I must admit that my literacy about aspects of the economy would not get me an A*.
I have my head around the difference between fiscal and monetary policy and could even define quantitative easing but details of the financial crash of 2008 just don’t stay in my brain.
And if you look at media aimed at women, you’d think money was only good for spending on personal indulgences. Saving? Wise management? Don’t worry your blonde-highlighted head about that.
But women and men need to be wise about money, so we can have enough for our needs, be content with all we have and give generously to those who have need.
We also need to understand how we can make the economic system fairer. Nations of the world have come up with goals that address some of the ‘unfairness’ of our world. But are their plans in line with God’s economics?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed a year ago by all nations at the UN. Behind the scenes, nations and researchers are busy working out how to tackle the mighty challenges of 17 goals and 169 targets (target 170 was not to have so many targets!) And technocrats want to see how they can collect accurate data to measure success and shortcomings.
The Goals are relevant to all nations because we ALL have to show we are meeting targets on poverty, environment, access to education and economic well-being. For us in the western world, this could be a challenge as we will have to admit that we have economic poverty and poverty of opportunity – that far too many people get left behind.
Some of the targets are interesting because they strongly encourage all men and women to have access to economic resources and meaningful paid work.
Christian charities and churches have been very good at providing education opportunities. The first Sunday Schools were set up to give children from very poor families who worked 6 days a week in a factory or mine or farm, the chance to learn to read and write. The teachers were motivated by twin desires – to improve the children’s life chances and to enable the children to read the Bible. Whether it’s a mums and toddlers group in the church hall, or a church primary school, or after school homework clubs, across the world, we still value learning.
We know that education is a route out of poverty but we haven’t concentrated so much on the quality of work those children are offered when they finish education.
We need to look at our attitudes to work and economic participation, make sure they align with Biblical values and then see how the values implicit in the SDGs measure up.
I’ve picked out some SDG targets that specifically mention women.
Target 1.4 says: By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance…
(And a linked target 5.5 asks for national laws to ensure this)
Ruth and Naomi would agree with this target. It is about giving equal access and opportunity to the vulnerable – widows in many places still can’t inherit land or property, and many women still need a man’s permission to access money or open a bank account.
Access to credit, and to land ownership will help women have economic security.
And maybe churches have a role in letting women and men know their rights. Naomi knew the laws about kinship redeemers and she used her knowledge to ensure security for Ruth and her.
Target 8.5 says: By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
The capable and multi-tasking woman in Proverbs 31 would agree with this target. ‘Decent work’ is a wonderful term. We want to see all people use their talents to the full and be given fair pay. An interesting issue though, is the right of women (or men) to do unpaid work as a full time mother, or carer, or to volunteer her skills at church or in the community. In the desire to give women access to decent work, we need to make provisions for volunteering and caring. A first step is to appreciate in economic and social terms the contribution women (and it is still mainly women) make to families and communities.
Across the world, some women will be fighting to leave the home and get paid work, others will want p-t work and others will want a full-time career. And some women want to full-time mums.
It is dangerous to say one model is more Christian than another. We are all different and have different roles to fulfil at different times. Economically, we want to see women and men with the right to take up opportunities.
Target 8.7 says: Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
These crimes against children should be the concern of all churches. We should be involved at a practical level, at a praying level and in our economic decisions.
Back to my first point. So much of our charity and care directed at helping women and children, ignores the economics of inequality and unfairness. But Boaz realised that charity to Ruth and Naomi at harvest time was not enough. He knew he had to follow God’s standards to restore Ruth’s inheritance. What a man of faith! And what a women of faith Naomi and Ruth were to behave honourably and boldly to receive blessing.