Jainism is frequently referred to as the one truly peaceful religion but is it equal? Jains seem over consensus to life even covering their mouths while walking outside so they cannot accidentally inhale a defenseless bug. This is because the Jain philosophy is that every life form whether it is the smallest bacteria to the largest animal or life form in the Universe is valuable and respected.

Surely, the Jains, are enlightened in matters of gender right? Think again.

Jainism does not teach that women can gain ultimate spiritual liberation, though a woman could strive to become a man in her next life so she could then reach enlightenment. Moreover, Jains believe, for example, that even microbes in the air and water are sacred life and any action that impacts other living things – such as driving or using electricity – can add to bad karma. Therefore, to Jains the bleeding which occurs in menstruation is thought to kill micro-organisms in the body, making the female body less nonviolent than the male body and the female body more prone to bad karma.

Jain tradition places a male monk’s status above a female nun’s. The early svetambara scriptures prevented pregnant women, young women or those who have a small child, to enter to the ranks of nun and although the religion of Jains included women in their religious order of laypersons monks where always double of the number of nuns in those texts.

According to the svetambara’s scriptures such as Chhedasutra, women were given lesser authority than their male counterparts. The reasons for this, in the commentaries, were that things which could endanger the vow of chasity should be avoided. Nalini Balbir writes that the belief that women are more fragile than men were all-pervading in these texts.

The Digambara sect of Jainism believes that women must be reborn as men in order to achieve liberation. Digambara texts like Yuktiprabodha say that women’s genitals and breasts are sources of impurity and have many micro-organisims living in them. Digambara Jain theologians have written that due to bodily secretions, women suffer from itching which gives them uncontrollable sexual urges. They believe that women cannot take higher vows of ascetic renunciation, because naked women would have two deep emotions: shame of being naked and fear of sexual assault which they might face.

By Damien Marie AtHope

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