PEOPLE IN MANY PLACES around the world believe that women are chattel to be condemned and degraded. Human Rights Watch notes the prevalence of rape by the military in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where young girls are frequent victims. In parts of the Middle East and Africa, girls are still subjected to female circumcision as a rite of passage. In these and other areas, women have also been attacked with acid, imprisoned, and even killed for being seen in public without a male relative.
At the same time there are also visions of hope and opportunity. After many years of war, Liberia has found stability under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in all of Africa.Her ascension to power after many trials, including exile and imprisonment, was helped in large part by a movement called "Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace," founded by yet another woman.
Siti Musdah Mulia was given an International Woman of Courage Award by the United States for her efforts to revise Indonesia's Islamic Code, so that its treatment of women is less restrictive. While those proposals still haven't been adopted, the work done by her and her team has helped open up dialogue on the subject. Recently, Julia Gillard has become Australia's first female prime minister.
FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY
Our prayers demanding justice and equality can help keep the tide turning steadily toward greater freedom and safety for women. Even with all the progress that has been made in the area of women's rights, gaining true equality and freedom is still a work in progress. One way I remind myself to pray is by looking at a charming picture that I keep on my refrigerator door, along with paintings by my three-year-old granddaughter. It shows two lovely Muslim girls strolling arm in arm, clothed in flowered dirndl skirts, solid contrasting jackets, and scarves of the same fabric as the skirts. I pray for that same feeling of freedom for women everywhere.
My prayer for women around the world often begins with the creation story from Genesis, which treats both male and female equally: "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27, New Revised Standard Version). I reason that neither men nor women are sexual objects; rather, they express divinely bestowed spiritual qualities such as strength, beauty, and creativity. Each is complete, and neither needs to abuse or dominate the other, or to be a pawn.
My prayer continues with a refusal to identify men or women by material standards but as spiritual ideas of the one intelligent, all-loving Mind. I mentally refute the belief that a good God would sustain systems of religion of government that allow injustice and persecution, even those that still exist sometimes in very subtle forms.
TO OVERCOME REJECTION
Several years ago I attended a women's seminar at a nearby university. The panel consisted of women from six different religious traditions. Each expressed frustration in her attempts to be accepted as a thinker and leader in her respective church, synagogue, temple, or mosque. Several had found a place in academia but not in their chosen religion.
Those women would have readily identified with a statement written by Mary Baker Eddy in the late 19th century. She wrote in Science and Health: "Civil law establishes very unfair differences between the rights of the two sexes. Christian Science furnishes no precedent for such injustice, and civilization mitigates it in some measure. Still, it is a marvel why usage should accord woman less rights than does either Christian Science or civilization" (p. 63).
Prayer based on the understanding that God is infinite Love and that man is spiritual, made in His/Her image, elevates both men and women to their rightful role of coexistence.
To me, the foundation of negative thinking about women is belief in limited God. Believing that God is male, with mortal motivations and thoughts, creates a concept of Him as both good and evil. In our prayers we can identify God with qualities of both fatherhood and motherhood, expressed as Life and Love, or Mind and Principle. As we do this, a new sense of completeness and balance will become evident.
Prayer based on the understanding that God is infinite Love and that we are each spiritual, made in His/Her image, elevates both men and women to their rightful role of coexistence with the Creator. This realization will help initiate a more harmonious, healthy, and prosperous world.
A HIGHER VIEW OF GOD
The story of Mary and Joseph in the Bible is a lasting example of this higher acknowledgment of God as Love. Mary recognized her child as God's idea, not created humanly. Science and Health records: "The illumination of Mary's spiritual sense put to silence material law and its order of generation, and brought forth her child by the revelation of Truth, demonstrating God as the Father of men.... Jesus was the offspring of Mary's self-conscious communion with God" (pp. 29-30). For women today, her example shines as the light, encouraging all women that it's possible to overcome limitations concerning gender and the cultural taboos that go with it. We can claim an active sense of spirituality for ourselves and our children.
But because Mary's realization was manifested in actual material pregnancy, it proved to be a social and religious dilemma for her and Joseph, whom she was to marry. He had several choices. As a man under the dictates of the Jewish law, he could have "put her away privily," that is, banished her or even made a spectacle of her condition (see Matt. 1:19-25). Many women today are being treated in just such a fashion for what their culture may consider an offense. They become prisoners in their own homes, beaten and even killed for overstepping customary laws laid down by patriarchal tradition and belief.
But the Bible's account shows that Joseph's thought rose above material limitations as he communed with God. Angel thoughts—spiritual messages that were not from the harsh God of man's making but from the true God who is Love—came to him. Those thoughts told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife but to cherish her and the baby. What great respect we should feel for Joseph. How brave he was to withstand the rumors and criticism that probably swirled around him and his family. Today we can pray in support of men living in repressive societies so that they are able to rise above unjust religious beliefs. We can pray that they, like Joseph, have the strength to exhibit mutual love and support within their families.
Humanity today is being asked to reconsider its limited views concerning women in governments, churches, and communities. The illumination that comes with the recognition of God as Love leads to an adjustment of laws and traditions. It brings them into line with divine Principle, which is fair and just to all. At the same time women must accept the responsibility, as did Mary, to recognize their human rights and to continue the work for the kind of justice that led to advances in previous generations. They must reject the limited, degrading concepts of women, and affirm not just their humanhood but their spirituality as daughters of God.
FUTURE FREEDOM FOR ALL
Every man, woman, and child has the right to reflect God's intelligence and love, and the freedom to live without fear. Every woman has the divine right to feel and be cherished. As both men and women learn to live their God-given individuality and share lives that include equality and balance, they will achieve the peaceful, glorious potential that is rightfully theirs. God is both Father and Mother, and creation is only complete when both the feminine and masculine qualities can be expressed freely and have the respect of all.
Daily, we must remember, like brave women in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and other areas, that each and every one of us is an example for the other, and for the children of our world.
Vicki A. Turpen is an avid reader who has five children and 12 grandchildren. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.