[This article first appeared at Nick McDonald's The Radical Journey, a blog I wrote for occasionally last year before starting my own here.]
Why Worry About Women?
There are two types of women in this world: those I know and those I don’t. I think God wants me to be concerned for both types, and a recent newspaper article brought this home to me with some very tangible information about women who fall into the second category.
Women I don’t know
The Independent ran an article on the conditions women face around the world. Some of the news is horrible, of course, but some is startlingly upbeat.
The best place to be a woman in national politics is not the UK or the US, but Rwanda. Women hold 45 out of 80 seats in the Rwandan Parliament, while in the US there are only 95 women serving in the House and Senate (out of 535 members total in the two houses) and the UK Parliament is hardly better with only 21% women.
So Africa is a surprisingly good place to be a woman, right? Not elsewhere on the continent. For example, more women die in childbirth in South Sudan than anywhere else, a staggering 1 in 7 according to Médecins Sans Frontières. Contrast that with Greece, which the Independent labeled the best country for giving birth with only 1 death in 31,800 births.
For making a living, Norway and Sweden have the highest wages for women compared to men (about even) while Saudi Arabia ranks lowest where women make 20% of men’s average earnings. It’s not all bad in the Middle East, though. The highest ratio of women participating in higher education worldwide is in Qatar, where women outnumber men 6 to 1 in post-secondary schools. The lowest ratio of women to men is in Chad, where men outnumber women 3 to 1.
The bottom line is that the condition of women around the world doesn’t seem to meet what we would expect for many of the categories detailed in the Independent.
A woman I do know
I’d like to think that my daughter is irrepressible, and that as she desires to follow God and use the talents he’s given her she will not be swayed by the world’s mores and judgments. But I know that the hopes and plans of even the strongest people, women and men alike, can be crushed by the words and actions of others. And I know that my strong, smart daughter is no exception.
This wonderful young woman (I practically gag at being forced to face the fact that my wonderful girl is now a wonderful woman) has plans, plans that she hopes to honor God with. She is pre-med and wants to become an Ob-Gyn. When I asked her if she wanted clinical work or a surgical practice (did I mention she’s really smart and talented?) she immediately told me that she doesn’t want to do surgery because surgeons don’t get to have long-term relationships with their patients and their families. Eventually she wants to work in a developing nation, delivering medical care to those who cannot even imagine what it is like to have a doctor of their own.
So have I brought the two types of women together through my daughter’s ambitions and the world’s needs? Yes, but perhaps in a way that you may not expect.
What God says, and what we can do
Early in his ministry, Jesus summed up his purpose on earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19.) That’s freedom for me and you and my daughter and the pregnant mothers in South Sudan, now isn’t it?
Of course, Jesus was talking ultimately about spiritual freedom. But he also backed this up with physical manifestations of this freedom. In fact, Jesus himself identified how people could be assured that he was the promised Messiah. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5.) Then he backed this talk with action. (Mark 5:25-35.)
Make no mistake; the way things are around the world, men are in a position to do a lot more for women than men are doing right now. So how do we carry this out for women we know and women we don’t? God has put each of us in positions where, by God’s own power and according to his will, we can lift up others.
I hate to sound faddish or cliché, but a lot of it has to do with knowledge and empowerment.
1) Get informed. Stay open to learning about what is happening in the world just as you want to know what’s happening in your own family. Seek out and read articles like the one linked at the top of this post. Pray for opportunities to help and find a way to act on them, whether it means sending money, writing to Congress, or anything else God puts on your heart.
2) Take advantage of the opportunities God gives you with the people around you. Does your sister or girlfriend or wife or daughter or mother need something you can give? Give it. Does the harried mother in the checkout line behind you need to get through before you so she can load her groceries and her children in the car and get home? Offer a smile and a kind word, and let her go ahead of you even if you are only buying a quart of milk and a candy bar.
3) Fill in your own blanks here. You know what you can do, and you probably already know someone you can do it for.
A job worth doing
But why is empowering women so important? As much as I’d like to say it’s because young women with as much promise as my daughter deserve to be supported and empowered, that’s not the real reason. Neither is it because there are women around the world who face tragedy daily, hourly, even by the minute.
No. it’s because doing good to others – those within God’s kingdom and those without – is a calling we are all told to follow (Galatians 6:10), because all of us are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27.)
So I’ll pose the question again: Why is it important to empower women? Because women are made in the image of God.
And that’s reason enough for me.