We celebrated International Women’s Day this week, but I think it was a murky day for a celebration this year. We have seen progress on this “file” over the years – the rights of women to vote, to access professions and leadership positions that had been denied to them, as well as gains in property rights and reproductive rights. But at the same time, we are somehow also going backwards. Abortion and reproductive rights are being challenged and rolled back even in the most advanced countries; young women at Kabul University can no longer attend classes; and women in Iran now protest against oppressive government policies based on religious beliefs, as do the Women of the Wall in Israel.

It brings me to an open question this week – in pluralistic countries where multiple streams of religious practices reside, how far can or should governments go in using religious beliefs to shape the roles and participation of 50% of their populations in their societies?

Even in my own religion, the answers are varied, from full inclusion to much less so. It comes down to how reliant we are on ancient texts (of all our major religions) to define how we live in modern times…and how we view those ancient texts as giving us the power today to control the lives of those who don’t think or believe as we do.

My views won’t be a surprise. The Jewish creation story says that we were all created in God’s image. Period. No matter what else is written, there is a sense of equality and full inclusiveness in that statement. I am happy to go to that one line of ancient text as my personal guide to what International Women’s Day means to me, and what I stand for.

Decades ago, Canadian PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau stated that the Canadian government does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation, as it dealt with removing homosexuality as a crime. He was Catholic, yet understood how he couldn’t impose his personal religious beliefs on a nation. It is my hope and wish that this modern way of thinking would also define the actions of governments everywhere in respect of women’s rights…and of all othered groups.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Allan