Ideas have consequences and bad ideas can have lethal consequences. —George Weigel, American Catholic theologian
The most prominent indicator of whether a female will be sold to a brothel, killed as a fetus, abused in her marriage or family, or denied a place of decision making in her community or marriage, is determined not by her gender, but by the value we place on females as a whole. —Mimi Haddad, president of CBE
Like all efforts to promote justice, gender justice begins with an idea—that God declares men and women are created in God’s image and given equal dominion and that males and females therefore have equal value and equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Likewise, gender injustice begins with an idea—that females are subordinate; submissive; and innately less worthy of freedom, equality, and agency. Whatever religious language you dress it up in, patriarchy (whether benevolent or exploitative) is, at its core, an imbalanced gender project that subordinates one beneath another.
In last week’s column, I suggested integrating faith with a “gender lens” in order to offer our world an unambiguous spiritual ideal for human equality, because religion exerts a powerful force on the deeper attitudes that drive our behavior and how we see our place in the world. In 2011, my foundation made a decision to be more intentional about adopting a gender lens in our philanthropy to do our part in restoring shalom, which is the Hebrew concept for the wholeness and well-being of all things united in God’s love. Very simply, it is “Where we see the fabric of life unraveling, whether emotionally, physically or spiritually, we see a holy invitation to partner with God in the restoration of shalom.”
“Gender shalom” requires more than women jockeying for power or even women rising up to empower themselves. Men need to be willing to let go of and share whatever power and advantage society has given them. Without this, our gender relations will always be characterized by insecurity, violence, and polarization. Does not our faith in Christ teach us an ethic of mutual sacrifice and honoring and empowering each other’s God-given agency, talents, and power to live together side by side as partners in creating a better world?
Let me offer some tangible ways that we as Christians can partner with God in the restoration of “gender shalom”:
1. Gender lens THINKING: Ideas can shape reality. Religious ideas have particular weight in our world and continue to exert a powerful influence on our collective subconscious. The world needs spiritual ambassadors who can offer a very clear and unambiguous spiritual ideal of human equality. They can help transform long-standing practices and ideas that privilege males over the females and undermine the “gender shalom” God desires for his children. I have relied upon CBE as a resource, and have recommended it to many Christian-based organizations who are working to empower women in highly patriarchal societies where many of the churches reinforce the same patriarchal attitude.
2. Gender lens ASKING: As a funder of many Christian NGOs, I am learning how to ask questions to find out whether the organization is doing more than just offering charity to women, but is working to change the underlying structures that create gender inequality. I encourage you to ask questions such as: “Does your organization have any explicit beliefs or policies about gender equality?” or “Do you have women on your board? Do women have access to all levels of service and leadership?” Just asking good questions lets organizations know that potential donors are using a gender lens and want to be on the leading edge of bending the arc of justice for girls and women.
3. Gender lens DOING: What can you do in your corner of the world to create a more gender-balanced world? Consider becoming involved in local women’s funding organizations. Most cities have organizations which are women-led and focused on tangible impact.
I have lived in Boston for over twelve years and I never really knew much about the struggles and amazing leadership and activism of women in immigrant and ethnic neighborhoods here. You don’t have to go to Cambodia or Turkey, two places I have been to, to see that the struggles of women to overcome patriarchal attitudes and practices are the same everywhere.
4. Gender lens INVESTING: There are numerous ways to invest with a combined faith/gender lens. Look for inspired movements to invest in rather than only single organizations. Whether through traditional giving/philanthropy or what is now called “impact investing” (investing for social and financial return), keep your gender lens engaged whatever the particular programmatic area. Gender cuts through everything—whether health, economic development, environment, or community development.
Commit to do something this holiday season to create “gender shalom.” Consider investing in CBE.
As you are inspired this holiday season to focus on the wellbeing of girls/women around the world, keep your eyes wide open and listen for God speaking to your heart. Trust that human equality is God-given, intrinsically true, and attractive. As you discover what is yours to do, bit by bit, empowered by God, we can create a more just and God-honoring world, in which girls will grow and thrive and flourish to their full potentials. Another world of God is indeed on its way.
Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash.