Editor's note: This essay has been adapted from Gender Balancing our World.You can read the full article HERE.
We had barely gobbled down our last bite of turkey and pumpkin pie before the familiar lines of carols began to ring in our ears and warm our souls. Joy to the world! Peace on earth! Good will to all! Let heaven and nature sing! I don't know about you, but as I string up lights, pull out the advent wreath and boxes and boxes of ornaments and tangled lights, the lofty words of our beloved carols have a way of triggering a paradoxical mix of joy, generosity, and enlarged spiritual vision, yet also a fairly predictable malcontendedness about the state of things.
How strange it is that Christmas carols can make me want both to buy an iPhone 5 and a Mac Airbook and in the same moment want to save the world? I admit that I keep Santa’s Amazon elves very busy this time of year, yet in quiet moments the contradictions between the high ideals of the season and the harshness of our egregiously unjust world nag at my soul.
How does one reconcile the reality that while my kids wish for iPods/iPads/iPhones, Xbox games, and an endless stream of expensive gadgets, toys, and designer clothes, elsewhere more than a billion humans on this planet spend most of their waking hours simply wishing for a few drops of clean water?
Or that everywhere on our planet, whether in Cambodia or India or right here on our own doorsteps, 12-27 million people are caught in a web of slavery today and, according to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, three out of every four are women and over half are children?
If you watched Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn this Fall, you’ve glimpsed the mind-numbing, heart-breaking pattern of violence and enslavement that the girl child absorbs around the world as part of her day-to-day reality. How can this be? In the year 2012?
In the last half century alone, more women and girls have died as a result of gender discrimination than all the men who died in all the battles of the 20th century, and more girls were killed in anyone decade than all of those who died in the genocides of last century.
Did you know that over 10 times as many girls are currently being trafficked each year than African slaves were transported during the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade?
So, the gender terrain in our world is not exactly a picture of shalom. But what can you do about it, really? It gives you angst, but the problems seem so macro and intractable, the tide of cruel misogyny so massive, that it can seem hopeless. Change happens slowly and sometimes goes backwards before going forward. For some reason that boggles my mind, changing regressive gender norms seems extra slow and prone to backlash. But let us not lose faith in "the moral arc of the universe" that "bends toward justice" and let us not tire in doing our part to be that bend.
Let me offer some simple tangible ways you can bend the arc, light a candle in a dark place, and "be the change you wish to see" in our world.
#1: Gender-lens THINKING: Ideas have consequences. Ideas literally shape reality. They are powerful! As a person of faith who cares about gender justice, take some time to get the big idea of human equality on the forefront of your mind and connect all the dots between imbalanced, diminishing ideas about gender and the humanitarian consequences we see in our world. Sort through the patriarchal layers of your faith tradition and mine it for its inner spiritual core which affirms the intrinsic human equality of males and females.
What the world needs, what the movement to empower girls and women and combat female genocide needs, more than anything, are spiritual ambassadors who can offer the world a very clear and unambiguous spiritual ideal of human equality that can help lift our eyes upward to draw inspiration to question and transform long-standing practices and ideas which privilege the masculine over the feminine and undermine the gender shalom we were all created for as children of God.
#2: Gender-lens ASKING: As a funder of many Christian NGO's and increasingly some interfaith initiatives, I am still learning how to use a "gender-lens," but what I find most powerful is simply asking questions: Does your organization have any explicit beliefs or policies about gender equality? Do you have women on your board? In your end-of-the-year giving and in any interactions you have with nonprofits you are interested in investing in, I encourage you to wear your gender-lens and just be curious. Ask questions that get beneath the rhetoric and PR to find out whether the organization is working to change the underlying structures that create gender inequality and, at a minimum, is not reinforcing them. Just asking good questions lets organizations know that potential donors are using a gender-lens and want to be on the leading edge of bending the arc of justice for girls and women.
#3: Gender-lens DOING: There are so many ways to volunteer and spread a ripple of goodwill into the world. What is yours to do in your corner of the world to create a more gender-balanced world? I have lived in Boston for more than 12 years and never really knew much about the struggles and amazing activism of women in immigrant and ethnic neighborhoods until I became involved with the Boston Women’s Fund. You don't have to go to Cambodia or Turkey to see that the struggles of women to overcome patriarchal attitudes and practices. So, if you are so inclined, do some research and consider getting involved in a local organization that supports women.
#4: Gender-lens INVESTING: There are numerous ways to give/invest with a combined faith/gender-lens. Look for inspired movements to invest in rather than just single organizations. Whether through traditional giving/philanthropy or what is now called "impact investing" (investing for social and financial return) keep your gender-lens engaged whatever the particular programmatic area. Whether health, economic development, environment, community development, gender cuts through everything.
Whatever you feel inspired to do this holiday season, keep the wellbeing of girls and women around the world on the forefront of your mind. Listen to your heart to know what is yours to do to keep bending that arc, bit by bit, to create a more just and gender-balanced world. Trust that human equality is intrinsically true and attractive and will win people over. Another world is indeed on her way.
Emily Nielsen Jones is President/Co-Founder of the Imago Dei Fund, a grant-making foundation in Boston, part of a movement of women-led philanthropy mobilizing resources to create a more just world for girls and women. Emily enjoys being an ally to inspired women around the world working for change within their cultural and religious contexts to create a more balanced, just world.
Photo: Woman behind veil praying, ©