Tuesday, March 8, 2022, has been declared “International Women’s Day”.1 This is an annual, well-celebrated holiday in much of the world. It is also an opportunity for Christians to reflect upon the role of women throughout history as well as today. It is a time to realize that in many places, women are seen as second-class citizens without much worth. Scriptures do not line up with this thinking.
The Old Testament praises women who served in important influential leadership roles. In addition to their value as wives and mothers, Scripture recognizes their leadership and God’s blessing on them. There is no mention that their gender should disqualify them.
In the New Testament, we find Jesus demonstrating high regard for the women who followed him. Jesus valued their fellowship, prayers, service, financial support, testimony and witness. He honored women, taught women, and ministered to women.
In Romans 16:3-4 Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila as fellow workers who risked their lives for the Gospel. “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” Paul also commends Junia in Romans 16:7. She worked so closely with Paul that she suffered as a fellow prisoner. Paul ends Romans 16 with warm and personal greetings of thanks for the service and sacrifice of several women.
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. But today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Inequalities faced by girls can begin at birth and follow them all their lives. In some countries, girls are deprived of access to health care, proper nutrition and education.
Around the world, 129 million girls do not attend school, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be unschooled than girls living in non-affected countries.
Only 49 percent of countries have achieved equal school attendance among boys and girls in primary education. At the secondary level, the gap widens: 42 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education, and 24 percent in upper secondary education. The reasons are many. Barriers to girls’ education – like poverty, child marriage and gender-based violence – vary among countries and communities. Poor families often favor boys when investing in education.
In some places, schools do not meet the safety, hygiene or sanitation needs of girls. In others, teaching practices are not gender-responsive and result in gender gaps in learning and skills development. Gender-equitable education systems can contribute to reductions in school-related gender-based violence and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.2
Worldwide, 35 per cent of women between 15-49 years of age have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In the 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East where female genital mutilation is most common, one out of three girls aged 15-19 have experienced some form of this harmful practice. Along with emotional trauma, the girls also have high risk of prolonged bleeding, infection (including HIV), future childbirth complications, infertility, and death. The COVID-19 lockdown further caused domestic violence to increase in many countries, showing the critical importance of social protection for women and girls.3 Human Trafficking is another form of violence impacting women and girls. Click here to learn more about MAI’s Anti-Trafficking Program.
Women’s health and safety is another important area. This can be related to women having fewer opportunities for health education, less power and autonomy, and gender-based violence. In many countries, women have limited access to prenatal and infant care, and are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. This is a critical concern in countries where girls marry and have children before they are ready; often well before the age of 18.
Quality maternal health care can provide an important entry point for information and services that empower mothers as informed decision-makers concerning their own health and the health of their children.4 Improvements in nutrition, hygiene and health care have resulted in fewer maternal deaths but women continue to die from preventable pregnancy-related causes. The World Health Organization estimates that annually 295,000 women still die from pregnancy-related causes (810 per day). The highest risk areas are southern Africa and south Asia. HIV/AIDS remains an impactful issue for women. 5
Though women comprise more than 50% of the world’s population, they only own a fraction of the world’s wealth. Throughout the world, women and girls perform long hours of unpaid domestic work. In some places, women still lack rights to own land or to inherit property, obtain access to credit, earn income, or to move up in their workplace, free from job discrimination. At all levels, including at home and in the public arena, women are widely underrepresented as decision-makers.6
Medical Ambassador’s International (MAI) is Making a Difference
As a part of Community Health Evangelism (CHE), MAI uses a program called Women’s Cycle of Life to show women their value in the eyes of God. As the women come to this knowledge, the result is often a growth of confidence and joy, bringing community transformation.
An example of community transformation comes from a Women’s Cycle of Life training in Ethiopia where the women learned:
- Providing better physical care and hygiene for their children resulted in fewer childhood illnesses.
- How to relate to their husbands and express love to them.
- Attending to their personal hygiene and bathing regularly made them more attractive to their husbands and increased marital faithfulness.
The women grew in their understanding of the Word of God and in their faith, with the resulting positive changes in attitudes. As the men were included in CHE lessons about marriage, even pastors came to the realization that they were not treating their wives well. Repeatedly, in the couple’s trainings, husbands and pastors fell on their knees to ask for forgiveness of the poor treatment of their wives and prayed that they would see them as valuable and precious.
One of the women who attended the training said, “Growing up as a young girl I have noticed that women have double challenges – that they are seen as second-class citizens and that their contribution to the development of the community is huge. But in Ethiopia, not much attention is given to developing the capacity of women, and how to lead a healthy life. Because of the nature of women, they need special care and treatment. Knowing this growing up, sometimes I disliked being a woman. Learning some important lessons from these training really lifted my spirit. With God, there is hope and transformation. I have gained good lessons that encourage me to live as God created me to be.”
Hear from other women in Ethiopia whose lives who have been positively impacted by CHE training in their community.
At MAI we build relationships with the world’s most vulnerable people and together we work to heal communities both physically and spiritually. At present MAI works in 2,674 communities around the world impacting a population of over 2.98 million people in 75 countries with 52,442 volunteers. Creating change in the cultural norms of these areas requires tackling religious, social, and economic issues. Through Community Health Evangelism, a strategy of MAI, these issues are being addressed around the world in urban slums and rural villages.
Community Health Evangelism (CHE) is a Christ-centered educational program that equips communities to identify issues and mobilize resources to achieve positive, sustainable change. CHE materials cover a broad range of transformational development topics including disease prevention and health promotion, poverty alleviation and economic development, social harmony, and spiritual life. There are over 10,000 CHE lessons, including those that pertain to specific issues women and girls face.
By supporting MAI with your donations and prayers, we can continue to have influence in the lives of women across the world.