When we think of women's issues in America we think of feminism, reproductive rights, and equal pay. Of course there are extreme ends of the continuum, but for the most part, the feminist movement has certainly opened doors for me that weren't available to my grandmothers, or even my mother.
Feminism is a bit of an "f-word" in the Church. I have good friends who would identify themselves as a feminist in every sense of the word, I have friends that believe the Bible is clear that a woman's first place is at home. I fall very reasonably between these two, and have radically enjoyed spending ten years at home investing in my family. Of course, I also think this job is not for everyone, and that fathers should feel the same freedom to choose to be at home. The career itself should be highly regarded- the methods by which it's lived out could stand to evolve, and I think they are doing so.
Being female doesn't seem to be the ticket to being a successful at-home parent. And having a parent of either sex who spends the bulk of their time at home also doesn't seem to be the answer to doing things the "right way."
Parents who are engaged and invested in their families, regardless of myriad career paths; that seems to make all the difference in the world.
Speaking specifically for the American Church, we tend to leave women's issues here. Thankfully, I see this changing. My own scope of reference for women's rights has certainly become more global and rounded out in the last decade. After reading biographies of the lives of Isobel Kuhn, Hudson Taylor, William Wilberforce, Amy Carmichael, David Livingstone, and William Borden my eyes were opened to the ways women have been de-humanized, objectified, and abused throughout history. A reading of the Bible affirms this as well, by the way. And guess what? All of these things are still happening every day, right now.
I think many women in Evangelical culture may at first assume they are not a feminist- a loaded word to say the least. But to that I'd say, start spending time with disadvantaged women and you might realize that while you may not identify yourself as a feminist, you're probably a lot more passionate about women's rights than you thought, and that as women of God we have a responsibility to engage in these issues around the world.
While in Zambia I learned that a man infected with HIV can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Who knew it could be so easy? Lies like this permeate the culture of African nations, many of which are being desecrated by the AIDS epidemic. Women, with so few rights in the first place, tend to suffer the most, and when mothers die an early death, their orphaned children are left to navigate life alone, the burdens passed to them.
We mentor refugee families through LSS. While this is generally an amazing program to be involved with, befriending families from other cultures does not come without its own complexities. Usually it's funny. Sometimes it can be difficult. ( By the way, talk to me about mentoring! It's fantastic.)
In the two years we've been mentoring, every family we've worked with has been from an African nation, so by knowing them, and knowing their friends, I've received a primary education on what family life can be like for an African woman. For example, the men tend to decide everything of importance. Some of the men actually keep their wives at home nearly all the time- perhaps they get to take a walk now and then. The man does the shopping, but of course the woman does all of the actual cooking. She just doesn't get to decide what she makes. They're very nice people. This is just how it is.
Or, African families have no problem openly discussing my reproductive state. We have such a small family you see, just four children. They outright ask me where the "rest" of our children are, or why I am not pregnant right now. I explain politely that we cannot have more children. (This is true- though it is by choice.) One woman, holding her thirteenth child in her lap, told me, "Well, four is better than nothing."
This year, a Sudanese man had a conversation with Jim, as a friend, to encourage him to have more children "if your wife will receive you." The implication being that I was refusing him, this was a problem, it made Jim look bad, and as a friend he needed to encourage him to fix the issue. It's nice to be talked about as if I am livestock, I tell you!
Cultures view children differently. American culture is just as guilty of getting it wrong. And in this case, birth control is a foreign concept. Also, the idea that a woman could have any say in living a life beyond having babies and cooking for them is unheard of. I'm a strong advocate for the value of children and the value of a strong home life, and for submitting myself wholly to the will of God- but I guess I do care about my ability to choose that for myself more than I thought! I don't like men feeling they have freedom to decide these things for me. It's a window into how life works for women in other parts of the world- I can see how this attitude opens the door for greater corruption.
I also mentor women through the Mentor Mom program. Because of our previous work with refugee families, I tend to be given refugee moms. In the past year, I've mentored a fifteen year old girl from Eritrea who has the mental capacity of a fourth grader. Upon our first meeting she could not tell me her phone number, or explain to me where she lived in the city. This girl, eight months pregnant, could not tell me her address- she has lived here for six years. The father of her baby is a 23 year old man from Ethiopia. To save you the details, after much investigation on the part of the authorities, every sign pointed to an inappropriate relationship. The girl's mother absolutely would not press charges, and saw nothing wrong with the situation. If this man had gotten my daughter pregnant, I am certain he would be in jail right now. Women in this position need an advocate.
I also mentored a 23 year old Ethiopian woman who arrived in the US as a refugee three years ago. She originally lived in California, and has since moved to South Dakota. When I met her, she had just given birth to a baby girl, but refused to tell us who the father of her baby was, and also refused to explain how she had come to move across the country in the first place. She has absolutely no family or friends in the city, and cannot speak English. After investigating her case, all signs point to sex trafficking. She needs an advocate.
All this to say, I've been reading the book Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.
I appreciate James' thoughtful approach to the issues women face around the world. This book is an introduction to the general state of things for women globally, historically, and biblically. In it, James explores what it means to be a woman of God, pressing deeply into our purpose as ezer-warriors for the kingdom. So often we are taught that to be an ezer is limited to helping our husbands in the sphere of marriage- the term, which God also uses to refer to himself, is much broader and deeper than simply that. It is rarely explored, and in explaining it, the church tends to exclude women who are not married, as if the term does not apply to them, or only bestows worth to them if they marry, or explains helpfully, "If you are not married, here are some ways you can be an ezer in the world even without a husband.". If this isn't directly taught, it's often implied.
In light of that, I highly recommend this book. It is engaging food for thought and discussion, and it's only $1.99 for Kindle and Nook right now. If you read it, let me know.