Today is International Women’s Day. It saddens me that we should even need to set aside a day to focus on women’s rights, to remind the world that women deserve equality. It was never meant to be this way.
I’ve been focusing a lot on what the Bible has to say about womanhood in recent weeks as I’ve started leading a ladies Bible study on women of the Bible. The very first statement about women in the Bible comes in the first chapter of Genesis. Verses 27-31 say:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Do you see what I see? First of all, we’re told that God created men and women in His own image! Both were meant to be His image bearers. Second, He gave both of them dominion over and responsibility for His creation. It was a joint assignment. God did not give men dominion over women! That was never His intention. And finally, God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. His plan was equality for men and women and it was very good.
In chapter 2 of Genesis we’re given a more detailed creation story. Verse 18 says, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” The King James Version of the Bible uses the words help meet to describe the woman’s role. “Meet” is an archaic adjective meaning suitable or proper, so the phrase simply means a suitable helper. Perhaps this is where the idea that men should dominate came from, but that was never God’s intent. In the original language, the word translated as helper or help meet was ezer. Ezer is a word that appears 21 times in the Old Testament; twice in Genesis for the woman, 3 times for nations to whom Israel appealed for military aid, and 16 times to refer to God as Israel’s helper, their shield and defence. It was used consistently in a military context. That hardly brings to mind a meek or subservient helper! Perhaps strong helper would be a better translation.
Sadly, God’s plan for a partnership between men and women didn’t play out in human history. It didn’t take long for the relationship to deteriorate to the point where women were simply possessions of their fathers or husbands, barely a step above their livestock. Their primary role was to serve the men in their lives and to produce sons to carry on their husband’s family line.
These may be radical thoughts for a woman who attends a patriarchal church, but I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and women’s issues have been a passion of mine for a very long time. The reality is that we need to do much more than set aside one day a year to draw attention to the plight of women worldwide. It is something that needs to be addressed 365 days of the year!
As long as there are places on this planet where parents sell their daughters because they can’t afford to feed them, where girls walk an average of 6 kilometres a day to collect clean water for their households, where they are denied education, where they are forced to undergo female genital mutilation and/or forced into child marriage, we must do more than celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women on International Women’s Day. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the atrocities inflicted on women in foreign lands when they aren’t happening in our own backyard, but there are women living in abject poverty in Canada, the United States, and other developed countries. Objectifying and exploiting women is still alive and well in our culture. Violence against women is still prevalent. Human trafficking happens in our own neighbourhoods.
Though the situation may have improved over the years, women have yet to achieve equality in the workplace. As a current example, women are at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19 as front-line and health sector workers, scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet according to a UN report, they get paid 11 percent less globally than their male counterparts!
What, then, can we do to press for progress for women? First of all, we need to educate ourselves, to look beyond our comfortable lives and become aware of what the issues are and which reputable organizations are working to change them. If you’re serious about wanting to have an impact on the lives of women around the world, I would suggest that you begin by reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book was a life changer for me. Kristof and WuDunn are upfront and clear; they hope to recruit their readers to get involved, to become a part of a movement to emancipate and empower women by helping provide the economic resources that can help transform their lives. Half the Sky not only inspires the reader to get involved, it gives many suggestions how.
It was after reading Half the Sky that I began making micro loans to women in third world countries through Kiva, the world’s first online micro-lending platform. It’s one small step, but it’s something I can do. Kiva is a non-profit organization that allows a person to lend as little as $25 to a specific low-income entrepreneur in one of 77 countries around the world. When a loan is repaid, the money can be withdrawn or used to fund a new loan. I choose to lend to women with children at home. All too often, money in the hands of men goes to alcohol and prostitution but in the hands of women, it nurtures children, feeds families and promotes education.
It’s International Women’s Day. What will you do?