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International Women's Day 2016

By Amanda Merrett

There are three stories I want to share with you this International Women’s Day.

The first will be last…

  • In Matthew 20 there is a story of a landowner who goes out first thing in the morning to hire labourers to tend to his land. He repeats this process throughout the day, hiring three more groups of men, the last group just before sundown. This last group of men has been waiting all day for an opportunity to work. Commentaries indicate that those who were hired last most likely had a physically disability or were elderly. They were a group society refused to acknowledge, leaving them to their own devices for survival. At the conclusion of the day, the landowner pays everyone the same wage, despite the different hours and hard labour put in. When the group hired first begins to complain, the landowner reprimands them, insisting on his fairness. The story is concluded with the phrase: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16 NIV).      

‘We just thought they were being nice…’

  • A few weeks ago I was in rural Sheikuhpura visiting a community development program run by The Salvation Army Pakistan. The program focused specifically on women’s advocacy awareness and promoted awareness of their rights. Using a biblical framework the program taught some very basic principles - that women and men are created as equals, and women have human rights. It was an incredible experience to see the faces of the women who were participating, light up as they shared the ways this program had helped them to recognise their rights and improve their livelihoods.

Towards the end of our discussion, I asked the group for examples of what they had learned and    one of the women responded with, ‘There were particular people in our village that we thought were being nice to us, but after completing this program, we realised they were recognising our human rights’. Many of these women experience systemic discrimination simply because they were born female. They were so used to experiencing subjugation, that when their rights were recognised, it seemed out of place to them.

Happy International Women’s Day.  

  • The third story is set in America; a couple of years ago a friend posted a photo of an elaborate celebratory drink on Instagram, layered in the mayfair filter and several International Women’s Day hashtags, There was something about her sitting in a bar, celebrating her status as a woman that didn’t sit well with me. It felt like it was dismissive of the millions of people around the world who continue to live in poverty, violence and oppression. She wasn’t able to see the power and freedom she had been granted purely by the context into which she was born.

Woven through these stories is an element of privilege. That is, these stories illustrate how some people have a particular advantage or favour because they belong to a particular group. People are often excluded from these groups on the basis of things that are out of their control - race, gender, class, and physical ability. Privilege at the cost of excluding others, has no place in the Kingdom of God. As the phrase, ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last’ indicates, God longs for a world in which those who are forgotten and cast aside are brought into the centre and loved. In God’s upside down Kingdom, those with privilege are called to make way for those who society has excluded.  

These stories also illustrate the huge levels of disparity and inequality in our world. Please note, I am not implying that all women who live in developing countries are experiencing oppression and poverty, and all women who live in developed countries are wealthy and affluent. If we begin to break down inequality, we can see that extreme levels of discrimination are present within many countries, with many of the rich continuing to experience expanding wealth while simultaneously, people struggle to meet their basic needs - Australia is certainly not excluded from this.

What I am illustrating is that inequality is everywhere, and privilege plays a role in maintaining systems that perpetuate discrimination and oppression. I am a middle class, Anglo Saxon, cis-gendered, able-bodied, straight Australian. I am privileged.  My voice should not be the loudest among those advocating for the rights of women. In fact, my voice should not be the loudest, full stop, but so often it is. How do I create space for people experiencing poverty and oppression to speak? How do I create a space to listen? In order to see a little bit of the Kingdom restored, are we required to step down from our privilege?  

I moved into a community a few years ago with the intention to help marginalised people experiencing poverty. It was my way of living out what God calls us to do – to walk alongside those facing oppression. However, I very quickly figured out that God did not want me in that community to help or offer my expertise. He wanted me there to learn and work in partnership with those living there to bring the Kingdom of God.

We have no control over the circumstances into which are born, and the power we are awarded because of that. However, we do have a choice in how we use that power and privilege. We can complain like those who worked in the vineyard, we can remain oblivious to our privilege, or we can even assert our privilege over those around us, like the women in Pakistan had experienced.  Or we can intentionally listen to the stories of whom society has cast aside; those who rights have been removed; those that culture deems as ‘the least’. We can participate in learning alongside them, and stepping back when they speak so that their voice is louder.

 

Amanda works for the Social Justice Department of The Australia Southern Territory.