International Women’s Day – it’s awkward, isn’t it?
Not that I think that should be the slogan… But the day seems to have caused a minor panic in some of our churches…
The sudden realisation that most of our society thinks the Church is really harsh on women: in lack of leadership equality, lack of self-determination on issues like contraception and abortion, and lack of visibility even though the majority of attendees are female.
Now, personally I think this reflects a lot of ignorance outside of the Church of what goes on inside, but also, it’s a frustration I share. These are things our Western society views as key issues in the fight for equality and liberty.
As a result, a lot of Christians feel out of kilter about International Women’s Day. Stay-at-home mums feel sidelined and insulted by other women, even taking issue at being labelled in that way. Women in church leadership feel a little insulted that their contributions are overlooked and others in the Church feel like yelling “right on!” at the critics, joining them in their frustrations with the place of women in the Church.
The thing is though, International Women’s Day is not so much about women in the West, in the Minority World. Praise God, many of the issues our sisters in the Majority World confront have already been worked on in our societies. In the West, women can vote, choose who they will marry, go to school, find work if they want to, and participate in leadership in their communities. There are still many injustices and inequalities, but we have much more freedom than in the past.
How many Western Christian mums out there are on their P&Cs at their kids schools? How many have received not just infants, not just primary, not just secondary but even tertiary education?! How many women at your church were allowed to choose who they’d marry and when?
International Women’s Day is not really about you.
It’s not really about me, sitting here with my post-graduate degree, my job, my rights to vote and own property.
It’s about the female children in the Majority World who don’t get to choose. The ones who are married off before their thirteenth birthday, when we are even wary of letting our girls date at that age!
It’s about the girls in the Majority World who have no access to education, or self-determination of any kind.
It’s about the girls whose genitals are mutilated, and bodies controlled by the men in their families and societies at large.
It’s about acknowledging that all the research of agencies like the U. N. and World Vision demonstrate that if you empower and resource women, you can change a whole society.
In helping women learn and earn and grow, we help whole societies change for the better.
And it’s the same in sharing the good news of Jesus. Women are often the gatekeepers and guardians of faith in families. There are some Christians who just see this as ‘bad news’. “Oh no! Men are being sidelined in the family once again!”
But if we pause to reflect how many people turn to Jesus in faith when they’re children, it makes sense that women, and mums, play a big role in passing on the faith in the family. Is it a bad thing that women keep going to church when the men have stopped?! Is it a bad thing mums keep taking the kids even when dad doesn’t go any more?
International Women’s Day doesn’t need to be awkward. Nor should it be a surprise!
As we consider how best to serve the world and share God’s love with those around us, as we think about how to build up God’s church around the world, we should already be aware of the conditions women face, the challenges and the opportunities! We should already be acting, not just by grooming male leaders to plant churches as our one way of changing the world, but by engaging women in mission, recognising their God-given role in their families and communities, so well placed to help lift everyone around them.
Sure I’d love it if my gift for preaching was encouraged in my church, and to have opportunities to exercise it. I would love it if women in ministry were all paid equally to men, and received the same job opportunities. I would love it if women were given the honoured places of leadership in the church they have held in the past. My sisters in Pre-Reformation days had more leadership opportunities than are available to me now! And the freedoms I do enjoy in the church and outside of it are only very very recent in the history of civilisation. So, I’m not done with this yet. I’m not ‘over’ International Women’s Day or any other campaigns aimed at bestowing on women the full rights and dignities of sons.
But for now I recognise that there are others with a greater fight on their hands than me. I already benefit from generations of women before me who fought and even died for the freedoms, rights and responsibilities I have. I will be a part of working for the same freedoms for others, those whose need is greater than mine.
For more info on stuff I’ve discussed here, check out:
Any titles in the Encountering Mission series such as The Changing Face of World Missions