Gender Equality: Not Just The Promotion Of Women

“In order to do this,
we must see men as our allies,

our partners through thick and thin.”
-Ana Ake, Tonga, Africa

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

With the 2015 target deadline fast approaching, many NGOs are evaluating how far we’ve come in reaching the Millennium Development Goal benchmarks. These are 8 goals officially established on September 8, 2000 at the UN Headquarters to set an action plan in place for international development. Of the 8 goals, the goal that I feel most passionate about is Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

This goal has come a priority for me to carry out in my personal life. I’m still sorting out what it looks like—- and what it doesn’t look like.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed gender equality as focusing on changing the stereotypes of women and ensuring women equal opportunities outside of the home. However, as public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her “Can We Have it All?” TED talk,

“I still think we should do everything we possibly can to empower women, but that’s only half of real equality. I now think we’re never going to get there unless we recognize the other half…”

To share a personal example of how I see this in my professional life, let me share some of my thought processes in working with men and women living with HIV and substance abuse. In this particular grant project, I am assigned to both male and female patients for a six month behavioral intervention focusing on empowerment to achieve health and social goals, including HIV care and substance abuse. When I would be assigned to partner with a woman, I’d get really excited at the prospect of seeing a woman empowered to live out personal, economic, and health-related successes. When I was assigned to work with a male, I would feel an initial sense of disappointment because I thought that somehow I wasn’t living out my passion for women’s empowerment. But to stick with this mindset is a narrow-view of gender equality. As USAID notes, “Gender equality means that males and females have equal opportunities to realize their full human rights and contribute to and benefit from economic, social, cultural, and political development.” In my work context, I now see how healthier men, free of substance use, who become elevated to greater personal, health-related, and economic prosperity turn into allies in the journey towards gender equality. When men can be healthy, whole, expressive people without mountains of societal expectations placed on their shoulders, women can also be healthy, whole, expressive people without having to see “work OR family,” but instead, the both/and: “work AND family.” I learned to change my perspective and now, whether working with a man or a woman, I realize that I am contributing towards gender equality when I view the larger picture of the societal impact of healthier women and men. For some, this is a no-brainer, but for me, it took some time to connect the dots between male and female empowerment.

Though I still feel convicted that more energy, capital, and social will need to be given towards advancing the promotion of women and girls, as partners and allies, we also need to see that part of gender equity is highlighting non-traditional roles of males in the media and in our lives. When men are portrayed as fathers, caregivers, educators, and participators in home and family life, we alleviate the burden of women being pigeon-holed into these roles. We offer women and girls a larger perspective of parenting- that not all of the responsibilities of parenting will inadvertently fall on one parent simply because of their gender. Girls and boys see that men and women truly can become and do anything. 100 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where women could vote. 50 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where interracial marriage was legal, let alone socially acceptable. 10 years ago, it was hard for some to believe that any more states would come alongside Massachusetts to instate marriage equality. And today, thought it might be hard for some to see men as care providers and other “non-traditional” roles, history has shown us time and time again that,

“the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
(Martin Luther King, 1965)

Men At Work

Photo credit: UNFPA

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“I. Choose. You.” Brief Thoughts on Marriage From An Unmarried Feminist

hands k and b

Photo: MO, 2013

“I wonder what I’m locking myself into,” a friend shared recently when we were talking about marriage. I laughed an understanding laugh, because I got it. “Yeah! It’s hard for me to imagine seeing the same person over and over again every day and night. ‘Aw man, you again?'” I (half-jokingly) shared. A natural introvert, I annoy even myself sometimes. A partner is bound to get annoyed at me, too, and hey, that’s ok.
It’s just that the closer I get toward the possibility of marriage, the more I seem to take a step back from it. Critique it. Question it. Recognize its historical and political roots that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with legality. And I haven’t thought about marriage the same way since reading things like Commited by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which I learned about things like “coverture” for the first time.

But lately, I’m recognizing the cyncism with which I view something that’s inheritently good and beautiful, allowing myself to ponder the beauty of marriage too. I’ve been watching, studying, inspecting long-standing couples who’ve been through adversity. Who experienced beautiful things that wouldn’t have been possible had they caved when things got hard. Had they given up before seeing the redemption and beauty part of the story. Because whether a relationship ends or is unending, every story can experience the kind of resolve that makes you wander out to a lake all by yourself, sit on a log, and tear up at the thought, “I know the journey is hard. But it is good too.”

I experience that kind of beauty and resolve when I think about the first couple most of us can observe firsthand in our own lives: our parents. Of all the memories of my parents that I treasure most, the moments that stand out the most viscerally come from four weeks in October 2013 when my mom was in the ICU. She was protesting that she wanted to go home, tired of the hospital. And instead of pushing against her resistance, my dad took out a comb, sat down on her bed, and gingerly started brushing her hair. He made small talk with my sister and I while the sun shone through opened window blinds. Later on that hospital visit, he pulled out a picture of the two of them when they were engaged and showed it me. They were high school sweethearts, and their picture captured what it means to be “young and in love.” As things in the hospital worsened, my dad sat by her bedside three times a day to do nothing but simply be next to her. Those moments in the hospital are precious to me. My parents’ marriage hasn’t been easy. I do not think their story is mine to tell. But I do know that there have been many beautiful memories and laughs that didn’t seem possible in periods of challenge several years ago.

When I look at my grandmother and grandfather arm-in-arm in photos taken of them in places all across the world, I experience similar beauty when I look at their smiles. Smiles that say, “things haven’t been easy. But I am for you, and you, for me, and together, we make a choice… I. Choose. You.” I think of the last wedding I attended of two friends whose love has taken them through every shade of emotion possible. There’s just something different in these couples. Because these couples want to give out of their utmost.

Perhaps this is what I’m most amazed by. The every day choices that married couples willingly make to affirm their commitment to one another; to look someone in the eye everyday and say, unwaveringly, “I choose you.” For years, Evangelical Christians tried to tell me “a woman is supposed to submit to her husband, who is the leader of the home.” That imbalance of power always made me cringe in fear of watching my identity disappear. Some other Christians I know use the world “yield,” which sat a little better in my (very independent) heart. Because the kind of “yielding” they described was irrespective of gender. It’s one person yielding to another’s needs or requests as much as you can because you love them. Because everyday, you want to find ways to say through your actions, “I. Choose. You.” And after the arguement—the one over something stupid, and the one that really wasn’t; the one that required the two of you to make life-changing decisions—- after those kinds of fights, to return again in love: “I. still. choose. you.” The other partner does the same exact thing. It’s not tit-for-tat. It’s not some assignment where everyone gives and takes in methodic equality, each paying the other back in detailed increments like credit card statements. No. It’s more like loan forgiveness. It’s sincerely wanting to do all you can for someone you love so much. You still can have your most imminent needs be met and your preferences preferred while all the time doing this giving over and lending to and loving sacrificially.

In my dating experiences, I’ve come to find that this “yielding” is the hardest part. I’ve discovered how selfish I can be. How much I want to ensure that I, as a feminist female, am heard by my partner, a man. How reluctant I am to provide deference because I can think back to an entire history of humankind in which women have been deferential to men. And the terrible repercussions of unreciprocal deference speak for themselves. But it’s a lonely road when your only reason not to give to someone is because they’re of a gender that’s historically been the recipient of privilege. It’s a lonely road when you try to stratify independence and intimacy, instead of accepting the harmonious synergy of interdependence and partnership. A love that doesn’t bend as much as it breaks doesn’t create an inspiring story. No beauty. No real love, anyway.

Real love is found when women and men are allies. When we’re for each other, not against each other. When we forgive the thorny path of past actions and inactions throughout the centuries that both genders have done to oppress or diminish the other- because we both have. I’ve always known this in my head, but it wasn’t until my first serious relationship came and went that I realized my heart is sluggish on my contribution towards being an ally. Heck, it wasn’t until my first serious relationship that I even noticed how all this gender stuff plays itself out.

So one day, when I’ve processed this stuff, developed a framework of feminism that’s empowering for both genders-because that’s what true feminism does-, and stopped being afraid of the commitment and unknowns that marriage entails, I plan for these words to be read aloud at my wedding. More clear than any passage of scripture I’ve read, more real than any marriage book that’s been written, it encompasses to me what “I Choose You” means:

“I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer. I will love you, as sure as God has loved me. I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me. And I will do this to my death, and to death it may bring me. I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Herself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Her, unto us.” -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (God as female emphasis my own, not author’s)

But until that day, I’ll practice this giving over, in all of my relationships with people I love. And though at times it feels unnatural, I know there’s no other way to look someone in the eye to say “I choose you” with sincerity.

“I. Choose. You.”
It’s a beckoning, hard call.
I dare to say it’s impossible.
But all around me, I see couples who are willing to do the impossible.
I hope I can live up to it.

One of my favorite couples that inspires me to love well: Anastasia and Joe June 2013

One of my favorite couples who inspire me to love well: Anastasia and Joe
June 2013

Boulder, 2013 ((Transforming Inequality Through Peaceful Rebellion))

“Swatting the air with the back of his hand, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme says he has nothing to say to a group of female cyclists hoping to one day ride in the sport’s greatest race.” That familiar grit returned to … Continue reading

“Give Me Sons or I will Die!” ((Why I Can’t Stand Most of Genesis, But Do Love Jesus)).

“Give me sons or I will die!” Pleads Rachel (Gen: 30:1).

A bit demanding and a bit degrading, this usage of “sons” is just one of the 132 times “sons” are mentioned in the book of Genesis. Can you guess how many times “daughters” are mentioned? …A measly 46, mostly in the context of taking them as wives. 

“This time my husband will honor me because I have borne him six sons,” smiles Leah, placidly, barefoot and postpartum.

Noticing her sister’s increasing attention among women in the community (“I am happy that the women call me happy,” -Gen. 30:13), Rachel’s aforementioned protest for sons results in her giving birth to a son, though she’s still not satisfied. “May the Lord add another son to me,” she declares.

My re-readings of Genesis have left me disgruntled and hurt at best. Lists of family lineages only mentioning sons while purposely omitting daughters is incomplete, disrespectful, demeaning and perpetuates a society that renders one sex as worthy, cherished, and sought after, while another sex, overlooked, dismissed, incapable, and not as important. Re-reading about men who “take” multiple women as their wives, plus a few more for concubines further revolts me.

And… to throw in a tangent… Not to mention, the part where God rains burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from out of the sky… God-the God of Love… pouring burning sulfur on God’s people, each made in imago dei… (Gen. 19:24)… ((shakes head)).

These are just some of my struggles with “The Word.” 

Because it seems so unlike the God and I know, and most definitely irreflective of the Jesus I’ve come to adore.

When I read of Jesus and spend time with Jesus, I have no doubt of my worth as a female child of God and do not feel unwanted as a woman (nor do I worry that God will pour chemicals on my head). Why?

Because Jesus treated women with dignity. 24 times, Jesus mentions women in Luke and each time in instructive and positive ways.1 Jesus taught women scripture in era that reserved this privilege only for men. He traveled and “preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God” with his 12 disciples and “also some women who had been healed.. Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and many others who were supporting them” (Luke 8:1-3). While Genesis names lengthy lineages of Sons of Abraham, Jesus chooses to call attention to one of the “daughters of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). Jesus gave women equal rights in marriage by doing away with polygamy and divorce laws (since only men could seek a divorce at that time and men could have many wives, but women could not have multiple husbands).2

Since Jesus treated women with dignity, I am reminded that God does too, no matter what the author of Genesis purports. The Bible is difficult and when Christian males give me a hard time when I say that I struggle with the Bible and do not find it entirely true nor inerrant, I will ask them to read the above passages and ask them what it would feel like if it was their gender being minimized. Imagine if there were only accounts of daughters and women fervently pleading, “Oh please, not a son!! Give me a daughter! A daughter is what I want!” As a man, how would you feel? Wanted? Appreciated? Undesired? Nevermind. Men who take pride in being a “woman’s leader:” guess what, you don’t have to worry about that, because your gender is never reflected in such a lowly way in scripture. Ever.

Though I will never be able to read the Old Testament verses that omit women or diminish their roles without feeling a sense of depravity and hurt, and though I will never be able to say that I wholeheartedly love everything about this book, I am grateful to worship a God who reminds us that no matter what our gender, our socioeconomic status, our sexual orientation, our marital status, or our physical and mental abilities may be, in Christ we are all one and welcome at the table of our God… every day. 

male preference((Interesting article on The Awareness and Perception of Female Feticide in Urban Ludhiana, India).

1. http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/024_jesus_and_women.cfm
2. http://www.jesuscentral.com/ji/life-of-jesus-modern/jesus-feminist.php