We don’t need feminism anymore. I have access to education and feel like I am treated equally by the people around me. I can vote. What more do you want?
Have you heard a statement like this expressed recently? Is it something you think? It’s something I hear a lot from women (and men) in Australia. The opinion that the need for feminism (or gender equality activism, or whatever you like to call it) is over.
Sidenote: for the purpose of this blog post I am defining feminism the same way Sarah Bessey does: as the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.
But this is to look only at our own situation and assume that everyone else experiences the world the way that we do. It’s to assume that because we are lucky, others are as well.
Not every woman in the world is fortunate enough to live in Australia, in a society where women can vote and are legally free. (Though, being able to vote and being legally free are not the same as being equal, they are two huge steps in the right direction).
Let’s look at the situation of women worldwide. These statistics come from the UNPF’s research on gender inequality.
6 out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women. Most unpaid work within communities and families still falls to women, often preventing them from reaching economic independence and stability. Two thirds of the illiterate adults worldwide are women. This restricts access to information and opportunities, and when women are the primary caretakers, also limits the educational opportunities of their children. High levels of women’s education and lower infant morality rates go hand in hand. Speaking of which, childbirth and pregnancy complications together are the number two killer of women of reproductive age. Often these deaths are a direct result of a lack of access to important health information and medical services.
On top of everything else, changing things for the better is often slow going, as women only make up 22% of governments globally – the ones making decisions, distributing funding and choosing which battles to fight.
This hasn’t even touched on issues such as sex trafficking, the practice of selling girls as child brides, domestic violence, rape, abuse, honour killings and freedom of speech.
All over the world, girls are being told they are less important than their male peers, are being treated as though they are less than human, and are believing they are inferior, unworthy or deserving of these conditions.
God made us in his image, male and female. All men and women have a right to live free from oppression, fear and persecution – especially when it is based only on their gender.
Why should Australians, or others living in safety and (relative) equality care about feminism? Why should especially Christians get on board with promoting equality? Well there’s a few reasons.
First of all, it wasn’t always like this in Australia. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was expected to give up work when she married, and not long before that women weren’t even allowed to vote. I don’t always buy the story of history as a progression from worse to better, but certainly for women in Australia, things have improved with time. We have freedoms and opportunities than many women in the past or in other parts of the world could only dream of. To take it for granted is an insult for them and all the women (and men) who worked so hard to bring us to where we are today.
Secondly, our western world is run successfully on the exploitation of many of these women. Our clothes, our food, our entertainment, is all produced by those living in slavery or economic bondage. You can take this survey to find out just how many are working to maintain your current lifestyle. The International Labour Organization estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labor victims with 11.4 million trafficked victims (55%) compared to 9.5 million (45%) men. We benefit from their suffering and exploitation. We have a responsibility to care about their plight and to minimize the damage our lives in this world cause.
Thirdly, as Christians, I believe we have a calling towards compassion and justice – especially for those no one else cares about. In Deuteronomy 10, God outlines the way Israel, his nation, are to care for those who are vulnerable and in need.
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lordyour God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. – Deuteronomy 10:18-22
Now, not all of God’s commands to Israel are still applicable to Christians today, but the spirit of this section is certainly backed up by Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself – especially when he defines ‘your neighbour’ as any fellow human.
Showing love to those who have felt no love from those who should protect and care from them is a very real, concrete way that Christians can actively demonstrate God’s love. How can people understand God’s love and his sacrifice for them at the cross without having ever experienced love or kindness from other people?
As Christians, our feminism will look different to how the world might express it, but the world still needs our feminism. Jesus shapes and defines how we love people, and caring for those who are in need, and fighting for justice where we can, is a key way we can love people – especially women, especially vulnerable women. If we don’t show them that God loves them, who will?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Sarah Bessey, my favourite expert on being a Jesus Feminist.
When I say “Jesus made a feminist out of me” it also means that Jesus shapes my feminism, rather than the other way around. When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus, it meant that I wanted to live into my right-now life the way I believed Jesus would do it–that included my passion for and advocacy for women’s voices and experiences, healing and justice. It’s precisely because I follow Jesus that I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice.