International Women's Day

March 8th, 2016

My first encounter with International Women’s Day was only four years ago when my Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor brought in a rose for each of the women in the group along with a fact sheet about International Women’s Day. Since then, I’ve noticed more conversation around March 8th with each ensuing year. Today, International Women’s Day is a global campaign to draw attention to women’s issues around the world, but it began in 1909 as National Women’s Day, organized by the Socialist Party of America to commemorate the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. In 1910, it became international when more than 100 women from 17 countries established a worldwide celebration to press for the demands of working women.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #PledgeforParity, encouraging people to sign a pledge and commit to promoting gender equality in all aspects of their lives. Even in 2016, there is nowhere in the world where women are fully equal. Over the past two years, the United States has fallen to 28th from 20th in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of women’s equality. While women in the United States don’t have the same kinds of struggles as women in the developing world, poverty and inequality continue to disproportionately affect women, particularly women of color and trans women. Given the current state of progress, the World Economic Forum estimated in 2015 that the gender gap would not close until 2133.

Particularly in the area of work, the gap between men and women worldwide has not changed much. Despite imploring women to “lean in” and be more aggressive in asking for promotions and raises, the wage gap remains, even in the church. Globally, the gender pay gap stands at twenty-four percent. At home, women do two and a half times the amount of unpaid labor like cooking, cleaning, and raising children, rather than it being equally shared between partners. Because fifty-six percent of women are minimum wage workers, the fight to raise the minimum wage is also a women’s issue.

In spite of the Church’s historically abysmal record on gender issues, Jesus’ life and ministry are a testament to his action on behalf of women. After all, it is a group of women who first find the empty tomb on that Easter morning, and it was wealthy women who heavily financed the early church. Jesus frequently acted and spoke in favor of those who were oppressed by society, including women, the sick, slaves and orphans. His commitment to “the least of these” should be echoed in our lives as well.

I consider myself fortunate to live in a country and a time period where I can drive, open a credit card in my own name, pastor a faith community, vote and decide whether and when my husband and I will have children. That is certainly not the case for women internationally, nor was it the case for previous generations of women in this country. There is still plenty of work to do. Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof’s book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" argues that the oppression of women worldwide is the paramount moral challenge of the present era. Sex trafficking, forced prostitution, maternal mortality and gender-based violence afflict far too many women across the globe. When women and female children are educated and supported, it raises the standard of living for the whole community.

On this International Women’s Day, consider adding your name to the #PledgeForParity to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, support gender-balanced leadership, and root out workplace bias. This is not just work for women. We need the support and voices of men who will use their privilege to fight on behalf of women. We are not only your sisters and mothers and daughters; we are your friends, your pastors, your bosses and your employees. We deserve more. We deserve parity.

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