O level Notes : FRS - Gender In Various Religions

Both men and women are created in the image of God giving them an equal importance. They are different characteristics that define a person as masculine or feminine. Duties and activities of males and females are shaped by society. Different religions have different perspectives on gender roles.

There are many types of women empowerment  programmes, which include  social, legal, educational, economic  and political empowerment.   Various religions  have  enhanced  women  by  giving  scholarships  to girls  and  women, giving  them financial support to start small and medium enterprises and holding  women empowerment campaigns.



1. Indigenous religion

In African societies, men and women have specific roles defined by the society and in accordance with Indigenous religion.

Gender roles for women in Indigenous Religion

(a) Household duties

African   women   do   household   chores   such   as cooking, sweeping, fetching firewood and water.

(b) Child bearing and nurturing

Women are responsible for bringing  up children in the right path. It is them who spend most of the time with children who will in turn become closer to them. A mother’s influence dominates in the house and it is believed that good children reflect a good mother. Mothers teach their children values and ethics.

(c) Preserving culture

Aunties preserve culture of respect, honour and dignity through educating girls. It is the duty of women to shape the future of girls according to community’s expectations. Women such as aunties educate girls on their future roles.

(d) Religious roles

Some women are religious practitioners such as medicine women, spirit mediums, diviners and traditionalists. Holding such roles, they have a special role in people’s lives as they are in connection with the ancestral world. These women  relay messages from the other world and are highly respected in the community. Women who are traditionalists play the role of counsellors, judges, advisors, fortune-tellers and revealers of secrets. As ancestors, women  are responsible for fertility, good health and protection of the living.

(e) Source of wealth

Women are a source of wealth through dowry (lobola or roora). Women acquire property and gain income through craftwork like basketry, pottery, weaving and farming.

(f) Being submissive

Women are to be subject to their husbands. They depend on males and cannot make decisions without consulting their husbands.

(g) Ritual specialists


Women play important roles in personal rituals associated with birth, puberty and death. At childbirth, women express gratitude to God with prayers and sacrifices and at death they sing dirges to express their sorrow. Being ritual specialists, they are upholders of community norms and traditions. Some women are rain messengers and it is believed women have a special power to bring rain by appeasing the goddess of rain and fertility.Their duties include making sacrifices, offering prayers and conducting  private and public rites and ceremonies.


(h) Musical role


A  lot  of  festivals  abound  in  Indigenous   religion and  there is singing  and  dancing  by well-dressed women  during   festivals.  Some  of  these  festivals are in honour of the most important divinities and ancestors. Women also sing  songs  during  various rituals and ceremonies.


Gender roles of men in Indigenous religion


(a) Decision makers

Men are decision makers; it is their sole responsibility to make all decisions for the good of the family.

(b) Providers

Men are to love and take good care of their wives. It is their duty to provide food, shelter and clothing to his family. Women are dependent on males.

(c) Head of the family

As the head of the family, a father has a say in everything that happens at his home. He solves problems that arise in the family. He has full control of his homestead.


(d) Ritual specialists


As religious practitioners they conduct  ceremonies and rituals. Priesthood is a highly  respected office in African societies. Priests give advice and perform judicial and political functions in addition to caring for the temples and shrines to which they are attached. They also intermediate between people and the spirit world.


(e) Traditional doctors


With their expertise as traditional doctors, they symbolise  the hopes of their society such as good health, protection and security from evil forces. They cure disease which cannot be cured in the modern hospitals.


(f) Mediums and diviners


As mediums and diviners, they relay messages from the other worldandalsorevealthe secrets of the past, present and the future when they are possessed by their deities. People consult them on private matters and when having a national crisis.

  • They consult the ancestral spirits for protection of the family and society.
  • Indigenous religion believes in life after death and deceased men become ancestors who will protect and guide the living. As ancestors they intermediate between the people and the Supreme Being. They fight evil spirits and drive them away from their family descendants where they once belonged.
  • Most leadership positions  such as chieftainship  and headmen  are for men.  They have a duty to protect morals and values in Indigenous  religion. Through  prohibitions  on sacred places they do not only conserve the environment but they safeguard the sacred places preserving African culture.
  • It is men who pay lobola to bring spiritual union between families of the bride and the groom.


2. Judaism

Judaism has always maintained that God has both masculine and feminine qualities. Women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men but not less important.

Gender roles for women in Judaism

(a) Household keepers

A woman is to be a wife, mother and keeper of the household. It is her who determines the character and atmosphere of the entire home. Her role is to make a home God’s sanctuary.

(b) Child nurturing

Women  are responsible  for  nurturing  a  sense  of Jewishness in young children and for the infusion of a Jewish atmosphere and peace into the home.


(c) Spiritual influence over her family

It is the duty of a woman  to make the Torah and Jewish traditions a source and guide of her children’s lives. She should see to it that rituals and ceremonies are observed. It is her role to preserve Jewish identity and values in her family.

(d) Participating in religious activities

Women voluntarily recite certain prayers in the synagogues and voluntarily read the Torah. Traditionally, women are to light Sabbath candles, to separate a portion of the dough when baking the Sabbath loaf and to observe the laws of menstrual or family purity that regulate physical contact between husbands  and wives. During biblical times women held important positions such as judges and prophetess. Judges  4:4, Deborah was a judge.

Gender roles for men in Judaism


(a) Bread winners

Men work to provide for the family.

(b) Religious duties


Men hold leadership positions such as being priests and rabbis. As priests they take lead in sacrifices and burnt offerings. Rabbis teach in the synagogue  and are consulted on Jewish laws. It is also their role to teach the Torah.

(c) Men  lead rituals

This is often commemorated  by having  the new adults, male only in the Orthodox  tradition, lead the congregation  in prayer and publicly read a portion of the Torah. They participated in wars to defend the Ark of the Covenant during biblical times. As Levites, in the temple they sang Psalms, assisted the priests and sometimes interpreted the law and Temple ritual to the public.

3. Christianity

Christians believe that both men and women were created in the image of God and this gives them an equal importance. However, men and women are created with different roles in society and in the church.

Gender roles for women in Christianity

(a) Child bearing and nurturing


1 Timothy 2:15 women are to give birth safely if they have faith and love. Women are responsible of bringing up children in a Christian way. They are responsible for the well-being of the family.

(b) Being submissive

Ephesians 5:22 says that women are to submit to their husbands. They are to live under the authority of their husbands. Women must respect men.

(c) Housekeepers

Women are to work in their houses taking care of the household chores. They are household keepers (1 Timothy 5:14). They are managers of the household. The home and children is to be a woman’s priority.

(d) To be loving

Women are to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4).

(e) Fellow workers in church

Women are to use their talents in the Lord’s service. Romans 16:2 Phoebe was a deaconess and this role is witnessed in different churches today. Priscilla was a fellow worker in Christ as Paul pointed out in Romans

16:3. Women today teach Sunday school, direct choirs, assist pastors and elders in calling on the sick and also assist in works of charity in the congregation  and community. The Seventh Day Adventist has a Women’s Ministries department in which women evangelise and do a lot of charity work in communities.

(f) Marital role

A woman must live together with her husband in order to fulfil the purpose of life (Galatians 3:28).

(g) Leadership role

Women today in churches have leadership roles, for instance ZAOGA ordain women as elders. The Family of God Church have female pastors. Women are also prophetesses in some churches like the white garment churches.

Gender roles for men in Christianity

(a) To be good husbands

A man should love his wife and not to be bitter to his wife (Colossians 3:19). This is one of the most important roles of a Christian man.

(b) Head of the family


As a head of the family he makes decisions and has authority (1 Corinthians 11:3). The headship of man in his role of leadership to which the woman is subordinate is therefore God’s arrangement for good order.

(c) Bread winners

It is the duty of the man to provide for his family’s welfare. Women depend on men.

(d) Disciplining of children

Fathers are to instill discipline in children who are in turn to listen to their parents.

(e) Leading the church

Leadership of the church is ascribed to men in the Bible. The pastoral office has been restricted to men (1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:34ff). Men are to be deacons in church (Acts 6:2-6) men of good repute, full of wisdom and spirit. They are also elders who teach, preach and instruct on doctrines (Titus 1:5-6). Men are bishops in churches.

4. Islam

According  to the Quran, men and women are spiritually equal. Gender roles manifest themselves partially because men and women are sometimes allotted different rights and different cultural expectations.

Gender roles for women in Islam

(a) Social role

  • Women  are    great    mothers,     obedient daughters, caring wives and equal sisters.
  • Asamothersheraiseschildrenandhascontrol over her children four times more compared to a  father.  She   is  a  domestic   provider that supplies a nurturing environment of unconditional love and devotion.
  • A girl child is to be equally educated as a boy child.
  • Women are  caretakers  of  men  the  same way as men  are the caretakers of women. Wives are to love and take good care of their husbands for a healthy relationship.

(b) Religious role

  • Among  the  Muslims,  women   are  to  be virtuous and pious. Muslim women must be righteous and pious out of the fear of God as is a Muslim man.
  • Women have to play their role in achieving piety and virtuousness in society and propagate it to others as well.
  • Some Islamic communities  have appointed women  as imams  normally  with  ministries restricted to leading  women  in prayer and other charitable ministries.

(c) Matrimonial role

  • A woman has an equal stake in the matrimonial  relationship  and has her say in matters of the relationship.
  • A wife is to work towards the bettering of the matrimonial relationship.
  • A woman is to carry her duties of a good wife and to raise the children with devotion and enthusiasm.
  • Consent is to be sought from a woman before engaging her into marriage so that she can better play her role.

(d) Educational role

  • The Muslim community encourages the role of women in Islam to be well educated and the Islamic world wants them to excel within their areas of interest and expertise.
  • Both on academic level and within their culture, a Muslim woman is to educate herself because the Muslim community relies on the next generation to lead them.
  • This role of women is considered as vital and honourable.

Gender roles for men in Islam

(a) Provides for the family

  • The man provides shelter, food, clothing to the woman according to his capability.
  • Men are the maintainers and protectors of women, they provide for women from their wealth.

(b) Guardian of the family

  • It is because man’s power of logic is stronger than women’s  that  they  are  guardians  of their families.
  • A man is to support his family and prepare the grounds for their happiness.
  • A guardian has responsibilities towards those under his guardianship which include taking care of his wife and her desires.
  • Men are  expected   to  be  protectors  and caretakers of the family.

(c) Raising the children

  • It is the sole responsibility of a father to raise his children though the woman may end up shouldering more of the responsibility.
  • It is an ethical, human and Islamic duty  of both parents to properly bring up their children in order to raise good Muslims and family members.

(d) Head of the family

  • The Quran gives the man superiority over the family structure in order to prevent dissension and friction between the spouses.

(e) Religious role

  • Men are expected to offer the five daily prayers at the nearest mosque.
  • Leadership roles in the mosque such as the imam are ascribed to men.
  • As leaders in the mosque men have a duty to teach and interpret the Quran.


Almost all religions have empowered women at one point or the other. Women empowerment campaigns have been witnessed in Zimbabwe and the world at large.

Women empowerment

Women empowerment  is a process in which women elaborate and recreate what they can be, do and accomplish in various religions. It can also mean to promote women participation in all areas and sectors to build  stronger  economies, improve  quality  of life and bring  gender  equality  with equal amount  of opportunities. Empowerment  involves helping  women to take their own decisions  by breaking  all their personal rules that the society and their family has created for them as well as making them independent in all aspects from thought, mind, decision, wealth and to bring equality in society.Women empowerment is also granting women the freedom to make life choices. There are many types of women empowerment that includes:

(a) Human rights or individual rights - in religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity, a woman should be able to express these rights freely, to have self-confidence and power to negotiate and decide.

(b) Social women empowerment this is the promotion of gender equality. This has been seen in the education sector and various social programs where women’s issues have been advanced.

(c) Educational empowerment empowering women with knowledge, skills and self-confidence making women aware of their rights and havingconfidence to claim them. In Zimbabwe for example at the University of Zimbabwe’s law school girls’ cut off points is lower than that of boys and this empowers women.

(d) Economic and occupational empowerment it means reducing  women financial dependence  on male counterparts be it father, brother, or husband. In Zimbabwe the Small and Medium Enterprise ministry support women by giving them loans for them to be economically empowered. The Women’s Bank has also been established to help empower women. Another example is the churches in Zimbabwe like ZAOGA that encourage women to be entrepreneurs as a way of poverty alleviation.

How religion enhances women empowerment

Many religions have worked hard in trying to empower women. This has been witnessed across the board as women are seen having leadership roles in different religions, many religions are empowering women in different ways.

1. Indigenous religion

Historically, women were given a low status in society. Globalisation and changing of times have positively improved the status of women.

  • Indigenous religion is now supporting  the rights of women and even women candidates are now seen partaking in national elections.
  • There are women who are seen as traditional healers. These women are economically empowered by their religion as they can now have a living out of IR.
  • Some women are now inheriting their father’s property after his death with some now running their fathers’ farms and businesses and this being supported by IR so religion is now empowering women.
  • Chiefs are now seen protecting the rights of women and restoring their dignity, chiefs are seen punishing men who take advantage of women buy punishing them and even reporting them to law enforcing agents in cases where the rights of women have been violated.
  • These leaders are also seen working tirelessly for the protection of girl children, they encourage education  of  women  and  protection  of  girls.  At  most  gatherings   chiefs  are  seen  and  heard encouraging  people to send their girl children to school and teaching the community the negative effects of marrying  off young  girls. They also are against  the payment  of avenging  spirits using women and children, they encourage the payment to be done in form of cash or cattle not girls as they too support women empowerment.

All this shows the significant work that IR has done in the emancipation and empowerment of women.

1. Judaism

  • Women can now worship together with men. In traditional Jewish religion men did not worship together with women, but there has been changes as men and women can now hold mixed prayers. For example, the Israeli government now allows mixed prayers in the Western wall that was only used by males.
  • Women are now also found serving in religious councils and this was unheard of. B’nai Jeshurun became the first woman to sit in a Jewish synagogue board, all this point to women empowerment.
  • Women became Rabbis. This was in 1972 and now there are hundreds of women rabbis and this shows that the Jewish religion enhancing women empowerment.
  • There is also a number of Jewish  women  in parliament.  A total of 30 women  were sworn into Israeli parliament. This is a great achievement  for the Jewish  religion  and that is enhancing  the empowerment of women.
  • It is now from the kitchen to the boardroom for Jewish women. Many women are now doing carriers that where dominated by males. Women are now in aviation, Smadar Schechter and Merav Schwartz became first Jewish female pilots.

2. Christianity

Christianity is working greatly to enhance the empowerment  of women. A lot has been said and done in this regard.

  • Leadership  positions-   many   women   are now found in many leadership positions. Some women are now pastors. These were male  dominated  positions  and  this  shows that Christianity has enhanced the status of women.
  • Most churches conduct business workshops and church conferences which seek to empower women.
  • Most women have started successful business ventures as a result of being empowered by churches.
  • Scholarships  – Many scholarships  have been availed for women.  Christianity has made available  education for women and girls. This has also been supported by the establishment of girls’ schools. This enhances women empowerment, these schools include The Dominican Convent, Bonda among others.
  • Preachers and prophets – many women now hold the prophetic  office and some have become prophetesses. This all point to the point that there is women empowerment in Christianity.


4. Islam


Women are now being  empowered  in the Islamic religion.  This has been done through  a number of notable ways.


  • Islamic women who do voluntary work are being  acknowledged. In the past these women were not seen as important people in the community  but nowadays these volunteers are being  given their significance. This does not only urge them to do more work but it also encourages others to do voluntary work and this has empowered women significantly  in Islam. These women who do voluntary work also strive to enlighten their fellow women and this has been for the betterment of the lives of Muslim women.
  • Doors have been opened for Islamic women to do jobs that had been mostly done by men for example in the aviation sector like being  pilots and some are now working  in the army. All this proves the steps that have been done by Islam to enhance women empowerment.
  • The Islamic religion has offered so many  women  and girls  scholarships  and these have greatly helped in the economic empowerment of women. There are many Islamic schools that support the education of girl children for example Chinyika Primary School in Chitsa, Gutu in Masvingo. Girls are given free education and many have been successful in life because of these scholarships.
  • The Islamic religion enhance women empowerment by recognising and validating  the traditional women’s roles in the society. Historically, the household duties of women were never acknowledged yet women do so much for the family. They do so much for free and Islam is now acknowledging those traditional roles like chores for the family upkeep. This helps so much in the empowerment of women, as women  are seen as contributing  to the development  of the family  and  in turn development of the nation. By carrying out these duties women have benefited the Muslim families and Muslim communities.
  • In Islam there is the Muslim women debate club. This is where women get together and discuss issues. Ideas are shared and this has greatly changed the lives of Muslim women. These clubs debate on many different religious issues and come up with better and applicable religious views for the Islamic women. Here women talk and deliberate on issues that concern and affect them.
  • The Islamic religion also addresses the issues of domestic violence and family abuse. The teachings of the prophet Muhammad were also against abuse of women, this can even be seen where the prophet said that in case of polygamy the man was supposed to have only a maximum of four wives. This was to limit the abuse of women. The man was supposed to take these wives only if he could afford to look after the wives. This was a way of enhancing the status of women.