Now Welcoming New Recruits to ‘The Women’s Crusade’–Part I
Last week I came across a 10-page spread in The New York Times entitled “The Women’s Crusade” written by two long-time journalists, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They write about how their experiences and travels have enlightened them not only to the deplorable state of gender inequality in the developing world, but to the huge potential that helping women can have to engender change in those countries. From the economy to overpopulation to terrorism, they argue, focusing on women and girls is the solution.
Because I know our readers are busy and already stretched pretty thin, there’s not much more I want to add to this spread other than to summarize it for those who weren’t planning on reading all 10 pages of it. My hope is that even a taste of the facts will spur more women on to active engagement in the movement to end poverty by investing in the world’s poorest women, especially through committed prayer, small entrepreneurial loans (microfinancing), and rights to education.
Friends, while the state of public school or the healthcare debate or your busyness as a mom are worthwhile discussions, let’s take some time to become uncomfortable on behalf of the poorest of the poor who live outside our borders. Today we’re not talking about those below the poverty line in the US, however crucial that issue may be as well. The World Bank states that more than two billion people live on less than $2 per day–and yes, that is adjusted for purchasing power across currencies. If you’re reading this, you’re not one of them, and that means you can help. Let’s think about the state of women’s lives around the world as Kristof and WuDunn help us answer the question of why it is that women are so disproportionately stuck in poverty and inequality. Generally speaking:
• Women often do not have legal rights to property, children, or wages. If a husband dies, male relatives inherit businesses and land, leaving the woman alone and broke in a patriarchal world. (How different might this be if we considered Moses’ counter-cultural wisdom in Number 27:1-8?) According to this article, 1 percent of the world’s landowners are women.
• When money in a poor family is tight, any available resources are allotted to the male children because they will become laborers and don’t require a dowry. This includes access to food, education, and vaccinations. The World Bank reports that “worldwide, two-thirds of the kids who don’t go to school are girls” and thus illiteracy disproportionately affects women. (How are those women going to vote to change discriminatory laws?) In fact, many women don’t even have a chance at life: an estimated 60-100 million women are simply missing from the planet because of their gender.
• Women are drastically more likely to be victimized by physical and sexual abuse. In many cultures, men are expected to beat a “disobedient” or irksome woman, and in marriage it isn’t a crime. Women who fail to produce a male child can be simply disposed of. Disturbingly, the NYT article also reports that “21 percent of young women surveyed in Ghana reported that their sexual initiation was by rape.” Try to imagine the psychological scars afflicting one in five Ghanaian women–far more if you consider those who have been sexually abused ever. They also state that “the U.N. estimates 5,000 honor killings per year, mostly in the Muslim world” and a bride burning in India every two hours. Around the world, an estimated 130 million women have been subjected to genital cutting, also known by the term female genital mutilation (FGM). This doesn’t even include millions of sexual slaves and trafficked women and girls around the globe.
The psychological, financial, and social implications here cannot be overstated. These are all women God knows and calls by name. They’re all women for whom Jesus died. They’re all women God has great purpose and plans for. They are beloved of God.
While we’ll talk next week about the hopeful solutions women can provide and the ways we can help, what do you think about these facts? What surprises you the most? How do you talk to your kids or your church about global poverty and the status of women around the world? Is it fair to say that poverty and inequality are more important than many domestic issues we face?