Stained-Glass Ceilings

I want to wage a campaign against sloppy Biblical understanding, especially when it comes to stories about women. The narrative tends to be hackneyed and stresses ‘feminine’ qualities like beauty, humility and caring service. We miss out on the richness of complexity when we praise Ruth’s hard work and faith without also acknowledging her boldness in prompting Boaz to take action as her kinsman-redeemer. And it is not just wasteful of a beautifully crafted Old Testament book, it reinforces roles for women that are about service not leadership.

In a positive discussion with a group of about 40 women leaders last week in New Zealand, I was reminded that we do not hear about Biblical women enough and when we do, the examples are distorted or unhelpful eg ‘Women, do you have a Jezebel spirit?’

The 40 women in Auckland are determined to change the story for women in the Pacific region. They were meeting to discuss forming a Women’s leadership group to be part of the New Zealand Christian Network.[1]

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New Zealand comes top of the polls in so many ways – economic strength, good governance, lifestyle and equality. But good can always get better and the church is recognizing that it can help women connect, learn and contribute to discussions on all sorts of women’s issues and be a voice in the church and the public square.

New Zealand has a wonderfully mixed population of Maori, Anglo settlers, Pacific Islanders and more recently, Asian migrants. That makes an interesting fusion of Christian experience which can contribute a lot to worldwide discussion for women and men grappling with secularism, family challenges, good business, community violence and poverty.

One woman in a lunch meeting of leaders referred to ‘the sacred glass ceiling’, a great image to describe the deceptively pretty-looking limits placed on women in churches.

It was inspiring to meet with Janet Tuck and Rachel Afeaki Taumoepeau (in the picture) who have stepped up to lead the group. I was so impressed by their thoughtful positive approach and the fact that they bring different skills and experience.

The meeting in Auckland is going to be followed by other get-togethers across the islands and Janet and Rachel hope that they can start telling stories of strong hope, that will give good models of leadership to the next generation. Both women are already on the Board of the NZ Christian Network so their work will not be parked in a lay-by marked ‘Women Only’.

Being a daughter of God should be an exciting adventure. Yet many church structures are stuck in old ways and cultural expectations that are not helpful to the educated, talented and articulate bunch of women I met in Auckland (and everywhere I go!)

I’m excited to think of what can change in our perceptions if we have some good solid teaching about women in the Bible. And I’m looking forward to seeing what Janet and Rachel and all those women in New Zealand will nurture over the coming years to bring glory to God.

Actions:

  1. For a really readable introduction to women in the Bible, see the books of Lee Grady.

2.  Please pray for Christian women who are acknowledged as leaders – it is not easy for women (or men) in the sometimes-harsh -judgmental spotlight of the Church!

[1] It will be part of the global Women’s Commission, of the World Evangelical Alliance

She influences the world

Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of US Vogue has been voted the 2nd most influential woman in the UK in 2015.

The judges said, “She influences the world in what to wear, how to look, and who to celebrate.” See twitter

This was no cheap list of Top-10’s found on an online site (you know the sort of thing – “10 worst celebrity beach bodies”) but one compiled by the prestigious Woman’s Hour of BBC Radio 4. Number 1 was the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Nicola Sturgeon, who led her party to overwhelming victory in Scotland in the May general election.

So what do I make of the fact that Anna Wintour tells women “how to look and who to celebrate”.

I’m a woman in my 50’s: I know it’s important to look as impressive as possible in the work place especially when I’m doing presentations or leading meetings, so I’m not invisible to the world.

But I don’t slavishly follow fashion trends because I am more than my looks, because clothes do NOT make me who I am, and because I want to spend my money wisely on clothes that will not date.

Spending hours buried in Vogue or Marie Claire could make you feel seriously inadequate – especially in terms of how much money we are supposed to spend on looking fashionable. But they also say that women are about fashion and beauty, and little else. There are rare articles on business women, motherhood and sport because advertisers demand that the pages are filled with aspiration-raising images of designer wear.

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Ironically, Anna Wintour has a classic look (and if you don’t know her, take a look here) that has little to do with the seasonal trends that fill the pages of her magazine.

So as a Christian woman, keen to look good in a non-Amish kind of way, here is my top 10 list of “what to wear, how to look and who to celebrate.”

  1. I buy clothes that will last. It is false economy to buy cheap, throw-away clothing that demeans the whole idea of craftsmanship
  2. I try NOT to impulse buy – if I need a coat I do not come home with a pair of shoes
  3. I buy in the sales
  4. I stick to what suits me most and what makes me comfortable – colours, styles,#tracksuitpants
  5. I scour second-hand shops
  6. I like to support small business so the money goes to the designers and craftsmen (see point 9)
  7. I can sew: I can carry out repairs, do alterations, take up hems, so clothes last longer
  8. I look after clothes and shoes so they last longer
  9. I try to buy fair trade. This is NOT always easy but I definitely avoid brands with the worst reputation. See Behind the Brands or Fashion Report
  10. I celebrate women’s achievements that have nothing to do with looks or money. Thank you to the influencers and achievers who will never make the list but who are on my list of wonderful women.

This is a basic list – you may have your own hints and ideas – tweet them to @w2wglobal.org

Side by Side – a parable for 2015

Side by side on the front page of the weekend edition of the New York Times[1] I saw an article about trafficked children who end up in detention in Libya treated as criminals; and one about the record auction price paid for a Picasso – US$179 million.

ny timesMy heart churns at this spectacular juxtaposition of distressing exploitation and unbridled consumerism.

The children in the article on trafficking, a few as young as eight, are some of the thousands of under-18s who travel alone from North Africa, trying to get to Italy through Libya. 13,000 made it to Italy in 2014.

Children are the most vulnerable segment of the 200,000 who tried to get to Europe by boat last year. They are lured by a promise of asylum in Europe but the dream quickly turns to debt and threats. Smugglers demand more than US$3000 from desperately poor parents back home. No payment? The kids are abandoned to detention in Libya. Even for those who get on a boat, the situation is fraught – fifty children drowned with over 650 adults when a boat capsized in April in the Mediterranean. How many more go missing in less noticeable boats?

Most of the children coming from North Africa are from Eritrea (though the roll call of countries includes all the poorest and most fragile nations). The UK, USA and Australia all advise against travel to Eritrea – it is a place of lawless danger. There are very few schools, no jobs and boys want to escape from military service which is akin to slave labour. Of course they have no idea about the lies and cruelty of the smugglers who hunt for prey along the routes to Europe.

This story of exploitation and modern slavery is repeated in the UK where around 3,000 Vietnamese children are in forced labour. Or on the seas off Indonesia where Rohingya refuges crowded on boats are pushed away, unwanted by Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. Australia, my home nation refused to assist 700 Rohingya on a sinking boat. The Rohingya, one of the most persecuted groups in the world, are falling victim to trafficking into Malaysia and Thailand, countries with a poor record of human rights.

How can we respond to desperate need with such callous lack of charity?

The response of some politicians is that rescuing people in the Med or off Indonesia only encourages more people to come.

It’s true, we do need to address the causes of need in Eritrea, Sudan, Vietnam and Burma, which means generous aid and access to economic growth, not cutting the aid budget as Australia has done last month. But we must also give immediate aid to the victims of exploitation because God demands that we do so (or basic human rights if you don’t want to bring God into it). And we need to support those on the front line in Italy or Indonesia so they don’t have the whole burden of providing care.

I am not a liberal lovey or a naïve idealist – I just know that we need to respond.

So once again, talk, chat, argue about these issues to overcome fear and prejudice.

Please write to your Foreign Minister (and send a copy to your local political representative) about this. I have included a sample letter about the Rohingya that you could adapt)

If we do not speak out, politicians will think there is no mandate for compassion.

PS. As for the sale of the Picasso, I do not need to tell you the details – suffice to say that the NY Times estimates that the top 1% of wealthy people in the world have their own hierarchy of ‘inequality’ and that someone who can afford $179 million for a single painting must be in the top 0.0001% of wealthy people. Madness!

PPS. Please pray for local people in Italy, Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia and other places facing an influx of refugees. Pray that they will be open-hearted and pray that other nations in Europe and Asia and North America will not harden their hearts.

Sample Letter about the Rohingya (my thanks to Oddny Gumaer from Partners Relief and Development for drafting this letter)

Dear

I am deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis we see unfolding in the Andaman Sea, where thousands of Rohingya refugees are trapped in unseaworthy vessels trying to escape persecution in Myanmar/Burma.

I am sure you are aware of the recent crisis involving over 700 people stranded for several weeks. They had no food or water, and many needed urgent medical care. About 1/3 of the refugees were children.

The Rohingya are the most persecuted people group in Myanmar. In 1982, a new Citizenship Law removed their citizenship and rendered them stateless. The law has a very serious impact on the one million Rohingya who cannot move freely, and are denied basic services. In recent years more than 140,000 Rohingya have been forced into camps that many refer to as concentration camps. As life has become more intolerable for the Rohingya, thousands have made the decision to flee by sea.

Malaysian and Thai authorities have said that they will push back boats and deport migrants and refugees, to prevent further arrivals, in contravention of international law.

I want to urge you, to take action on behalf of the Rohingya refugees. Please put pressure on the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments to allow Rohingya boats to land on their shores and urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work towards a humane and just solution to the refugee crisis, including measures to rescue those at sea.

I also ask that you speak up for the rights of Rohingya in Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia. An urgent response is needed as this vulnerable group is also falling victim to trafficking.

Yours sincerely,

[1] It was the international edition for Sunday May 24

Poverty, chastity, obedience – a winning formula?

According to the BBC, three times more women in the UK entered training to become nuns last year than 5 years ago. The actual numbers are small – 45 compared with 15 in 2009, but it’s still worth noting this faith choice that is also a lifestyle revolution.

In times of conspicuous consumption, casual sex and “life is all about me” attitudes, the fact that 45 women have chosen to commit to ancient vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is a positive message that faith in God calls for radical decisions by all women.[1]

It’s also a choice that will bring life-long friendship and support for the women, plus the freedom to go into the world to serve radically.

I have met with amazing nuns defending refugee rights in Australia; developing pre-school curriculum in the local Tetum language in Timor Leste; and running activity centres for traumatised children in the midst of Sri Lanka’s civil war. I have also seen nuns at the UN calling for justice for India’s widows and I have worked alongside many who have campaigned against landmines and for peace.

Somehow, being a nun (like being in a Salvation Army uniform) bestows authority and garners respect in the community. And that is not just outdated tradition – it is something to do with the recognition that these women have made a pretty radical life choice to serve and love the least.

My friend Felicity has made a similar decision. She is training to become an Anglican vicar. The process to be accepted was arduous and she has faced all sorts of challenges as a young single woman. But she is stronger as a result of her willingness to step out of the world’s path to success to be part of a different story.

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And a new friend is Dorothy (in the pink shirt), who decided to move from the States to Thailand to help in any way she could in the refugee and minority communities around Chiang Mai. At 72, she has become ‘grandmother’ to many women and children and has discovered new skills as a textile entrepreneur!

All of us should bear some badge (or ‘habit’) that declares our identity as Jesus followers – people prepared to obey God’s call.

It’s deeply unfashionable but also compelling because it is not just giving things up and clenching our teeth in reluctant service.

It is a call to love, as a response to God’s amazing love. Nuns (and lots of women from different traditions who choose to stay single) take that literally by choosing Jesus over earthly marriage. But I know that whenever we act out of love, other lives are touched by God and our own lives are much richer.

So I celebrate Felicity, Dorothy and the nuns.

Actions

Please pray for all the people you know who are radically serving and loving God.

And pray for women everywhere to have a radical habit in loving God.

[1] I’m aware that some of you may have doubts about the whole system of entering Catholic orders. I’m not defending the whole Catholic church structure but within it are amazing women of faith. And of course there are nuns in other church traditions whose vows are different.

A kitten! (and International Women’s Day)

 

Banksy-Gaza 2

International Women’s Day is still important.  March 8th has only lost its relevance if we use it as a day to promote more privileges for ourselves. But by using it as a day to stand up for women around the world, who are living in poverty and oppression, it is hugely relevant.

Apparently kittens always attract lots of views on youtube. That’s why street artist Banksy did this artwork in Gaza – a cute kitten playing with the debris of bombing. He commented that it was the only way to get attention for the suffering of people caught in the on-going conflict.

So now the kitten’s got your attention, how do we get action for the suffering of millions of women and girls in poverty?

One way is to have an international day devoted to women – and it’s coming up this Sunday the 8th. International Women’s Day.

Do we still need such a day? Does it discriminate against men? And will the day achieve anything for girls and women on all the other days of 2105?

Well, let’s think about Mother’s Day. It’s a short time set aside to celebrate mums but that does not mean we ignore our mothers the rest of the year.

Or wedding anniversaries – try telling your partner that it’s unnecessary to celebrate your anniversary as it doesn’t achieve anything any more. Special days and holidays are reminders of achievement, sacrifice, love and commitment.

Maybe International Women’s Day makes some uncomfortable because it’s a reminder of the continuing low status of women in so many places. Women are more affected by poverty than men and have less stable economic circumstances. All round the world women suffered most in the economic crisis of 2008 – they were the most vulnerable to losing their jobs or having pay cuts. It is their jobs that have been lost in the public service and their children who have been affected by health and education cuts.

In the UK, USA and Australia, if present rates of change continue, it will take another 75 years for women to achieve equal pay. That means not my daughter, or her daughter but my daughter’s grand-daughter may get rewarded fairly for her contribution to society.

Women who have babies never make up the pay gap. And you might say that is OK because life is about more than money, but there needs to be more discussion on International Women’s Day about the economic value of care work, parenting and voluntary work. And men should join that debate. Because the truth is that women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work and produce 50 per cent of its food, but earn only 10 per cent of its income and own one per cent of its property.

In the developing world, women plus poverty can be a deadly equation. The maternal health targets of Millennium Development Goal 5 will fall short – 50% of pregnant women still miss out on adequate health care; and we will not reach the headline target of a 75% drop in maternal deaths (it’s 45%).

I could go on with stories of how women are treated in many places – widows are mis-treated, girls are forced into early marriage, women are cheated out of their inheritance and women who don’t have children are still blamed as failures.

So don’t tell me that a day for women isn’t needed.

Oddny Gunmaer helps women and children affected by conflict to meet basic needs, prevent them being trafficked or exploited, and care for them in crisis situations. So what does she want for women caught in crisis?

“The most obvious answer is that they will be able to have enough to eat, adequate healthcare or the opportunity to go to school. For too many women, these are things they are lacking. I could also say I would wish that they could live in peace without the fear of attacks of soldiers who wish to destroy, rape and kill. This is their daily fear for too many. I wish for freedom to dream, and to pursue those dreams. I wish for their hopes not to die.”

I asked Oddny whether International Women’s Day is still important. She told me, “March 8th has only lost its relevance if we use it as a day to promote more privileges for ourselves. But by using the day as a day to stand up for women around the world, who are living in poverty and oppression, it is a day of great relevance.”

 

Got another 5 minutes?

  1. Watch a 2 minute video of Banksy in Gaza here (including the kitten)
  2. Check out Partners Relief and Development founded by Oddy and Steve Gunmaer.
  3. Like w2wglobal facebook page – it tells you more about issues facing women and how faith intersects with those issues.
  4. Spend less time watching youtube videos of kittens!

Oddny and the Rohingya

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Psalm 82:2-4

The psalmist’s cry was on Oddny Gumaer’s heart when she recounted the suffering of the Rohingya women she met in Malaysia recently.

The Rohingya women, men and children have fled from the brutalities of oppression and poverty in their homeland, Burma (Myanmar). Not only have they been persecuted and oppressed by their own government, but they have been left undefended by the rest of the world.

In Burma, the Rohingya, a minority group of a million people, are not eligible for full citizenship unless they can meet stringent requirements including tracing their family history in Myanmar back over 150 years. Violence in Rakine state where most Rohingya live has meant that nearly 200,000 are existing in squalid displaced persons camps. Escape across the border seems like a lifeline for the families.

But as undocumented refugees in Malaysia and Thailand, they are still hungry and desperately needy, with no rights to work, no adequate housing and no access to a doctor. Oddny tells me, “They are also fearful because they have no guarantees that they won’t get detained by the police, and either sent back to Burma, or trafficked.”

One young mother’s story has stayed with Oddny. At 19, barely more than a girl, Mawi was forced to work as a slave by the Burma Army. When they threatened to imprison her for reasons she wasn’t told, she ran away to Malaysia.

She has no legal papers, which makes her a target of the police as well as human traffickers. Pregnant and unemployed, Mawi was detained by Malaysian immigration police two years ago. A bribe got her out of prison.

Her son is now 2 years old and she is six months pregnant. Some months ago a car hit Mawi’s husband and son as they were crossing the road. The driver ran off, leaving her husband critically wounded on the road. He is now handicapped and may never be able to work again.

Mawi doesn’t know how her family is going to survive. Without a UN registration card she has no legal right to medical help, so she doesn’t know where and how she will deliver her baby. The family has no income at all and depends on their neighbours’ charity to survive. She is not able to work since she has no legal papers, and also because she will need to look after her two children. She is constantly afraid that she will get arrested. She is frequently hassled by hospital staff telling her that they still owe money for her husband’s treatment.

Oddny has met many women in similar situations but still, Mawi’s desperate need has left her feeling hopeless. She says,

“I found myself feeling desperate, angry and confused. Why wouldn’t God provide justice for them?”

“Why is it always the most vulnerable that keep getting the bad deals? Where are the ones who will speak for them? When will the world decide that every human is valuable, not just the ones with the loudest mouths and the fattest bank accounts? Where is the church?”

Oddny has channelled her desperate confusion into work among the victims of poverty and violence for 20 years. She is the founder and advocacy director of Partners Relief and Development.

She does not let despair conquer her but at the same time she wants more people to become advocates for the poor of Burma where half a million people have fled their homes and where only 4% of children in some areas are in school.

What EXPOSED has achieved

We wanted to go beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?”

Brisbane has returned to the everyday as 3,000 media, 6,000 policemen and 20 world leaders exit. I was lucky enough to hear David Cameron and Tony Abbott at their press conferences and saw the Obama motorcade leave the conference.

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Thanks so much for following my blogs about the G20. The EXPOSED campaign landed in Australia after three years of prayer, coalition building, research and planning ideas.

What have we all achieved in that time?

I think I’d give the G20 7/10 and a B minus for effort.

Definitely worth the effort though because we represented the voices of ordinary people – church communities, small and medium size business people and development groups – who want to end the blight of unequal growth and selfish greed.

Information and education. We talked about the C word (corruption) in all sorts of contexts so that millions learned the extent, complexities and injustice of the problem around the world. 

We produced theological material and a report called Open for ServiceWe encouraged prayers of confession and prayer for leaders.

We sought out stories of transformation as we wanted to bring light and hope. Remember Biship Zac in Uganda, whistleblower Michelle Harding in South Africa and work across Nepal on integrity?

Our toolkits addressed corruption in the church and business. And the Global Call recognised that G20 governments needed to act.

Campaigning actions. EXPOSED has always been a call to churches, business and government to model integrity and transparency, that goes beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?” We achieved *1000 vigils, *147,700 signatures on the Global Call in 176 nations, *hundreds of Selfies with a message for Australia’s Treasurer, *the Open Letter from 95 global Christian leaders representing a billion Christians, and *the world’s biggest mock tax haven event

Policy. As a global campaign calling for integrity in business and government we explained that funds could be freed for the poorest communities in the world if we dealt with corrupt and unethical practices. Extra funds from taxes could also be used to encourage business growth and employment opportunities in all nations.

We tried hard to make the policies accessible and to give real world examples from topical issues like corruption in sport, fashion and the oil industry in Nigeria.

Did we succeed in seeing policy change? The G20 committed to ongoing work to addressing all the policies at the heart of the Campaign – global tax dodging and corruption.

There’s still more steps to take but that is the beauty and curse of the G20 – small enough to have honest discussions but large enough for those discussions to end in general promises that need meaty detail at the national level.

G20 nations have agreed to share tax related information with each other and have established high level principles for ensuring that more is known about the true owners and beneficiaries of anonymous companies and trusts. In a bid to consider the interests of low-income countries, the G20 have also communicated plans to support the administrative skills and systems of developing countries’ tax systems through ‘capacity-building’.

So there have been definite steps towards the light of transparency.

Thanks for playing your part.