There is a twisted mentality throughout the world that engenders oppression of women that has, as its basis, extremist religious fundamentalism. Normally, persecution of women is thought to be Islamic countries’ provenance, and, indeed, women in countries such as Taliban-controlled Afghanistan suffered horribly for not following a rigid interpretation of Islamic law. There have been, however, recent reports from Israel of extremist religious fundamentalists persecuting women for not adhering to strict dress codes and modesty rules. In Egypt, the military is accused of conducting virginity tests on female prisoners who were arrested for demonstrating the slow transition of power from military to civilian rule. It appears that around the world there is a rise in religious extremism that targets women for non-compliance of religious edicts and the notion that women must be subordinate to men. Unfortunately, it is not just extremists who oppress women and keep them in subordinate roles; the truth is that oppression of women is rampant in main-stream, seemingly moderate religions.
America’s women can relate to the religious persecution that Egyptian and Israeli women are facing after a full year of assaults by Republicans in Congress and state legislatures on behalf of Christian fundamentalists. It is true that American women suffer beatings and oppression in private from their fine Christian husbands who follow Stone Age biblical rules, but they are not being spat on in public, forced to sit in the back of a bus, or forced to submit to virginity tests; at least not yet. If 2011 was any indication, Republicans may yet match Afghanistan, Israel, and Egyptian fundamentalists’ oppression of women and they will continue using legislation to do it.
In Israel, Ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) are facing a pledge from Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to curb harassment and discrimination after complaints over the actions of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Like American ultra-Christian fundamentalists, Haredim have a higher birthrate than Israeli Jews, with 10 children in a single family not uncommon, and their rising numbers portend a theocratic takeover of the government similar to America and when that occurs, they, like Republicans, will begin using the legislative process to impose their Stone Age edicts on Israeli women. However, for now, Israeli women are fortunate their government protects them from persecution at the hands of religious extremists and hopefully, they are able to avoid following in the footsteps of America where one political party legislates the bible’s harsh rules against women’s rights.
In 2011, there were nearly 1,000 bills in state legislatures to restrict a woman’s right to legal abortion services. The sad news is that the Republicans in the House waged an all-out war on women that was wide-ranging as well as drastic on a federal level. The assailants in Congress and state houses were not limited to anti-abortion measures, but were as far-reaching as restricting birth control, family counseling, and critical cancer screenings for low-income women. The anti-woman proponents found novel ways to persecute women and their right to choose, and although all of the legislation attacking women is hideous, there are some that defy belief in America in 2011.
The personhood movement is the most unbelievable approach to forced birth and although voters in states like Mississippi rejected attempts to define a zygote as a person, there are 24 other states reworking Mississippi’s version of the bill to help give a single-celled organism the same rights as an American adult. The movement is promoted by Catholics whose goal is outlawing abortion, contraceptives, and stem cell research, and one Republican presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, called for a national personhood movement and constitutional amendment. It is one thing for religious fundamentalists in the most Christian state in the Union to push a Catholic belief on the entire state, but a major Republican presidential candidate pushing a national constitutional amendment informs the beginning of theocracy by Constitutional edict. Of course, Gingrich and Christian fundamentalists are doing what white male chauvinists have done for centuries, and that is oppress women by biblical authority.
The other tragic development that bears repeating is the “Protect Life Act” passed by Republicans in the House that allows hospitals that receive federal funds, and by extension all medical professionals, to “reject any woman in need of an abortion procedure, even if it is necessary to save her life.” Republicans have gone to such extremes to satisfy religious fundamentalists that they banned “tax credits or deductions to pay for abortions or insurance.“ Their ban includes any health plan that offers abortion services regardless if a woman uses the services or not. Republicans decry government overreach as a matter-of-course, and yet they have no issue dictating what type of health insurance plan women choose.
Perhaps the most egregious Republican assault on women was H.R. 3, a bill that redefined rape to mean “forcible rape.” It meant that a woman who does not physically fight a rapist’s advances whether it was a stranger, husband, or acquaintance, she could not claim she was raped or get an abortion. The Republicans were joined by 16 despicable Democrats in passing a bill that means if their wives or 10-year old daughters said no to unwanted sexual predator’s advances and were not beaten, they simply were not raped and would be forced to give birth to their attackers’ progeny. It is another instance of forced birth and although the bill did not reach fruition in the Senate, there was legislative manipulation that tells the courts that “statutory rape cases will not be covered by Medicaid if the law passed and was challenged in court.”
America, like Israel, is allegedly a modern industrialized society that pioneered the information age and is responsible for the technological revolution, but religious extremists and their assault on women’s rights harkens back to Bronze Age biblical Moses. Israeli women have their government to protect them, but the religious fanatics have infiltrated the halls of Congress and state legislatures to launch the harshest attack in decades in the war on women and the basis, like ultra-Orthodox Jews and Taliban, is religion.
America’s women deserve better than to face persecution, forced birth, and loss of personal rights at the hands of conservative Christian lawmakers whether in state legislatures or the United States Congress. Republicans distinguished themselves as equal to the Taliban’s religious fanatics and should take a lesson from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and pledge to crack down on attacks on women; not perpetrate them. In order to impose the bible as law of the land, Republicans, fueled by misogynistic rage, have taken extraordinary steps to force birth on women, deprive them of their choice of health insurance, and die because a hospital refuses to perform a life-saving abortion.
The Republicans have used the bible and Christian fundamentalists’ pressure to impose their deep-seated belief that women must subject themselves to a man’s will under any circumstance. Republicans should understand that god may be proud of their misogyny and chauvinism, but decent Americans are repulsed by their Stone Age biblical edicts masquerading as socially conservative legislation. If Republicans do not care enough for America’s women to protect their rights as citizens of an allegedly freedom-loving nation, then perhaps they care about their own wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters’ rights now and in the future because there comes a point when religious frenzy encompasses a majority of the population and at that point no woman in America will be safe whether she is married to a senator or congressional representative.