The women from my Berkeley Women’s Group have been celebrating International Women’s Day annually since before I joined them in 1971. I moved away in 1975 and have made it back rarely since then, but Suzann, our convener, has called me every year on March 8th to remind me that I am one of them, remembered and loved. Sisterhood is like that.
I first became aware of the Women’s Movement in its 1960’s iteration as a 15-year old high school junior in 1965. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s coincided or collided, depending on one’s politics, with the Women’s Movement of the same era, but it was the Women’s Movement that grabbed my consciousness then and still holds my consciousness today.
The Women’s Movement, whether you go back to Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 publication “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” or to Malala Yousafzai’s 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, is ultimately about acknowledging the rights of women and girls to enjoy our fair share of half the world’s abundance since, as the Chinese meme attributed to Mao Tse-tung, says, “Women hold up half the sky.”
The world is far from achieving gender equity for females explains the Executive Director of United Nations Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, on March 6th in an Associated Press interview. Then first-lady of the United States, Hilary Rodham Clinton, said, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”
I think of Jesus as a feminist, holding women in the same regard as men, in a time when society did not share his sentiments. In addition to Jesus’ preferential option for the poor, I also think he had a preferential option for women, revealing himself first, after his resurrection, to women. Perhaps Jesus meant to honor the women by showing himself to them first, or maybe Jesus trusted the women to believe the miracle of his resurrection.
International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, as a way of recognizing and honoring women’s achievements . . . and calling for continued action to secure full equality for women’s and girls’ rights worldwide. It’s the call to action that continues to be important, because The World Bank’s data tell us that women and girls still have a long way to go to achieve equity. For example, under the heading Thematic Data: Human Rights of Women and Girl Children, here are some of the eye-opening questions asked, with links to the data collected, by country:
- Are married women required by law to obey their husbands?
- Can a married woman confer citizenship to her children in the same way as a man?
- Can an unmarried woman choose where to live in the same way as a man?
- Do female and male surviving spouses have equal inheritance rights to property?
- Do sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights to property?
- Does a woman’s testimony carry the same evidentiary weight in court as a man’s?
The disparity illustrated by the last question above was directly rebuked by Jesus more than 2,000 years ago when he chose women to carry the message of his resurrection to his disciples and the world. Yet, fifteen Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries out of 143 countries surveyed do not give the same weight to a woman’s testimony that is given to a man’s testimony in court.
Women’s agency – the capacity to act freely and independently – should not be an issue still to be realized in the 21st century. Chattel slavery is no longer acceptable under the laws of any nation, with Qatar, Bhutan, Tibet, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Mauritania being the most recent nations, from 1952 to 1981, to ban slavery. However, various forms of human trafficking insidiously enslave children, women, and men, bringing their totals to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30-million modern-day slaves.
The United Nations 59th annual Conference on the Status of Women (UNCSW59) begins tomorrow, March 9th, until March 20th, to review the progress that has been made since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1959. Much of the now familiar Millennium Development Goals harken back to the Beijing Declaration’s arguments on how improving the lives of women and girls drives direct improvement of the social and development fabric of whole countries.
For the next two weeks, 50 years after the Women’s Movement raised my consciousness about the inequality faced by women and girls, I am here in New York City with 19 fellow delegates from the Episcopal Church, joining with women and men from the Anglican Communion and ecumenical groups to witness to the progress made and to take action plans back to our home communities to continue the work.
After all, it’s good stewardship in God’s economy to utilize all the gifts of all God’s people for the benefit of all of humankind. And over the next two weeks, I am counting on meeting some new sisters and a few new brothers, too. I intend to blog daily about my experience at UNCSW59 at my personal blog, www.whatacupoftea.blogspot.com.