Changing attitudes to gender roles in the UK
Until the middle of the twentieth century most people thought that a woman's role in society was to stay at home and look after the children. Women's role in society has dramatically changed along with their legal rights and now in the twenty-first century women have completely different lives. In recent years the roles of men have changed significantly too, many men take a more active role raising the children and taking care of the home and are sometimes more women to do 'women's work'.
Today in the UK legally women and men have equal rights. Nevertheless inequalities still exist, for instance recent surveys suggest rates of pay are still not always equal and men can earn around 17% more. Traditional roles do still exist with women still doing the majority of household chores and childcare. There are also still many instances of discrimination and prejudice.
-Discrimination: Treating people less favourably because of their ethnicity,gender,colour,sexuality,age or class.
-Prejudice: The belief that some people are inferior or superior without even knowing them.
-Sexism: Discrimination against people because of their gender.
Christian attitudes to equal rights for women:
The Bible teaches that men and women are equal 'God created man in his own image...male and female, he created them' (Genesis 1:27). Jesus treated women with great respect and he had many female followers and he taught and helped them as he would help men.
Today Christians in general consider that men and women should have equal rights, although their roles may be different. However one serious area of inequality remains, they are still not allowed to be priests within the Roman Catholic Church.
In the past Christians used to see women as inferior because of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. In this story it was the woman who was sinful. Today Christians believe the story can be interpreted differently and can be seen not as a story about a sinful woman who tempted her husband but as a story where the man and woman share not only their sin and punishment, but also God's love (equal in God's eyes).
Muslim attitudes to equal rights for women:
Islam teaches that men and women are equal and created by God 'All people are equal... as the teeth of a comb' (Hadith). Traditionally in Islam men and women are seen as having different but equally as important roles. The Qur'an teaches that God made men stronger and so they should protect women, who, in their turn, are required to have children.The Qur'an heavily stresses sexual equality although in practice this has not necessarily happened.
The Qur'an states that both men and women should dress modestly. Many muslim women in the UK choose to wear loose fitting Western-style dress with a headscarf (hijab) to cover the hair and shoulders. Some others wear a burqa when outside the home (full-length loose fitting garment which designed so that even the woman's body outline cannot be seen.
Unlike men, women aren't obliged to attend the mosque for prayer although many women do. In the mosque men and women worship in different areas to avoid distraction, however they worship at the same time and follow the same imam. Girls are given the same religious education as boys in the madrasah and the Hadith states 'The search for knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, male or female'.
Muslim women are free to work and many point out that the Prophet's wife had run a very succesful business, however her first responsibility is the house and family.
The UK as a multi-ethnic society
The UK has a multi-ethnic society which means that it is up of many different races of people, cultures and nationalities. Many people have been worried about the numbers of different people coming to live in the UK but in fact the UK has always been a land of many races.
More recently there has been a large-scale immigration into the UK from the countries in Eastern Europe (particularly Poland). This is because they recently joined the European Union and their citizens are now given the right to work in other EU countries. Between 2004 and 2006 there were more than 600,000 Eastern Europeans who came to live and work in the UK.
Advantages to a multi-ethnic society:
- Helps people of different races and cultures understand each other better
- It gives a wider variety of food, music, clothes and culture
- It can bring new people with fresh ideas into a society
Government action to promote community cohesion:
Community cohesion means different communities living together and sharing four things in common
- A common vision and sense of belonging
- Appreciating and valuing differences between people of different cultures
- Ensuring equal opportunities for all in the community
- Making strong and positive relationships with people of different races
The UK has offered a safe place for people from many different places overseas. People come here to escape from their own countries and problems like war, suffering or persecution.
Reasons for prejudice: Fear that people coming from abroad will steal their jobs and their houses, and that they could change the traditional British way of life. Racial discrimination can lead to immigrants getting the worst paid jobs, and living in the poorest areas creating splits within a community.
Action: Race relations act, 1976, which made it unlawful to discriminate against anyone. The government also set up the Commission for Racial equality to educate the public on the importance of racial equality.
Why Christians should promote racial harmony:
Christianity is opposed to racism. The Bible teaches that all races are equal in the eyes of God: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek... you are all one in Christ' (Galatians 3:29). Jesus always treated people in the same way, no matter where they were from and this serves as an example to all Christians upon how to act.
Martin Luther King Junior (1929-1968)
Many Christians have been inspired by the life of this Christian Minister. Thanks to his work black people were given equal voting rights with whites in 1965. He organised peaceful protests to persuade the government to grant equal rights to all people.
In the UK the Church of England has its own Race and Commnity Relations Committee which advises Christians about issues of racism. Christian Churches around the world condemn racism and encourage all Christians to treat everyone equally.
Why Muslims should promote racial harmony:
To Muslims it is not about race but about faith, which is beyond race or the colour of skin. One of the most important teachings in Islam is that every Muslim is part of the ummah (the worldwide Muslim community) and that they are all united by their faith.
Message of the Qur'an:
It is highlighted that today there are Muslims of many races, cultures and nationalities which emphasises the fact that, in Islam, all races are equal and loved by God. The revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet was for all races and no race can claim to be better than any other ('O humanity, I am the messenger of God to you all!' (Surah 7:158))
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Malcolm believed that the hajj was the greatest example of racial harmony. "There were tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world... But we were all participating in the same ritual".
The UK as a multi-faith society:
As a multi-faith society people of different religious faiths and beliefs live alongside one another. This offers relgious freedom to everyone within society as they are free to worship whatever God/belief they may have. It allows religious pluralism and that means that all faiths have an equal right to co-exist.
Benefits of a multi-faith society:
- A greater tolerance and understanding of other ways of life
- A varied and rich cultural life
- New ways of living and enjoying life (yoga, meditation and dance)
- A better understanding of different viewpoints that exist in the world
Religious freedom means that religious groups from all over the world can live peacefully together and people have to right to practise, and change, their religion no matter what it is.
Challenges people to think more deeply about their own faith and be more open and understanding of others. There is also a lot of religious tension in some areas because of different views.
Issues raised about multi-faith societies:
Three different viewpoints to religious pluralism (Accepting all religions as having an equal right to co-exist)
- Religious pluralism: There are many different religions that lead to God. People should be free to follow whichever one they wish, or to follow none at all.
- Inclusivism: Only one religion is completely right. The other religions, although they may lead some people to God, are not wholly right. These religions should be respected though their followers should be encouraged to convert to the 'right faith'.
- Exclusivism: Only one religion is right and all others are wrong.
Interfaith marriages: If people from separate religions fall in love and marry this is known as an interfaith marriage. This can sere to help the two faith communities understand and further respect each other however it can also lead to a lot of confusion/problems. Some people question if they can live together happily if their beliefs and core values are separate and different. Can the parents agree how to raise their children? What religion will the children even have? Which festivals will they observe? Which religious community will the family belong to?
Ways in which religions work to promote community
Members of different religions do not want to live in conflict with each other. They do not want to be violent and agressive towards each other because these actions go against all the faith beliefs. To live in harmony they need to ensure that they:
- Recognise all the things they have in common within their faith and cultures.
- Respect the differences that arise between themselves
- Listen to eachother's views
- Learn to live and work in unity rather than in opposition
- Share common values, such as: respect, tolerance, charity and non-violence
Religious groups such as the Council of Christians and Jews and the Inter-Faith Network for the United Kingdom, have been working together in recent years to heal divisions between different faiths. They work on the basic understanding that God created all human beings to have a relationship with him. Some religious believers suggest that all who believe in God should be united in a single faith and that terms such as 'Christian' and 'Muslim' should no longer be used.