Of all the different issues we could talk about as we focus on women this month, the one that keeps coming to my mind is the way we women think of ourselves and view other women. The abuse, oppression, objectification and devaluation of women is a priority topic here in India, and most of the time we think about how society in general or specifically men relate to women this way, which, of course, is extremely important. But as I was listening to stories upon stories from the Ending Gendercide team members, the idea that women work against each other kept jumping out at me.
Why is that? Why do we keep undermining each other? Why do we want others to suffer what we have suffered? Why do the different choices or success of other women make us feel threatened and less? Why do women tend to tear each other down instead of building each other up?
There was the story of how an energetic and intelligent woman, who chose not to marry and became successful and respected in her career, was never accepted by other women in her town. They would gossip behind her back, mock her, and say she became too smart, arrogant and proud. They would comment that she was too intelligent and dominating to find a man.
Another story highlighted “the ragging system” in India (now illegal), an initiation of some sort as students enter college. It was tradition that seniors—girls just like boys—would bully, beat up and humiliate freshmen, making them do whatever they wanted to the point of some students suffering serious injuries and even committing suicide. Would girls who went through this torture as freshmen act differently as seniors? In most cases, not.
Or what about the ever-so-strained relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law here? When a woman gets married, she leaves her parents and home and becomes part of her husband’s family, most often living in the same house. In an overwhelming percentage of cases she is mistreated and oppressed in some ways, mostly by her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law may decide whether she can work outside the home or not, where she can go and when, what to name her children, and how to raise them. This is true in wealthy families just the same as in lower-class families. Then when this young woman becomes a mother-in-law herself, instead of acting differently for her daughter-in-law, most often she continues the cycle of abuse.
When we talked about where women draw their value from, it became clear that a woman is considered valuable in this culture if she serves her husband well, cares for her children with much sacrifice, and keeps a nice, tidy home. If a woman chooses not to marry, or if she excels at her job and makes more money than her husband, or if she somehow makes different decisions than what is expected of women by and large, the first ones to bring her down might very well be the other women around her—neighbors, relatives, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law.
When trying to get to the root of these dynamics and patterns here, it is important to understand the patriarchal system of Indian culture in which women living under abuse and oppression is an everyday reality. When these women come into a dominant position, treating less powerful women the same way they had been treated comes naturally. Most often it is not a conscious choice but seems the only conceivable way. Add to this our innate sinfulness and our tendencies for insecurity, envy, control, etc., and it becomes obvious that breaking the cycle of abuse needs more than willpower. We need to pray for God to heal, to make forgiveness possible, and to bring restoration in order for change to happen. We need to pray that church communities act as agents of showing a new, different way of interaction between the powerful and the weak. We need to pray that we women would draw our value from God.
The Bible offers many thoughts on how we women should treat each other. Paul says we should encourage and build one another up (1 Thess 5:11) and should only say things that benefit and strengthen others (Eph 4:29). Jesus says to love others as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39) and treat them the way we want them to treat us (Matt 7:12). The author of Hebrews tells us to spur one another on toward love (Heb 10:20), and James warns against slandering each other (James 4:11).
Someone said: When women support each other, incredible things happen. It takes intentionality, prayer and change to understand and believe that other women’s success is not our demise. That when another woman thrives, it can offer us strength, joy and inspiration instead of causing fear and envy. That walking together, lifting each other up and supporting each other will benefit all of us much more than competing or tearing each other down could. Bringing other women down will never make us rise.
Imagine the beauty and benefits of women in a small town respecting, spurring on, and learning from older, unmarried, successful women. Picture the power of senior college students standing up for their freshmen sisters and refusing to humiliate them. Think of the change that would happen if young wives could become mothers-in-law who treat their daughters-in-law with gentleness, respect and compassion.
This International Women’s Day, let’s repent of tearing each other down and using our power in destructive ways and let’s pray for change. You could even choose a woman in your life to intentionally encourage and bless by words, deeds and prayer. And please join us in uplifting women all around the globe to experience God’s overflowing love and freedom to do the same. “We rise by lifting others” (Robert Ingersoll).
- Pray specifically for the Ending Gendercide team as they partner with another organization in presenting research on gender perception in the church and the experience of women in Delhi on March 8th and facilitate a “Be a Man” challenge.
- Pray for unity and sharing the work between the organizers and for favor as they interact with Christian leaders from all over the city.
- Pray that it’s not just another event but that minds would be challenged and hearts would be changed.
- Pray that women in the church—in India and elsewhere—would draw their value from God and would in turn feel free to lift up other women around them.
- Pray that women could forgive those women who have mistreated them and lead others with humility and grace. Pray for God’s love, forgiveness and healing to break the cycle of abuse.
••••••••••Written by Adrienn