According to my Facebook feed, a few weeks ago at the Oscar’s Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech included a reference to equal pay. Meryl Streep applauded. A number of my friends shared it on Facebook with their supportive comments. And it all got debated in the media.
I have no opinion. My brain has no space to form an opinion. I just got home from the DR Congo – the worst place in the world to be a women. Rape is common, with some statistics saying that in the east 85% of women are raped. Before that I was in Uganda, where I met women who have lived through being kidnapped to serve as wives of soldiers. Another person I met there told me that in the area they work you don’t go to a government office to get a marriage certificate – the man forcibly rapes the girl they want to marry – often as young as 12 or 13. If she isn’t strong enough to fight the guy off, then she is married to them. She told other stories of girls that almost died in child birth. One 13 year old girl almost died because her 12 year old husband didn’t know what to do when she went into labor. Fortunately a representative from the organisation was in the area and rushed her to hospital. We discussed the challenges of telling sponsors of these girls that their ‘child’ has been married and was pregnant, especially when they are only 13 or 14. We did that because it’s easier. It’s easier to discuss those challenges than the real problem. On any night, any of these girls could be raped and find herself married. That’s a much harder problem to think about.
On my way home, I went to Cambodia – where sex trafficking is out of control. Where young girls endure being raped many times a day, locked up. They endure horrors that if it was anyone that we knew we would move heaven and hell to intervene. But we don’t, because it’s too hard.
I remember being involved in an evaluation and asking a man what changes he had experienced as a result of the program. He shared in front of the group that he no longer beat his wife. I was confused by his pride and complete lack of shame. I was new to working amongst the poorest and couldn’t conceive of a situation where a man wouldn’t be ashamed to admit that they used to beat their wife. However, I am no longer shocked. I now know, that for MOST women in the world it’s a reality. And a large percentage of those have no concept that it should be different. That’s what their fathers did and that’s what is normal.
This weekend we celebrate International Women’s Day. Some of you haven’t heard of it, most will not. Regardless, I would like to challenge you to make it important this year. The reality is that there are HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of women who are suffering extreme abuse around the world. We are talking about women who dream that they could just live without facing violence. They have no concept of equal pay.
I want to challenge you to mark this event by taking time to learn and to pray. I want to challenge us to think again how we allocate our time to the issues facing women in the developing world. Let’s work out how to take half that energy that we currently use on issues close to home such as equal pay and the role of women in the church and move it to fighting for our sisters around the world.
How do we do this? I don’t have the answers. But as women we have fought for and achieved so much. This has to be our next frontier. We’ve got the vote and we have managed to secure our place in the workplace. Now it’s time to use all that has been given us to fight of our sisters abroad.