of rape scandals involving Nigerian pastors. It would explain why it took years for any form of retribution to happen in the case of victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Religious institutions would rather iron out its dirty laundry in secret, where there is no form of accountability or public scrutiny, thus enabling their long standing tradition of protecting rapists. This is why instead of calling out religious leaders who are predators, they privately slap their wrists (transferring them to other places, where they continue predatory behaviour).
The misogynistic domino effect that religion has on highly religious societies manifests in the way that women are blamed for their victimhood. We are the temptations therefore it is up to us to make sure that we are unappealing to predators, ignoring the fact that predators will prey on their victims regardless of how they present themselves. When this happens, society blames the victim, admonishing her to take better precautions so she does not tempt a predator.
Women who have suffered abuse and exploitation are blamed for it because of their supposed inherent sinfulness. A woman who has been raped “had it coming” because she “exposed herself,” “was asking for it by wearing revealing clothing,” “shouldn’t have been out by that time of night,” and many other misogynistic excuses, all of which point the finger of blame to the victim and exonerates the perpetrator.
Religion for the most part has given predators a social license to operate by the ways it contributes to denigrating women. Perhaps change needs to happen from within these institutions, or maybe they need to be dismantled all together.
Either way, religious institutions have been complicit in abuse for far too long.
By: Rose Okeke
Photo by Stephon Robert: Netflix We Have a Problem – Does it look like I work here.