The Christianity is the world’s largest religion,

The principal question enquired in this this paper is not whether religion influences gender equality, but to what extent and how? This report will highlight severe impact of religion on gender equality and examine as well as offer a religious perspective on gender equality for main existing religions.Our world comprises an impenetrable number of religions, therefore it is generally difficult to give a precise definition of religion. Religion is a social phenomenon that can be defined as the spiritual connection of one group of people with a higher, holy being – God1.      Currently, Christianity and Islam represent the two religions with the most followers. Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with approximately 2.1 billion followers worldwide (31% of global population). The second-largest religion is Islam, with approximately 1.8 billion followers worldwide (24.1% of global population)2.According to European Institute of Gender Equality, ”gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.”3The liaison between religion and gender equality is a complex one. In many parts of the world, religion shapes social behavior, cultural, political and economic norms of the societies. In fact, interpretation of religious transcripts defined by Qur’an and the Bible deeply affects the status of women and men in those societies. Even though that throughout history the religious authority was held predominantly by men, women had a pivotal role in the religious life. Within the family and the community, women implement and embody religious teachings and traditions, and pass them on to future generations.Global perspectiveThroughout history, the majority of societies in which Islam and Christianity emerged were of patriarchal disposition; therefore, the voice of women was hardly heard. The same societies eventually stifled some of the changes in status of women.Every religion agrees on women being respected as well as their crucial role in family life, especially with emphasis on women as mothers and wives. However, they do not advocate emancipation in the sense of total equality with men. That does not indicate that men and women are the same, but that they have the same rights.In Christianity, the initial portrayal of gender equality was given in gospel narratives by Jesus himself 4. His respect as well as his attitude towards a Samaritan woman, regarding her gender, religion and marital status was contrary to Jewish law. He showed a new way of living as well as behaving. 5,6 According to James, Christ “sermonized equal dignity and personhood on women in a culture and time when they were not considered worthy of such treatment, realizing the injustice of persecuting the woman while no punishment was directed toward her male.”7 Further, the gender equality in Christian marriage was also a part of the early law and theology.8 Even though, by the Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in July of 1848, women’s formal equality was recognized, it was too advanced for its time9.Regardless of religion, over the past centuries , there were many cases of political engagements of women as rulers.10 Nowadays, the gender equality presents a great issue worldwide; however, that is not the case in church hierarchy. On June 15th 2014, Antje Jackelén became an Archbishop of Uppsala diocese and therefore the top leader of the Church of Sweden. Since October 2011, Helga Haugland Byfuglien has held the same role in Norway, and in Iceland 11. That means that 15 million out of 26 million Nordic citizens live in countries where the highest authority in the largest religion is a woman. Regardless of your faith or whether you are religious at all, this is of a great symbolic importance. On the other hand, in Islam gender equality presents a critical issue. The evidence for this statement can be found in Qur’an 12.  For instance, a man is allowed to have several wives simultaneously, while a woman is allowed to have one husband. According to Qur’an, one man is equal to two women. Qur’an further states that a man needs to show his domination over his wives body as his domination over his land. Sharia (Islamic) law is followed by non-secular Islamic states, where religion and state are undivided. In secular states, such as Turkey and Pakistan, the Sharia law is not strictly followed. Therefore, nowadays, there are women that are prime ministers and presidents 13. Movements for Muslim women to seek roles in national leadership have increased rapidly. Greater opportunities for women in education have further encouraged their involvement in politics 14. The Qur’an supports the role of women in politics, such as its mention of the Queen of Sheba. Although leadership opportunities for Muslim women are cemented in religious texts and continue to expand today, earlier generations had different understandings of women’s roles.National perspectiveSerbia is a country where all religions are treated equally. According to the latest census from 2016, about 85% of Serbian citizens are Orthodox believers, 10.4% are Catholics, 3.3% Muslims and 0.92% are Protestants, and the rest are religions with an insignificant number of followers16.Today, women graduate from universities and work, as do men, while they often earn more. The relationship between a husband and wife is a complex one; they both take care of their family, as well as divide the family income; which would be preposterous in patriarchal times.The Bible states: “Women, obey your husbands as the Lord” 15, as well as “Great trouble, distress and shame, if a woman rules over her husband”16To one who does not know the Bible, which says: “There are no more Jews or Yelin; there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, all of you are in union with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28), the Ephesians 5:22, previous statements may sound exasperating. In front of the God, as members of the Church of Christ, both genders are equal.Orthodox Christianity respects the equality to some extent. For instance, it is forbidden for women to enter Holy Mountain (Athos) and Monastery Hilandar17. The tradition says that Virgin Mary was blown off course when she was trying to sail to Cyprus and landed on Mount Athos. She liked it so much that she prayed to her son that she should be given it as her own and he agreed. That place is still called ‘the garden of the mother of God’ 18.The Serbian law of churches and religious communities defines the existence of Islamic religion in Serbia19. The Islamic community follows Qur’an as its legal code; however, since its followers are citizens of a secular state (Serbia), both men and women are allowed to practice Qur’an as they believe and want to. Therefore, rights of both genders, regarding their role in family, education, society, science, medicine and business, are equal. A woman has a right to strictly follow the Islamic law, wear hijab or a burka, or follow modern fashion. The interpretation of hijab in Serbia is related to the fact that Qur’an is understood in its lightest form – protection of women. Islamic community has its own schools, Medresas, where both men and women can graduate after 4 years of education.20,21 They have their own Faculty of Islamic Studies as well. According to Selma Mekic, TV reporter, which has a great reputation as well as influence in Serbia, the wearing of hijab is a way of protecting women in order to be respected. She, furthermore, stated that following the Qur’an does not affect her ability to be respected in her profession. 22Personal PerspectiveI am neither a believer nor do I practice any religion. My family follows the Orthodox religion; therefore, I respect the Orthodox tradition – Family’s Saint Patron’s Day or “Slava”. In November of 2014, Slava was inscribed within UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Slava (in Serbian) is a feast day of every Orthodox family.  The family Saint is inherited from the patriarch (head of the household) – from father to son, while women do inherit the Slava of their husbands upon marriage. Women cannot inherit Slava from their fathers; therefore, this can be presented as a gender equality issue. My Slava is on 9th of December, which is the celebration of the Patron and Saint Alypius.  I respect and understand the will and the need of other people to believe in different religions and have faith in different things. I have friends that are Muslims; that gives me additional knowledge on Islamic religion. My beliefs are in a line with the scientific methods and motivations. I cannot believe in transcendental forces, since I strongly believe and respect the laws of physics and mathematics. Although I am neither a follower nor a believer, I would gladly be a part of a debate or a grandstand discussing gender equality. Possible scenariosThe analysis of Klinogorova23 showed that in secular states, regardless of a religion, the number of women at universities and political life is much higher than the number in non-secular states. Moreover, the analysis demonstrates that the discussion about men’s and women’s rights and positions are strongly affected by the geopolitical situation of the country which is being examined.It is expected that in the countries with traditional orientations, both cultural and political, the gender inequality level remains high. In secular states, the gender equality issue decreases, because of the EU laws regulating the rights and relationships among sexes.If we take into consideration the modernisation and liberalisation of the world as part of the processes of globalisation, it can be expected that religious societies will become more cooperative to gender equality, because patriarchal structures will wane. Notwithstanding this, women are advised to take more interest in religious doctrines and participate in the formulation of new interpretations. In such circumstances, religious institutions might support the reforms toward gender equality24. The most significant changes are expected in Muslim societies. Due to the rise of religious fundamentalism and post-secularism25, changes can occur in the opposite direction. Even in the more liberal Christian societies, progress towards absolute gender equality has not reached its final destination.Possible courses of actionEconomic emancipation should be supported by civil societies and governmental bodies. They should provide equal access to education and strive for an increased participation of women in politics. In such way, gender equality will not stand as an issue any longer but will strengthen democratic principles related to it. Institutions such as European Institute of Gender Equality, through their actions as well as polices, methods and tools, have to promote gender equality. Organization of World Conferences Debate and Workshops regarding religion and gender equality will also contribute to emancipation of women. As it was shown on Serbian National Television26, a debate was organized among Muslim women and Orthodox women, promoting the tolerance among religions and destroying the prejudices regarding Islam. Such kind of TV shows have to be organized in every corner of the world, in order to decrease the level of intolerance as well as violence among the followers of different religions.Personal ResponseI conclude that there is a dramatic need for a deep change in a way that religion treats gender equality problem. In my opinion a lot of effort has to be put in changing the way of thinking. Thinking in religion, the course of education, trough constant evaluation of the position of women in religion and society, has to define equality. I think that respect for gender equality has to start from family, school as well a media; and I’ll do my best to promote equality in religion and society among my friends no matter what religion they follow.