Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and here, writer Claudine Roberts, asks if it is an event we should be celebrating in the Church.
Wednesday 8 March 2023 is International Women’s Day – an annual day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. What does that have to do with Christianity? Should the Church mark IWD? If all men and women are created equal, in God’s image, should we join in with a day which advances just one group?
Although IWD has its roots in socialism and communism, it was marked for the first time by the United Nations in 1975 and by 2014 it was marked in more than 100 countries. The growth of social media increased the profile of annual days of recognition and awareness. I don’t know about you but I don’t recall reading or hearing anything about IWD until the 2010s, when I first saw something on social media. But is it right for Christians to follow the cultural trend towards celebrating women in this way?
“All Lives Matter” implied that all lives are equally at risk, when they are not.
When the slogan “Black Lives Matter” went viral in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, some responded with “All Lives Matter”. While it is true that all lives are equal and that statement may be seen as more inclusive, it was criticised as dismissive and is now associated with racist sentiment. “All Lives Matter” implied that all lives are equally at risk, when they are not. It ignored the specific problem, the context of the protests and the long history of racial inequality. Many churches and Christian organisations now mark Black History Month (October in the UK) in recognition of the fact that celebrating black people’s achievements and contributions gets people talking about race in a positive way and sends a strong message that they value black people and racial diversity in general. It says racism will not be tolerated.
In a similar way, celebrating IWD gets people talking about women in a positive way and sends a message that women and their contributions are valued. It says women matter. Against the backdrop of the subjugation of women throughout history, it also says male violence against women is wrong.
Celebrating IWD gets people talking about women in a positive way and sends a message that women and their contributions are valued.
For far too long the Church has been silent on the issue of male violence against women, it has been a taboo subject. Until recently I had never heard anyone in a church preach on sexual violence or domestic abuse, despite the prevalence of biblical stories of rape and abuse (for example, Dinah in Genesis 34, the Unnamed Concubine in Judges 19, Tamar in 2 Samuel 13). For too long those stories of violence against women have been at best ignored, or at worst interpreted as stories of seduction or “just desserts”. This culture of silence has starved us of God’s heart for women and of his heart for survivors. It has sent the message that our churches are not safe places to talk about violence against women and such violence will be tolerated or ‘swept under the rug’.
As a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual violence myself, I long to see churches marking International Women’s Day as just one part of their co-ordinated efforts to promote gender equality, and more specifically to eradicate male violence against women. Male entitlement and a lack of empathy between the sexes are significant factors contributing to a wider culture of misogyny. Talking about God’s heart for women and amplifying female voices within our churches will challenge male entitlement, encourage empathy and help make our churches safer places for survivors to report abuse, escape danger and find healing from past hurts.
Claudine’s Bible study, Violence Against Women: Discovering El Roi, The God Who Sees, is part of the Cover To Cover Bible Study series from Waverley Abbey and can be purchased here.