During Purim, we celebrate two women who find themselves oppressed because of their gender.
Queen Vashti is banished from her kingdom when she tries to save her dignity from her drunk husband. When Vashti disobeys her husband, it causes a nation wide crisis, as the King’s advisors instruct him to pass legislation forcing all wives to obey their husbands in every manner. The king’s advisor Memuchan believes that the example of Vashti’s disobedience will spread to all the women in the kingdom, threatening patriarchy. Queen Esther finds herself in a vulnerable position because she cannot safely go visit the king to confront him about Haman’s decree without his permission.
While this kind of patriarchy may seem absurd to those of us living in modernity, not all women have achieved the same freedom over their lives we enjoy:
- Violence causes more death and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15-44 than war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents (World Bank Study World Development Report: Investing in Health, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.)
- At least 1 in 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her (General Assembly. In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women: Report of the Secretary General, 2006. A/61/122/Add.1. 6 July 2006)
- 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with women continuing to die of pregnancy-related causes at the rate of one a minute. (UNPF: Maternal mortality figures show limited progress in making motherhood safer, October 2007)
- 41 million girls worldwide are still denied a primary education. (UNESCO, Education for all: Global monitoring report 2008, Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2007, p184.)
- Women produce up to 80% of food in developing countries, but are more likely to be hungry than men, and are often denied the right to own land (Food and Agriculture Organization, The feminisation of hunger what do the surveys tell us? 2001, and The state of food insecurity in the world 2005, Rome: 2005, p17)
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that every person is created in the image of God-- male and female. We must seek a world in which women have the same opportunities for self-fulfillment as men, are not disproportionately affected by violence and poverty, and receive the same health care as men.