The easiest thing is always to do nothing. And, as a society, we’ve resorted to thinking that saying, doing, or believing nothing means one is neutral and, therefore, not responsible for awful things when they happen. I believe no one is neutral, and I agree with Archbishop Desmond Tutu who says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Whether we’re looking at women in the business world, or women in leadership positions, or women’s rights when it comes to things like educational opportunities and equal pay for equal work, there continues to be a disparity – certainly on a global scale, but even in a country like Canada. On a list of 2000 top-performing companies and their CEOs, only 29 (1.45%) were women; of those 29 CEOs, 19 were appointed in or after 2002. It has been said that global overpopulation would be curbed if more women were educated; in some cultures, early marriage prevents girls and women from achieving an education. There are ambiguous forms of sexism, as well – those comments or actions that perpetuate stereotypes, but may be seen as acceptable (for example: think of how household chores are sometimes shared, or not).
Attitudes, and then the outward actions, are shaped by what we value. I am especially conscious of where certain ideologies – and theologies – will favour a patriarchal world-view. As a clergy-person, I represent an institution (or, at least, part of one) that has some responsibility to take for discriminating against women. Ironically, this runs counter to the story of Jesus because he often depended on the charity of women – vulnerable people in his society – and women often had significant responsibility in his movement (unusual for that society; for example, read about “Lydia” in the book of Acts, chapter 16). In the western tradition of the church, however, we have often diminished the role of women. Certainly there are mystics and nuns throughout the centuries who have played vital roles, but churches have taken a long time to come to the realization that women make gifted pastors and priests and bishops. Speaking for my own denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), we began ordaining women to Ministry of Word and Sacrament in 1976; our first female bishop was elected in 2002; now, half of our bishops in the ELCIC, including our national bishop, are women.
If we’re interested in rights for all, and moving towards a just society, we must always ask “how does our treatment of the most vulnerable in society look?” Women’s rights are not simply about women. They are about rights for people of different races; for people of different religions; for people of different sexual orientations and gender identities; for people of different ethnicities and nationalities; people of different ages. When we become interested in – truly seeking awareness about – the lives of others, we realize that these lives include our families, our friends, even ourselves. Then we see how our lives are connected, and how we depend on others.
We can not “do nothing.” We are responsible to do something. Let’s do the right thing.