Reading Rachel Held Evans’ book on Biblical womanhood (see review) piqued my curiosity about the status of women around the world. One of her chapters is devoted to women and justice, and it’s enough to break your heart. While women here complain about barriers to promotion, unequal pay, and skimpy maternity leave, women in much of the world struggle to survive. Our complaints here are valid, but we have laws protecting us. When we are treated unfairly, we have recourse. Millions of women do not.
Evans recommends a book on this subject, so I tracked it down and started reading Half the Sky, by Pulitzer-prizewinning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I thought I was pretty well educated on trafficking and other “women’s issues,” but this book opened my eyes to suffering I knew nothing about.
Yes, the authors discuss present-day slavery, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chapters on reproductive health, honor killings, and child marriages, for example, churned my stomach. Yet, for every negative example, they also feature a person or organization that is successfully making a difference. Kristof and WuDunn don’t just complain—they offer solutions.
There are plenty of ways an ordinary American can participate in something significant—there is no end to the number of NGOs and ministries devoted to issues such as abortion, malnutrition, AIDS and other diseases, illiteracy, and poverty. But as I read, and then thought about the ideas in this book, I realized that every need I could list has its roots in the oppression of women. Helping our sisters will help their children, their families, their neighbors, even their nations.
The book is secular, and I had to laugh at the disclaimer in Chapter 8, on “Family Planning and the ‘God Gulf'”:
True, some missionaries are hypocritical or sanctimonious—just like any group of people—but many others are … struggling to act on a gospel of social justice as well as individual morality.
Kristof and WuDunn also acknowledge that:
Aid workers and diplomats come and go, but missionaries burrow into a society, learn the local language, send their children to local schools, sometimes stay for life.
Because the book is secular, the authors miss the most important issue of all—the need for everyone, men and women, to know and be changed by God. For the most part, the parts of the world where women fare the worst are also the regions where Christianity has yet to impact the culture. Social solutions are often band-aids covering the underlying issue of sin. We can treat the symptoms, but only God can effect a cure.
Read this book, but don’t stop there. Pray and ask God what He would have you do about what you have learned. If you need some ideas, check out Partners International’s women’s ministries. They offer lots of ways to get involved.