I am getting ready to speak at the West Coast Healthcare Missions Conference this next week and have been updating some of my statistics and presentations. As usual this kind of preparation challenges me again to look at the needs of our world and to grapple with how my life can make a difference in the lives of those that are marginalized by our society.
Part of my reading this week has been the Millennium Development Report 2009 It makes sobering reading as I realize how much those at the margins have been impacted by the financial crisis of the last year reversing some of the hard earned progress against poverty. It is estimated that 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the global economic crisis.
In 2000, world leaders in the UN established what are known as the Millennial Development goals with the hope of freeing a major portion of humanity from extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease by the year 2015. The goals are:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other disease
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
Another part of my reading came, believe it or not from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Why Women’s Rights are the Cause of Our Time. The challenges of this issue complements the concerns of the Millennial Development report because one of the major areas in which we have made little progress is in the health and wellbeing of women.
Every year, 536,000 women and girls still die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or the six weeks following delivery. Girls are less likely to be in school than boys. They are taken to health clinics less frequently, are more likely to be malnourished and often suffer the indignity of too many babies too soon which results in vesicovaginal fistula that further ostracize them. The magnitude of the fistula problem worldwide is unknown but believed to be immense. In Nigeria alone, Harrison (1985) reported a vesicovaginal fistula rate of 350 cases per 100,000 deliveries at a university teaching hospital.
In some countries women still have no rights of citizenship or the ability to own property. This makes them extremely vulnerable if their husbands or fathers die or abandon them. It can also binds them to abusive and degrading relationships with no recourse to the processes of the law.
The education and empowerment of women continues to be a huge issue in our time and one which I believe Christians should be at the forefront of addressing. Jesus treated women in radical life affirming ways that were revolutionary in his day and age. He treated them with respect and as equals. In a society that believed women were incapable of learning, he allowed them to sit at his feet and listen. He raised a widow’s son from the dead so that she would not be forced into extreme poverty and possibly into prostitution, the only profession that from ancient times has been open to women who are vulnerable and alone.
According to the New York Times:,
the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time. And their liberation could help solve many of the world’s problems, from poverty to child mortality to terrorism…. “Women hold up half the sky,’ in the words of a Chinese saying, yet hat’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and its not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. Read the entire article here
As a Christian woman I feel huge responsibility to be a part of God’s solution to this overwhelming challenge. It was part of the stimulus I needed to read the Bible through the eyes of women rather than men, to see the liberation that Christ brought and that we too are challenged to bring. It is part of what continues to motivate me to speak out against injustice towards women, the sex trade, mass rapes that occur in war and the patriarchal ways that we interpret the Bible. It is the main reason that I am still so sensitive to even the little ways that women are discriminated against in our society.
Let me finish with one of the scriptures that I find most compelling in this regard.
It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves (or others) be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. You my brothers and sisters were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Galatians 5: 1, 13, 14.)