SERIES: Women’s Evolving Influence in Male-Led Faiths

About Series

Around the world, women have been making notable advances in many realms, serving as heads of government, leading corporations and universities. Yet in several major religious denominations, women are barred or limited from serving as clergy and excluded from the uppermost leadership roles.

Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of women are devoted to these male-led faiths, and some — often breaking barriers along the way — have found leadership roles they can play.

How are women forging new pathways in faith leadership throughout religions that traditionally have been patriarchal? Change comes slowly but there has been a palpable shift.

Religion News Service, The Associated Press and The Conversation have teamed up to produce a series of stories portraying some of these women and the faiths they embrace.

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Women's Evolving Influence in Male-Led Faiths Articles

Women lead religious groups in many ways – besides the growing number who have been ordained
By Deborah Whitehead — December 8, 2021
(The Conversation) — A scholar of gender and US religious history explains how women are trying to make religious communities more inclusive. Women’s ordination is only one piece of this ongoing work.
Nuns against nuclear weapons – Plowshares protesters have fought for disarmament for over 40 years, going to prison for peace
By Carole Sargent — December 8, 2021
(The Conversation) — A Catholic historian writes about nuns who protested against nuclear weapons. Even when convicted of sabotage, they used prison time to serve fellow inmates and push for justice.
Women seek diverse paths to leadership in Islamic spaces
By Mariam Fam, Aysha Khan — December 8, 2021
CAIRO (AP/RNS) — The formal ranks of Islamic leadership remain largely filled with men, but many women are finding other paths to leadership.
Barred from priesthood, some Catholic women find other roles
By Claire Giangravé, David Crary — December 8, 2021
ROME (RNS/AP) — A growing number of women hold consequential positions in the church and at the Vatican.
Women breaking through to top roles in Black churches
By Adelle M. Banks, Peter Smith — December 9, 2021
(RNS/AP) — Most major Black Christian denominations in the U.S. have no doctrinal bar to ordained women leaders. Yet denominational leadership remained all-male until the 21st century, and women are still the exception in the top rungs.
Buddhist nuns and female scholars are gaining new leadership roles, in a tradition that began with the ordination of Buddha’s foster mother
By Jue Liang — December 9, 2021
(The Conversation) — Traditionally, Buddhism has been opposed to women taking on leadership roles. However, nuns in many Buddhist-majority countries are challenging the patriarchal rules.
In Buddhism, women blaze a path but strive for gender equity
By Luis Andres Henao — December 9, 2021
(AP) — As Buddhism has grown in the West and Asian Buddhist societies have been influenced by feminism, there’s more awareness of the importance of women’s leadership.
In Hinduism, women create spaces for their own leadership
By Deepti Hajela — December 13, 2021
(AP) — Women in Hinduism globally lead by building communities, taking on positions in organizations and passing on knowledge.
Amid tension, Southern Baptist women lead where they can
By Bob Smietana Of Religion News Service, Holly Meyer Of The Associated Press — December 13, 2021
(RNS/AP) — Few congregations could function without the work of female members. Still, there is tension in the Southern Baptist Convention over the role of women.
Mormon women’s influence expands despite priesthood ban
By Holly Meyer, Lindsay Whitehurst — December 14, 2021
(AP) — While women are not filling the leadership roles traditionally held by men, 'women’s positions are being expanded.'