In one of his epistles to Christians in Ephesus, Paul stressed the need for women to submit to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22—24 records: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
As if that was not enough, Apostle Simon Peter, too, had a point to make regarding the status of women in marriage.
Peter said “a wife must submit to her abusive husband in the same way that a slave submits to an abusive master.
“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words but the behavior of their wives,” says 1Peter 3:1.
And just like in Christianity or Judaism, Islam, too, propagates that men are in charge of women.
Surah 4:34 of the Qur’an states that “men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).
“So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them,” reads the Qur’an.
While faith leaders and their believers do not express reservations with these verses, human rights activists argue that the texts are perpetuating gender-based violence.
Human rights activists believe abusers use such verses to justify violation of their wives’ rights.
A 2006 United Nations (UN) report on violence against women shows domestic abuse rates vary considerably among countries with a high majority of Christians.
The report said there are some believers who hold the notion that it is the man’s duty and right to discipline his wife.
“Holy texts are often used to justify domestic abuse, such as those that refer to male superiority and female submission, but use of violence is a misinterpreted view of the male role. For instance, Eve (Genesis 2-3) is often misinterpreted, particularly by Christians, to be disobedient to patriarchal God and man, and to many a generalised symbol of womanhood that must be submissive and subject to discipline,” reads the report.
However, the UN acknowledged that the correlation between religion and domestic violence is subject to debate, partly because there have been few studies to correlate the two. The report said the situation is complicated by a culture of silence and acceptance among abuse victims.
In responding to our questionnaire on how he handles abusive husbands, Reverend Bannet Zimba of Mabiri CCAP Church in Mzimba said the church does not encourage believers to seek help from secular law enforcement agencies.
“Usually, secular law enforcement agencies should be the last resort. Otherwise, we encourage the victimised wives to seek the Lord earnestly through prayer,” said Zimba.
But the pastor could not say whether some of the atrocities women suffer could be attributed to holy texts.
A Catholic priest Father Henry Saindi said a husband who abuses his wife is breaking both God’s moral law and State civil law.
But Saindi said the Bible does not encourage men to abuse their wives.
He said although strong patriarchal tendencies have persisted in religious circles, the example of Christ carries the seeds of their displacement by a respectful model of male–female relations.
“Ephesians 5:21 clearly states that both male and female believers should be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Therefore, if a husband is beating his wife, it means there is no love between the two.
“As such, faith leaders need to simply transform the patterns of domination and submission into mutuality of love, faithful care and sharing of burdens in marriages,” said Saindi.