The Goddess Can Change the World
Recently I participated in the International Women’s week at Vanier College in Montreal. My talk was called “The Goddess Returns” and I spoke about a very important issue: how Goddess spirituality can decrease violence against women by empowering women.
My talk was held in a large classroom with fifty-plus young people expectantly waiting to see a Witch (maybe with a big pointy hat and black cat!) arrive to tell them about the Goddess. I did not bring the hat and the cat but I did bring a lot of thought-provoking ideas! I started the talk by asking the students to imagine what God might look like. Then I talked about the different ways that God is perceived in the different main stream religions. I would like to share some of my talk with you.
The Goddess Returns
When most people think of God, they think of a masculine figure or energy. They use the pronoun ‘he’. If you are a Christian or Jew and believe the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, you may read that man is made in God’s image. The King James Bible says in Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Most people forget the last bit: male AND female…..So what the bible alludes to the idea that God is both male and female. But Christians and Jews still think of God as “he”.
Islam teaches that no one is like Allah. Quran verse 42:11 says that: Allah is the creator of the heavens and the earth and there is nothing like him. But they still refer to Allah as ‘he’. Some Muslims say that Allah is the same God that is worshipped by Abraham.
Buddhism does not believe in God in the same way, they believe in Buddha. Being human, the Buddha had a human body like any ordinary person. There is also nothing in the teachings of the Buddha that suggest how to find God or worship the god’s of India, (where he came from) although the Buddha himself was a theist (believed in gods), his teachings are non-theistic.
The Buddha was more concerned with the human condition: Birth, Sickness, Old age, and Death. The Buddhist path is about coming to a place of acceptance with these painful aspects of life, and not suffering through them.
The Buddha is not thought of as a god in Buddhism and is not prayed to. He is looked up to and respected as a great teacher. He was a human being who found his perfection in Nirvana. Because of his Nirvana, the Buddha was perfectly moral, perfectly ethical, and ended his suffering forever.
Does that mean that every Buddhist in the world is an atheist?
No! A lot of Buddhists believe in God, a lot of Buddhists don’t believe in God… And a lot of Buddhists just don’t know. All three points of view are OK if you’re Buddhist because the end of suffering is more important than God in Buddhism. (1)
Hinduism believes in one universal soul called Brahman that manifests into the world as many forms, mainly Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, a triad of Gods. Goddesses can also be manifestations of Brahman.
Wicca has a different view point and emphasis than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Wicca is a spiritually that comes from the British Isles and while it is a modern religion, has its roots in antiquity. So Wicca as we know it today all started in the 1950’s when a man called Gerald Gardner decided that Witchcraft should be brought out of the broom closet! Since then Wicca has become the fastest growing religion in North America today. I think one of the reasons is because the people of the world are ready to re-connect with the Divine Feminine, their Divine Mother, the Goddess.
The thread that runs through every Wiccan Tradition is the belief that God/Goddess is immanent: present within nature. Judeo-Abrahamic Religions believe God is transcendental (outside creation), Taoist religions (ex. Buddhism and Hinduism) believe that the world is “maya” (an illusion), but Wiccans believe that God/dess is immanent and the world is sacred. This means that we believe all life is Sacred including plants, animals, the planet and YOU!
The Students Meet the Goddess
At this point in my talk I had the students close their eyes and relax. I invited the Goddess to enter the room and I felt her calming and gentle presence! The energy in the room had changed! I asked them to return to the picture of God they had imagined at the beginning of the talk and then to imagine a beautiful woman glowing with light standing beside the God image. Then I asked them to imagine this Divine Lady stepping forward and coming beside them, then to feel her putting her arm around them and holding them. I was surprised to see the deep peace and happiness on their faces!
Sharing their experiences some of the students were shocked that they actually felt a warm arm around them. Some saw the God and Goddess as their parents. One boy said that his Goddess didn’t have a head! I think this is very significant because it shows how our modern society has removed the face of the goddess from our lives. It was a wonderful experience for me as a speaker and for the group.
Next I talked about the impact of Goddess Spirituality on the world.
What would happen if you believed that God was female?
If when I said the word God you not only saw a male figure but you saw the Great Mother standing beside Him how would that change you? If you as a woman realized that not only are you sacred but that you were actually made in the image of the Goddess would you feel empowered?
An empowered woman is not afraid to stand up for her rights. She is confident and strong. She raises her sons and daughters to respect others, because she does not have to prove to others that she is strong, she knows she is. If women were empowered perhaps the violence and inequality against women would change.
I would like to propose that Goddess spirituality empowers women and that the boys raised by empowered women grow up to be men who see women as equals and treat them with respect. This theory is backed up by many feminist studies and scholars. Since Wicca is the only religion in the world where the Goddess is seen as the main Deity, perhaps this is why it is growing so quickly, as people react against the gulf between genders.
Violence against women
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women” and that “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men“.
In North America, specifically in our beautiful city of Montreal, the inequality against women is not as evident as it may be in other countries. However all over the globe, violence and discrimination against women and girls violates their human rights and severely compromises young people’s sexual and reproductive health. Harmful practices, including female genital cutting/mutilation, femicide, gender-based violence, and early marriage, damage girls’ physical being and self-worth by reinforcing gender-based marginalization and inequality. Gender inequalities and biases pervade cultures worldwide, preventing women and girls from fully realizing their rights to reproductive health and equality. Even here one in four women has experienced violence related to sex and gender!
Here are some very frightening statistics about violence against women. How can we change this? The only way is to change society from within each home and within each heart. Goddess spirituality and empowered women can do this! Let the Goddess return to the world!
Discrimination against women and girls often begins at conception, especially in parts of India and South Asia.
In parts of India and South Asia, there is a strong preference for having sons. Girls can be perceived as a financial burden for the family due to small income contributions and costly dowry demands.
In India, pre-natal sex selection and infanticide accounted for the pre-natal termination and death of half a million girls per year over the last 20 years.1
In the Republic of Korea, 30 percent of pregnancies identified as female fetuses were terminated. Contrastingly, over 90 percent of pregnancies identified as male fetuses resulted in normal birth.
According to China’s 2000 census, the ratio of newborn girls to boys was 100:119. The biological standard is 100:103.
The rate of femicide (murder of women and girls) has significantly escalated over the last few years.
In Mexico, the high murder and disappearance rate of young women in Ciudad Juarez has received international attention for the last ten years, with an alarming recent resurgence.
In Guatemala, the number of femicides has risen steadily from 303 in 2001 to 722 in 2007, with the majority of the victims between ages 16 and 30. A U.N. report found that femicides are inadequately investigated in Guatemala.
Throughout the region, inadequate record-keeping around domestic violence and the victim’s relationship to the murderer results in a problem of underreporting of gender-based deaths.
In Canada hundreds of Aboriginal women go missing each year and these disappearances and deaths are seldom news! (See the work of Ann Marie Pierce).
“Dowry deaths” are responsible for the murders of thousands of women every year, especially in South Asia.
If a bride cannot meet the financial demand of her dowry, she is often subject to torture, harassment and death by the groom’s family.
UNFPA estimates that 5,000 women worldwide are burnt to death in murders disguised as ‘kitchen accidents’ each year because their dowry was considered insufficient.
In India and Pakistan, thousands of women are victims of dowry deaths.3 In India alone, there were almost 7,000 dowry deaths in 2005, with the majority of victims aged 15-34.
“Honor killings” continue to take place in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and other Mediterranean and Gulf Countries 9
Honor killings occur when women are put to death for an act that is perceived as bringing shame to their families; this can mean killing as punishment for adultery or even for being the victim of rape.
In Pakistan nearly 500 women a year are the victims of honor killings.1
In a study of female deaths in Egypt, 47 percent of female rape victims were then killed because of the dishonor the rape was thought to bring to the family.
In 2002, 315 women and girls in Bangladesh endured another form of violence against women, acid attacks. In 2005, even after the introduction of more serious punishments for the crime, over 200 women were attacked.
Physical and sexual abuse of girls is a serious concern across all regions.
In Nigeria, a treatment center reported that 15 percent of female patients requiring treatment for sexually transmitted infections were under the age of five. An additional six percent were between the ages of six and fifteen.
In South Africa, one in four men report having had sex with a woman against her will by the time he was 18 years old.
Research conducted among young women in sub-saharan Africa found that partner violence and the fear of abuse stopped girls from saying “no” to sex and jeopardized condom use.
According to the Jamaica Reproductive Health Survey, approximately 20.3 percent of young women 15-19 years old report having been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point during their life. Overall, one-fifth of Jamaican women have experienced forced sexual intercourse.
A 2009 report released by the Colombian Inspector General’s Office showed that in Colombia, at least 27,000 women and girls experienced intimate partner violence last year – with 74 percent of these being “underage girls.”
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 percent of young women experience intimate partner violence.15
Female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M) causes serious injury to millions of young women every year
FGC is the removal of all or part of the young woman’s genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is most prevalent in parts of West, East, and Northeast Africa, though also practiced in Asia, the Middle East and the immigrant populations of North America and Europe.
FGC/M is practiced for sociocultural and economic reasons. Family honor, the insurance of virginity until marriage, and social integration are often used as justifications for the procedure.
Between 100 and 140 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide and 3 million girls are at risk of the procedure each year in Africa.
A 2005 study found that in Egypt some 97 percent of women age 15-49 had undergone FGM. In Mali, 92 percent of women age 15-49 had undergone FGC/M in 2006; Burkina Faso, 77 percent; and North Sudan, 90 percent.18
Child marriage continues to put young girls at great risk for too-early pregnancy and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, more than 30 percent of young women between 15 and 19 are married.
In Nepal, 40 percent of girls are married by age 15.
In 2005, the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey concluded that in Ethiopia 62 percent of young women aged 20-49 married before age 18.
Worldwide, approximately 14 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year.
Early pregnancy and childbirth have severe consequences for adolescent mothers including complications at birth, obstetric fistula and death, often linked to unsafe abortions.
Cross-Generational Sex Poses Numerous Risks to Young Women
Particularly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, socioeconomic pressures force many unmarried 15-19 year old women to engage in sexual activity with a male partner at least 10 years her senior in exchange for material goods, money or higher social status.
Based on 2006 Demographic and Health Surveys, among young women ages 15-19, 21 percent in Nigeria, 7.5 percent in Lesotho, and 9.5 in Uganda reported they had recently engaged in high-risk sex with a partner 10 or more years their senior.
Girls and young women involved in cross-generational sex have a severely reduced capacity to negotiate condom use, putting them at high risk for HIV infection. As such, young women 15-24 years old are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men age 15-24.
Quote by Kusala Bhikshu, a well-known Buddhist monk, at a talk given at a high school in Los Angeles
UN General Assembly, 61st Session. Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Women. Accessed from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/violenceagainstwomenstudydoc.pdf on January 28, 2010
UNFPA. UNFPA State Of World Population 2005. Chapter 7. Accessed from http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2005/english/ch7/index.htm on January 28, 2010
Viachova A, Biason L, editors. Women in an Insecure World. Geneva, September 2005. Accessed from http://www.dcaf.ch/women/pb_women_ex_sum.pdf on January 28, 2010
UNFPA. Femicide. Accessed from http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:2zPSBS-54v8J:www.unfpa.org/16days/documents/pl_femicide_factsheet.doc+femicide&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari on August 20, 2009
NPR. “Juarez: A City on the Edge.” June 21, 2004. Accessed from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1966988 January 28, 2010
United Nations General Assembly. Follow-Up to Country Recommendations: Guatemala. Accessed from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.2.Add.7.pdf on January 28, 2010
United Nations Development Fund for Women. “Fact Sheet: Violence Against Women Worldwide.” Accessed from http://www.unifem.org/campaigns/sayno/docs/SayNOunite_FactSheet_VAWworldwide.pdf on January 28, 2010
Garcia-Moreno, Claudia. “Gender Inequality and Fire-Related Deaths in India.” The Lancet 2009; 373 (9671):1230-1231.
United Nations Development fund for Women. “Violence against women: Facts and Figures.” Accessed from http://www.unifem.org/attachments/gender_issues/violence_against_women/facts_figures_violence_against_women_2007.pdf on January 28, 2010
0Nazrullah M et al. “The epidemiological patterns of honour killing of women in Pakistan.” European Journal of Public Health. 2009. Accessed from http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/ckp021v1 on January 28, 2010.
BBC. “Fall in Bangladesh Acid Attacks.” 2009: April 25. Accessed from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5133410.stm on January 28, 2010
Moore AM et al. “Coerced First Sex among Adolescent Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa: Prevalence and Context.” African Journal of Reproductive Health, 2007. 11(3): 62-82. Accessed from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2367148 on January 28, 2010.
Thomas, T. “The Facts: Reproductive and Sexual Health in Jamaica.” Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2006.
Procuradua General de la Nacion. “Procuraduría General de la Nación revela preocupante situación de violencia intrafamiliar y violencia sexual en Colombia.” Accessed from http://www.procuraduria.gov.co/html/noticias_2009/noticias_358.html on January 28, 2010
Varia, S. “Dating Violence Among Adolescents.” Advocates for Youth, Washington, DC , 2006. Accessed from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=417&Itemid=177 on January 28, 2010
UNFPA. “Gender Equality: Calling for an End to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.” Accessed from http://unfpa.org/gender/practices1.htm on January 28, 2010
PRB. “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Data and Trends.” 2008. Accessed from http://prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2008/fgm2008.aspx on January 28, 2010
UNICEF. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. 2005. Accessed from http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/FGM-C_final_10_October.pdf on January 28, 2010
Jarallah, Yara. “Marriage Patterns in Palestine, Unlike Rest of MENA.” Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2008.
EGLDAM. “Old beyond Imaginings: Ethiopia and Harmful Traditional Practices,” 2003. Accessed from http://nctpe-fgm.net/downloads/obi.doc on August 1, 2009.
UNFPA. “Gender Equality: Giving Special Attention to Girls and Adolescents.” Accessed from http://www.unfpa.org/gender/girls.htm on January 28, 2010
USAID. “Cross Generational Sex: Risks and Opportunities.” Accessed from http://www.igwg.org/igwg_media/crossgensex.pdf on January 28, 2010.
Tostan, “Abandoning Female Genital Cutting.” Accessed from http://www.tostan.org/web/page/586/sectionid/547/pagelevel/3/interior.asp on January 28, 2010
USAID. Issue Brief: Preventing Child Marriage: Protecting Girls Health. 2009. Accessed from http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/news/issue_briefs/prev_child_marriage.pdf on January 28, 2010
Population Reference Bureau. Combating Cross-Generational Sex in Uganda. 2009. Accessed from http://prb.org/articles/2009/crossgenerationalsex.aspx?p=1 on January 28, 2009