In Half the Sky, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Kristof and WuDunn document the global exploitation of women an abuse to which we have become indifferent. According to WuDunn and Kristof, the wholesale degradation of women is not often considered newsworthy. They write:
When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news. (Kristof and WuDunn, xiv)
When more than 100 million females vanished in 1990, Noble Prize researcher Amartya Sen noticed a correlation between a culture's devaluation of females with steep drops in their numbers (Kristof and WuDunn, xv). By contrast, in those communities where gender equality is valued, the ratio of women to men resembles gender ratios in the United States. The message is clear: when a culture values women and men equally, there is less abuse of women. What is more, when money is invested in women's health, education, and businesses, we not only raise women's standard of living, but also that of their families and communities. Educating women reaps clear social benefits: these women elevate the health, economic, and educational standards within their social networks. Perhaps you are like me when you read this research. You cannot help but remember God's purpose in creating women as a strong helper.
According to Genesis, the only cloud hanging over Eden was man without woman. "It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper as a partner" (Gen. 2:18, NRSV). What is the good or strong help that women offer? According to R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman's help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean "to rescue, to save," and "to be strong" (Archaeology Review (9 : 56-58)). Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God and four for military rescue. Here is an example of ezer used for God's rescue of Israel:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Ps. 121:1-2, TNIV)
The quality of Eve's help is never that of an inferior or subordinate. Eve by definition was created to lend a vital form of power. When you remember "woman's creational DNA" as ezer -- as strong help, it explains two perplexing issues. First, it shows how women, as a whole, never perform according to the cultural devaluation made of them. Throughout history and within scripture, we observe women's successful leadership, which, I tell my students, is a fact not readily incorporated into Christian curricula used in churches, colleges, or seminaries. Second, if ezer is woman's "creational DNA," this also explains why women are so devastated and demoralized when churches fail to recognize their God-intended purposes. Treating females as inferior and subordinate violates an essential component of their calling as ezer. And it also explains why the more we recognize women as powerful help, the more they in turn extend strong help to others.
When churches and mission organizations welcomed women's capacity as ezer on mission fields and ministries throughout the 1800s, women's empowerment and release led to quantum growth in Christian faith around the globe. Moreover, as these female missionaries began serving, they also elevated the education, commerce, and health in the very communities where they served. Let's equip, empower, and release ezers to build Christ's kingdom, welcoming with gratitude God's plan for women.
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.