In the past few years, numerous people have asked me why I make such a big deal about gender equality. Have I experienced such extreme inequality? What traumatic experience drives my activism? Why am I so passionate and outspoken about this issue? People often assume that a tragic event in my personal life led to this behavior.
I am not sure what they have in mind, but I have seen:
- Women discouraged from and not chosen for church leadership
- Men and women shamed for not fitting culturally-defined gender roles
- Exclusion born from semantics and titles
- Sexual harassment such as groping, leering, and unwanted comments
- Women shrinking themselves to be more socially acceptable, both inside and outside the church
I have witnessed all of the above examples of gender inequality, but I have not personally been the victim of a gender-based crime, serious trauma, or assault to my person. There is no tragic event that now drives my passionate advocacy for gender equality. So why do I make such a “big deal” about gender equality?
It’s a big deal, because we’re all in this together. We suffer gender inequality differently, but we all carry the burden of gender inequality. I am utterly convinced that I am not free until my sisters are also free.
Audre Lorde famously said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
So, although we suffer differently, we have a responsibility to liberate all women.
Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor and social activist during World War II, wrote the following poem about ethnic and racial inequality. It rings true for gender inequality as well.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I also think of Paul's words about the body of Christ. "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it" (1 Cor.12:26). There is a fundamental, God-ordained unity in our humanity. We are called to stand in solidarity for gender equality, regardless of personal experience. We must look beyond our own interests to the liberation of all.
Nothing will change if only those who have suffered tragically because of gender inequality become advocates against it. We must all speak and act until all are free.
If you are reading this article, you probably care about gender equality. However, refusing to perpetuate gender inequality is not enough. If we truly stand in solidarity with all women, we must actively and intentionally fight for gender equality. Here are a few ideas to get us started:
CBE and other organizations such as the The Junia Project, Sophia Network, or UN Women have numerous free or low-cost resources. Books such as The 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership by Kate Coleman, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, The Liberating Truth by Danielle Strickland, and Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James are also great places to start.
Even if you consider yourself aware, the status of gender inequality around the world is constantly changing. It is important to stay up to date. You could also try reading or studying a resource from a perspective you do not normally hear. I recently enjoyed Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee, a memoir of the war in Liberia from a woman’s perspective. Ignorance is no excuse for non-action.
Use Your Voice
You have a voice, and your voice matters. Call out inequality when you see it, and ask questions to help people think differently about things they take for granted. If you have privilege due to gender (male), race (white), class (mid-upper), health (able-bodied), etc., you have a special responsibility to make space for those who aren’t generally invited to the table.
The battle for real gender equality is bigger than we see, and cannot be won by human effort alone. Let us seek God fervently to make the impossible possible (Lk.18:27).
The next time someone asks me why I make such a big deal about gender equality, I am going to ask them why they do not. I am going to invite them to experience our common humanity. I am going to invite them to feel it so deeply in their souls that they cannot turn away from what our sisters around the world see, hear, and feel each day. We are not free, any of us, until our sisters are also free.