In some world religions, such as Svetambar Jains, women don’t have a chance of getting off the wheel of birth and death until they are reborn as a man. They were reborn as women as a result of being deceitful in a former life and have to work like crazy to prove themselves worthy of even being born a male next time around. One of the Jain sacred texts states:
“As the result of manifesting deception, a man in this world becomes a woman. As a woman, if her heart is pure, she becomes a man in this world.”
In the Aganna-Sutta from the Pali Canon, a record of the teachings of Gautama Buddha, imply that women are responsible for the downfall of the human race.
These attitudes toward women were imposed many, many centuries ago, when women were not seen as men’s equals. Historically they were seen as men’s possessions or as brood mares for ensuring the birth of a son. A girl birth was seen as a liability, especially when it came to the dowry for marriage.
In other religions such as Islam, women may not pray in public. They are also not permitted to pray during menstruation as they are not considered clean. Judaism also has constraints around women’s spiritual attainments with the concept of not being clean for the menstruating woman. If a woman is seen as not clean during the natural process that enables her to have a child, it brings a great stigma in terms of self-worth even if it not acknowledged.
Buddhism can then also be seen as a sexist religion in this way. Buddha himself was reluctant to take women as nuns. He was afraid of the various consequences that would arise if women were enrolled. The consequences he thought would have a negative impact on the society at that time, when women were held at little value. It was only upon the request of his stepbrother Ananda that Buddha agreed to take female followers into the worship practice.
And even when allowed to enter the practice, only women were required to follow the eight garudhammas. These are the “eight heavy restrictions” the male practitioners were not ordered to follow. These eight restrictions clearly kept monks at a much higher level than the nuns. One of these restrictions is:
"A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet even a newly-ordained monk by rising up from her seat and saluting with joined palms."
Therefore, women were not considered as complete entities in the old Buddhism of thousands of years ago. This attitude has still carried over to modern times in some Buddhist societies. Women's bodies are not considered fit to attain enlightenment and to become Buddha. There is a still a concept that women are not complete until they attain enlightenment when reborn as a man. The man’s form is required for completeness. The Bahudhatuka-sutta states that there could never be a female Buddha.
The psychological impact of this view is to keep women in a weaker and inferior position. Their morale is kept low because they think, “What’s the use? What if I get born as a woman again? How holy do I have to be before I get a chance at freedom from this bondage? There’s something wrong with being a woman.”
According to Ajahn Sujato, the early texts state that the first garudhamma, which states that every nun must bow to every monk, was instituted by the Buddha because of the customs of the time. But modern scholars doubt that the rule even originated with the Buddha.
The rules were written only after the people started to become literate. And in ancient times, men were the first ones to learn to read and write. It was only much later that women got the chance to be educated because they were seen to be more at the level of the animals. These rules were written by a male-dominant society to favor that male Buddhists. It was one more power play over women.
But now, the world has changed. Yet fundamentalist world religions have not changed. Their opinions and beliefs are based on what seemed practical many centuries ago. These beliefs do not apply today if they ever applied at all. As a deeply spiritual person, I know that we are not just these bodies, miraculous as they are. At the Soul level, we are beyond being men and women. The body and its endocrine and hormonal systems do not apply to the world of the Spirit. Any view about men being spiritually superior to women is not relevant when we know that women are capable of every task a man can do—and also produce children!