10 March, 2010

Why we still need to mark International Women's Day

International Women's Day is on Monday. It is a day when the political, social and economic conditions and achievements of women are remembered. But surely it's common knowledge that women are just as intelligent, capable and worthy of honor as men. If that's true, then why do women continue to get paid less than men for doing the same work? If women had true equality, there would be more female pastors and priests.

By The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter
Special to The Seattle Times

International Women's Day is on Monday. It is a day when the political, social and economic conditions and achievements of women are remembered. It is believed that International Women's Day started in 1909 and gained momentum in 1911 after more than 140 New York City garment workers — most of them women — were killed in a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. More women might have escaped the blaze if they hadn't been locked in to keep them from taking outdoor breaks.

Several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, along with some U.S. companies, recognize International Women's Day as a holiday.

One might wonder why it is necessary in the 21st century to have a day that recognizes the rights and achievements of women. Surely it is common knowledge that women are just as intelligent, capable and worthy of honor as men.

If that's true, then why do women continue to get paid less than men for doing the same work? If women had true equality, there would be more women pastors and priests.

In most churches, women make up more than 60 percent of the congregation. But the percentage of women in the pews does not match the percentage of women in pulpits. It is sad to say that some congregations would rather have a less competent man than a superbly qualified woman as their pastor.

In my early years of ministry, I was once invited to preach at a church for a special women's event. Upon arriving at the church, I was informed that because of my gender I would not be permitted to preach from the pulpit. A music stand was placed on the sanctuary floor for me to use.

Despite all the advances women have made in science, entertainment and politics, there is still a need to champion women's equality and worth — even in the church.

The Christian faith is rooted in the Bible, and the scriptures yield some spiritual giants who are women, Sarah, Hagar, Esther, Elizabeth, Mary and Priscilla just to name a few. These women found uncommon courage to be instruments of God's power and love.

In our personal family histories, we can point to women who, against all odds, cared for self, children and community. Their names may not be written in any history book, but our family stories would be incomplete without us calling their names.

In African-American churches, Women's Day is one of the largest annual celebrations. Women are bedecked in white and proudly lead morning worship services. Months of preparation generally go into that weekend's activities. It is also one of the best money-raising events of the year. Funds are raised for scholarships, special mission projects, and the church's general operations.

Women honoring women must go beyond the walls of the sanctuary. My prayer for those who love their annual Women's Day celebrations is that the same energy, time and money be channeled to address issues of poverty, health, and violence against women.

The sacred power of women is to be revered not feared. Women can and must be allies. We need not be in competition with one another. We are one another's best friends. Our sister friends will most likely care for us when we are ill or going through the toughest trials of life. We must debunk the myth that tells us we are not thin enough, rich enough or cute enough. Instead, we must remind each other and ourselves that we, too, are wonderfully created in the image of God.

Do we still need an International Women's Day?

Until women all over the globe are given the same rights, opportunities, and privileges as men, we need to highlight the accomplishments and the ill treatment of women. Women are not a lesser creation.

In the words attributed to Chairman Mao, women hold up half the sky.

The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter is an associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and an employee-benefits specialist for American Baptist Churches in the USA. Readers may send feedback to
faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

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