What has Religion done for Women?
Shelagh Fogarty strips back centuries of religious culture and thinking to find out exactly what religion has done for women.
As women find themselves increasingly at the centre of religious news around the world - from Tahrir Square in Cairo, to the ban on wearing headscarves in France and Belgium, and the arguments over women bishops in the Church of England - Shelagh Fogarty speaks to women of different faiths to find out what their religious culture and beliefs mean to them.
Religion is seen by many as universally controlling women in all aspects of their lives, from how they see their bodies, their careers and roles in the family and society. Meeting female religious leaders and ordinary, everyday women of different faiths, Shelagh challenges many of the popular myths and stereotypes.
She meets theologian Tina Beattie at the National Gallery who explains the historical images of famous religious women - Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Eve in the Garden of Eden, Salome and even depictions of pagan goddesses from mythology. Tina Beattie points out that, throughout the ages, the quintessential woman has been either the virgin or mother or the whore and temptress - but little else in between.
Even though many of these iconic women are depicted naked, or at least reveal an abundance of flesh, why has the woman's body become the object to cover-up in modesty and not men's? Shelagh talks to Muslim women who are happy to cover themselves in a particular way. To experience people's attitudes and challenge her own perceptions, Shelagh puts on a niqab and joins them on a shopping trip. She also travels to a London Synagogue to hear why women choose to cover their own hair with wigs, wear ultra conservative regulation clothes, and remove themselves from their husbands once a month when they are deemed 'ritually impure'. Is Shelagh's perception of what she considers to be female oppression correct, or do these customs and religious discipline actually empower them as women?
Shelagh also explores the extent to which women are able to participate in their own acts of worship. Contributors include Canon Lucy Winkett, a young woman priest at St James Piccadilly. She talks about the Church's attitude towards women and how she dealt with a certain amount of abuse when she was appointed as the first woman precentor at St Paul's Cathedral.
Whilst much of Shelagh's encounters and discoveries challenge some of her own views, this documentary also acknowledges that there are cases of women oppressed and abused by religious tradition. Shelagh draws together all her experiences and considers whether women are beginning to enjoy their religious identity, distinct from that of men, and whether they are served by religion and valued as spiritual people.