How strange it is that Christmas carols can make me want to buy a new iPhone and a MacBook Air, and in the same moment want to save the world! How does one reconcile the reality that while my kids wish for an endless stream of expensive gadgets, toys, and designer clothes, elsewhere over a billion humans on this planet spend most of their waking hours simply wishing for a few drops of clean water?
And that everywhere on our planet, whether in Cambodia or India or right here on our own doorsteps, 12–27 million people are caught in a web of slavery today and, according to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, three out of every four are female and over half are children?
Top-of-mind for many this holiday season is the shocking and pervasive gender injustice which continues to plague our planet:
In the last half century alone, more women and girls have died as a result of gender discrimination than all the men who died in all the battles of the 20th century. More girls are killed each decade than all of those who died in the genocides of last century.
Did you know that over 10 times as many girls are currently being trafficked each year than African slaves were transported during the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade?
As I’ve watched friends, family, colleagues, people at church (and myself) awaken to the horrific humanitarian crisis which many are calling “femicide,” there is desperate sense of wanting, even needing, to do something to stand in solidarity with our sisters around the world—to give voice to this primal scream that many of us feel and hopefully inspire some productive collective action to “be the change” we want to see in the world.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and so many voices like his describe, “Study after study has taught us that there is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women.” What is good for girls and women is good for the world, good for humankind, and good for the planet. The global development community has placed the empowerment of girls and women at the center of poverty alleviation efforts, economic and community development, and fighting a whole host of social ills. Likewise, in the corporate sector there is a growing sense that gender balance is not only “the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.” What about the religious sector?
Our faith traditions embody many of our highest ideals as a collective human family, yet somehow when it comes to girls and women many of these ideals don’t seem to fully apply. Can our world’s women ever fully achieve real and lasting human equality without our faith traditions fully on board?
Many religious traditions have made great strides toward working through patriarchal underpinnings. But do we not still see the imprint of patriarchy through a gender ranking system? Many faith-inspired individuals and organizations seek to rescue girls and women from trafficking and domestic abuse, yet still hold onto a benevolent yet paternalistic view of gender which circumscribes women’s power and place in society. How are religiously sanctioned ideas of gender hierarchy militating against all of the amazing progress that is being done around the world to liberate and empower girls/women from enslaving ideas and practices?
How can we get our faith-based ideas and practices more fully on board with gender justice?
What is the role of the religious community in transforming the underlying patriarchal attitudes that treat females as the “second sex”?
Can we offer our violent and hurting world an unambiguous spiritual ideal for human equality?
My hope is to inspire the reader to integrate their faith with a “gender lens” in what I believe is the last frontier of the women’s movement: changing the invisible, deeply entrenched thought patterns which have built up over millennia. These patterns give males a presumption to power over females and create conditions ripe for violence and human rights abuses.
A promising movement in the field of international development and philanthropy has been the integration of a “gender-lens,” which helps us see the roots of the distinctly “feminine face” of poverty. A gender lens is simply an eye to see how a policy, practice, or idea contributes to or detracts from the full human flourishing and equality of both genders. This should inform our choice as to which charities to support.
There are many faith-based charities out there you can support, but in choosing organizations to support, we should ask, “How does faith/religion operate on the larger world terrain to either empower women or to further entrench existing patriarchal gender norms?” A finely tuned “gender lens” will help you decipher which ones are merely doling out charity and “rescuing girls” and which ones also seek to change the underlying attitudes and structures which disempower females as “the second sex,” creating conditions which inflame gender-based violence.
In the spirit of Advent, the strange paradox is that in the darkest of places, in our world and in our own hearts, the Light shines most brightly.
You can stand with CBE to empower and equip future generations of women for leadership. CLICK HERE to invest in this important work now!
In Part 2, Emily writes about the part each of us plays in this movement.
Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash.