International Women’s Day on March 8th is a day to recognise and celebrate women’s contributions to the world and also to shout out about continuing inequality.
But is it just a day for educated western women, who are really doing OK?
We have come a long way in some countries – in education and work, access to financial independence, with a voice in public issues. Now in the West, we talk about the pay gap and action on menopause and 6 months maternity leave.
But the majority of the world’s women aren’t enjoying even basic freedoms, and during Covid, we have seen women more likely to lose their jobs, more likely to handle home schooling and child care, and more likely to bear the brunt of caring for sick family.
Despite domestic violence laws in many nations, public awareness and access to legal protections, domestic abuse is still rising: 47,000 women died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member in 2020, which equals a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.
In the midst of political and climate instability, women are more vulnerable in all sorts of ways because they tend to be poorer and have less secure incomes. That means traffickers have a ready market, and their children go without books, heating and food.
It is for these women that we should shout the loudest. As Christine MacMillan, WEA Senior Advisor to the United Nations Mission and Multi Faith Advisory Council, so eloquently wrote this week,
“International Women’s Day is not a 24 hour recognition of women who have reached lofty positions of societal hierarchy. It is an opportunity to understand how women are influencers through their experiences of pain, rejection and articulated wisdom.”
First of all we can applaud the wisdom in pain: My friend Naomi, a doctor in an east London surgery, a widow and mum of four who battles for effective healthcare for her patients and campaigns against assisted dying; another friend, Emma is devoted to helping women who are vulnerable to gender abuse and religious persecution, lobbying to get funding for women in India to research persecution in poor villages.
Rev Martha Das in Bangladesh is leader of the national evangelical association and often feels overwhelmed by the needs of women in her nation – she told me with weary irony, “When all women are treated as human beings created in the image of GOD, no one will need to observe IWD.”
I love this photo posted on facebook, from Poland – mothers have left strollers and baby supplies at the railway station for Ukrainian refugees. Ordinary women showing welcoming kindness to strangers.
These are not flashy women, and my friends are not celebrities. They are ordinary, fearless prophetic voices.
We can also remember to pray for women we know and for the ones we can’t name – the women at the well, the women raped by armed gangs, the women excluded from education, the women who are worn out with serving. And women and children fleeing violent conflict.
And when we say Amen, stand up and be a voice for righting the wrongs. The Bible exhorts us to speak on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable (Pr. 31:8).
There are many ways to get involved in supporting women and girls. If you are stuck for ideas, contact me.