Religion, culture and prejudice against women

Dr Nontando Hadebe, University of South Africa, Pretoria
Dr Nontando Hadebe, University of South Africa, Pretoria
On this website we are exploring the hypothesis that ‘religious’ prejudice against women arises from society and culture rather than from religion itself. And this, we believe, could be true across religions. Clarifying this fact would liberate many women from intolerable burdens, women who might submit themselves to prejudice and discrimination because, they think, it is ‘part of their religion’. It would also give more men the incentive to support women’s emancipation.

Our website seeks evidence on the links between ‘religious’ prejudice and culture. We need evidence based on facts, evidence that is researched and studied, evidence that has been published in creditable academic publications. We need evidence from across religions that may establish a pattern followed in a variety of human societies. This will enable us to analyse more fully what human forces of original understanding and new interpretation are involved.

We acknowledge the extensive research done by women scholars in religion and theology across the world. We invite scholars to contribute to this research from their own work or scholars in their religion. As we gather evidence and scholarship from all over the world and from the different religions, let us look at these with new eyes and ask new questions. We also ask younger women to read the material presented and ask new questions, bring new perspectives and topics so that we broaden our horizons. Men and male scholars are also invited to bring their questions and insights into this discussions so that together we enter into a common struggle against all forms of prejudice against women from every source.

We aim, ultimately, to examine and refine our findings through international collaboration in an academic WIKI. This in turn will lead to a joint publication that may lead to fruitful changes in some of the world’s religions.

To explore our hypothesis, we have, for now, started three discussion lines, while being open to suggestions of other discussion lines that you may have to further deepen our analysis and understanding:

  1. Religion, culture and prejudice against women. What evidence do we have that prejudice against women arose from cultural sources rather than from religion itself? We run this discussion at the end of this page.
  2. Religious texts and prejudice against women. Were scripture and tradition influenced by the patriarchal context in which they arose? Does this imply that these religious text need to re-interpreted in our own time? Join the discussion here.
  3. Is ‘God’ himself/herself the cause of prejudice against women? If ‘God’ is not the cause, how do we know? What evidence do we have to prove this? Join the discussion here.

On this page we discuss these questions: does prejudice against women attributed to religion, actually come from its cultural background? Does this apply to every religion? Can we prove this from various examples? Are you aware of academic studies in which evidence about this has been published?


  1. Maria van Hoesel says:

    When I was young, Catholic mothers in the Netherlands were still expected to be ‘churched’. It meant that they had to be purified a month after childbirth before they could take part in church services. My mother, who was an early feminist of sorts, refused to submit to the rite. “Why don’t fathers need to be purified?”, she used to say. “And why should women need to be purified after such a wonderful deed as giving life to another human being?”
    Natalie Kn√∂del and others have shown that ‘churching’ only became common in western European church practice from the 11th century. She also shows that the rite arose from a mixture of religious and social customs, some of them pre-Christian. See: “The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called The Churching of Women”, University of Durham. 1995. The text is online here:

    • Nontando Hadebe says:

      Thank you so much Maria for this information and the link to the article. I was not aware of this practice and in the light of our discussions, this is exactly the type of information we are seeking to integrate into our global research. I love your mum’s response to also purify your dad! – classic!
      Your contribution is valuable, we will include it and know that it will generate discussions – thank you

  2. Maria van Hoesel says:

    Thank you, Nantondo. I don’t know customs prevailing in Africa, but certainly in Europe there existed a ‘taboo’, a ‘fear’ of female blood. Although it derived mainly from pagan sources, the taboo infected Christianity. Women were held to be unclean during their monthly periods, and were often, during that time, kept away from approaching the altar and receiving the sacraments. A good description of the practice can be found in Uta Ranke-Heinemann’s article: “Female Blood: The Ancient Taboo and its Christian Consequences”. Online here: Another interesting publication is: Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, T.Buckley and A. Gottlieb (eds.), Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Nontando Hadebe says:

      This is significant contribution because ‘uncleanliness’ associated with menstruation is also mentioned in Hebrew Bible – I would like other contributors to add on from their experiences from their cultures on this issue. Thank you so much for opening up this discussion on taboos related to women’s bodily functions…

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