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Moving from Oppression to Opportunity

The Book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is written by a husband and wife team who are former journalists for the New York Times, and through their travels found an issue that had been missing from the headlines- the ongoing struggle for gender equality around the world, and what this inequality means for women in the global South.

Half the Sky focuses on four issues in which gender discrimination is hurting and killing women around the world. Here is a snapshot of the issues they discuss in detail, along with some statistics from the book about the scope of these issues around the globe.

Human Trafficking: 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year and 80% of them are women and girls. They are trafficked mainly for sexual exploitation. Millions more are trafficked within countries each year.

Rape and violence: In most countries between 30-60% of women have experienced sexual or physical violence from a partner. Many women don’t report rape for fear of being stigmatized.

Maternal Mortality: In the global South there is one maternal death per minute. The lifetime risk of maternal death is 1,000 times higher in a poorer country than in a more prosperous country.

Routine discrimination: Between 60 and 101 million women are missing from around the world today. They have died due to unequal care or feticide, and at least another 2 million die from discrimination each year.

In addition to discussing these horrific problems that come along with gender inequality, the authors also provide ways to, as their title states, turn “oppression into opportunity.” The two solutions they focus on the most are educating girls and women and providing them with microloans. By educating girls and women, the authors argue that they can receive the necessary tools to stand against injustice, and are given the opportunity to participate in the economy. By receiving microloans, the book suggests that it gives women more power in society while giving them the chance to get out of poverty.

One helpful tool that Half the Sky provides is ways in which you can get involved in the struggle for global gender equality. The book provides many inspiring success stories of how individuals have overcome oppression, and also provides specific actions anyone can take to make a difference in the lives of women worldwide.

If you are interested in obtaining a study guide for this book, check out The Table!

-Allie Stehlin

Education and Women’s Rights in Papua New Guinea

The following was written by Emily Davila, Assistant Director, Lutheran Office for World Community.

I spent the last week in Papua New Guinea – not something I ever expected to do! With over 800 languages, communication in PNG is fascinating. There is no internet and even phones are hard to come by, a few cell phones are here and there. Most people I met promised to write me – as in a letter. We will see how that goes.
I went to PNG as an invited guest to a Lutheran women’s conference. Colonized by Germans, more than one-fifth of the country is Lutheran. One of the key features of the conference was a bible study called “Jesus Liberates women in PNG from male dominated cultures.”

png1-761056Growing up, Pastor Michael, a seminary professor, watched his mother suffer in a polygamous marriage. His father, a “bigman” would forceably take the pigs she raised so that he could enjoy a high status in the community, beating her if necessary. When menstruating, women were (and still are in some places) secluded, and some believe that even the food they touch is contaminated so they are not allowed to cook meals. After the age of 13, Michael was discouraged from spending time with his mother. Because of a tradition called the “Bride price” -similar to a dowry- a woman cannot divorce her husband because her family is expected to pay the money back. By paying for their wives, it encourages a culture where many men consider their wives a possession. In the case of Michael’s sister, despite the fact that she was often beaten by her husband, culturally, it was impossible to divorce him and she eventually committed suicide.
All this caused Pastor Michael to read the bible searching for stories of women’s liberation. At the conference he distributed a 60-page book written in Pidgin (the national language) and English that systematically unwraps the stories of women in the bible to deliver a message of respect and encouragement for women’s leadership. It ends with a chapter: “Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan Women (and others) could be a model for PNG men to follow.” Some of the suggestions:
-PNG men should put aside their beliefs of gender-based concepts of clean and unclean…
-Women ought to be given equal invitation and opportunity for leadership roles in the church
-Women should be given equal theological education…
-Women should be ordained
Now – the format of this communication was not modern: it came in a dense booklet – footnotes – even the original greek in some cases. But he systematically made the argument for gender equality in a country where it is an urgent life or death issue with one of the highest infant and maternal death rates in the world. He took nearly 8 hours over four days to deliver his lecture to 1,000 women and some men, including high ranking pastors and the Bishop.
But this is an oral culture, so the women may not read this thesis booklet. But they will remember his new interpretations of the Samaritan woman and the woman at the well, and they will take it home to their villages and retell the stories. They asked him to address the synod meeting next year, which will be mainly men, and hopefully this will happen. In a male-dominated culture, it will help women gain credibility to have a man – and the Bible – speaking on their behalf.
I think this was a historic occasion in PNG, and it speaks to the power of education. He went to school and chose to study this subject, and is now preaching a new gospel in his own language in a country that is hungry for it. The “West” cannot export gender equality, it has to come from the grassroots within. PNG is a very religious country. They have mixed Christianity with their own beliefs and it permeates almost everything they do. I can’t think of a more credible way for a gender equality movement to gain foothold in this country.