It’s time church and society treated women and girls with dignity
Today is the UN International Day of the Girl Child. The goal is to see the world’s 1.1 billion girls experience a full life, including gender equality and opportunities to use all their gifts and talents.
Close to half the world’s population experience sexism, gender inequality, disadvantage, and discrimination on a daily basis. And it’s time for governments, policy makers, employers, religious groups, educators, sporting associations, families, and others to fully address the opportunities and challenges women and girls face.
The progress and dignity and safety and “fullness of life” offered to women and girls benefits not only them, but also families, neighborhoods, religious groups, and society at large.
Here’s the shocking truth. Women and girls experience sexism and discrimination on a daily basis.
I’m an Australian. Today a study of 600 Australian girls aged 6–19 was released, with a third saying they’d be able to get their dream job if they were male.
Half said society values their looks over their intelligence.
Half said they don’t feel safe walking to school. They expressed fear of harassment, sexual intimidation, and abuse on public transport.
9 out of 10 say they aren’t treated equally to boys.
Only 1 in 6 feels they have the same opportunities as the boys in their world.
Ok, enough about Australia. Here’s another shocking statistic: 1 in 3 girls in developing countries get married before they’re 18-years-old and often this isn’t through their own choice. The prospects for these girls are terrible.
And in the United States, we’ve seen shameful, demeaning, and sexists things said about women, even by politicians. To coincide with International Day of the Girl Child, Save the Children put together a ranking of the best and worst countries in which to be a girl. The Scandinavian countries ranked best. But the USA ranked down at position 32. This is because there’s so few women in American politics (women hold 19.4 percent of the 535 seats in Congress, while the Swedish parliament comprises 44 percent women), and because of high rates of teen pregnancy, high rates of complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and high rates of girls dropping out of high school.
How is the church going? Does it treat women and girls as fully human? (By the way, it’s shameful that I should need to use the descriptor “fully”, but many women in church and society feel like they’re not treated as “fully” human).
Too often in church life, women are treated as “the weaker vessel”, or, the even more offensive and discriminatory “beautiful princess.”
In the words of Dorothy Sayers, does the church treat women as human?
Women are at the center of things in all the New Testament accounts. Is this true in the modern church?
I don’t want to dismiss the progress the church has made, but the situation is still unacceptable. (“Unacceptable” is far too polite!) Churches give boys and men many more opportunities to lead and teach and preach. Women and girls get fewer opportunities, and are judged more harshly in their efforts. Colleges and seminaries mostly employ male faculty. Our boards are filled with men. Our leadership teams are often made up almost exclusively of men. Most keynote speakers at conferences are men. Christian publishers give most of their book contracts to men (especially white, middle aged men). No wonder women and girls have a bleak outlook on opportunities for ministry and the full use of their gifts and talents.
This isn’t the New Testament vision of the new humanity in Christ, where women and men are created equally in God’s image, and are equally free to serve and build up the body of Christ. It’s time for change!
Jesus treated women and girls with dignity. He welcomed and encouraged their contribution, without condescension, and with open arms. He treated women as fully human.
Dorothy Sayers puts it this way,
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”
It’s time for the church to follow in the way of its Lord.
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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