Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

I'm fortunate. I'm a free woman, living in a free country where I can go to school, vote, follow my own career path and otherwise make my own way in the world. I belong to a denomination that affirms the equal partnership of women and men in society and, more importantly, in the Reign of God, where there is neither male nor female. My own parish is one where women's leadership skills are welcome and exercised freely.

But I know that other women -- women in other countries, women in other churches -- aren't as fortunate as I am. Women who are killed for daring to demand their rights as human beings. Women abused and exploited. Women physically mutilated. Women killed to protect the "honor" of their male relatives. Women sold into marriage as children. Women denied education, decent healthcare, legal and political rights, sexual autonomy, and equal access to the workplace. Women whose God-given gifts to society and to the Church are dismissed or denied by male religious leaders. Women who are treated like incompetent children or chattel by their clergy, husbands and male relatives, and who are often complicit in their own oppression because "the Bible tells me so."

What do we do for these women?

We pray. And we work.

The education of women in a society has been proven, time and again, to be the key to improving the quality of life for all people in that society. If you read Parade magazine this weekend you learned about the Central Asia Institute, which helps fund development projects, especially those improving the lot of women and girls, in the mountain regions of Asia -- places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a low-overhead, grassroots organization founded by a mountaineer who was moved by the poverty and lack of choices for women he encountered on his mountain-climbing expeditions. If you would like to help support schools and healthcare resources for girls and women in this part of the world, visit CAI's website .

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two organizations that document human rights violations against women. Become a part of their grassroots advocacy. Help create the critical mass of international concern and censure that encourages women's rights advocates in oppressive societies and helps pressure governments to change.

And -- this is a plea particularly to my younger sisters out there -- do not discount your power in your society and in your church. Whenever you refuse to vote, whenever you refuse to inform yourself about legislation that impacts the lives of women and advocate on women's behalf, whenever you decline to take advantage of the leadership opportunities offered to you in society or in your faith community, whenever you give up your voice in the marketplace of ideas, you are in effect creating a vacuum that social reactionaries are only too happy to fill. Women have died for the right to vote. They have faced incredible opposition, scorn and ridicule to empower themselves, both in society and in the Church, in ways that many of us now take for granted. Don't dishonor these women by slipping into apathy and complacency.

God of love and justice, who creates both women and men in your own image, whose Son counted women among his closest friends, who empowered them to preach his Resurrection and who even now calls women and men to service as equal partners in his Reign: Forgive us for leaving some of our sisters behind. Forgive us for treating our own freedoms and responsibilities so lightly. Give us the anger, the compassion, the courage to work for justice and opportunity for all persons everywhere. Let our example encourage women everywhere who live under the burden of oppression. Let us speak the truth to the individuals and institutions and systems that subjugate women so that they too might be liberated and transformed. We pray all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Photo: Bangladeshi women marching for equal rights. AFP/Shafiq Alam


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Powerfully written.

Sue said...