It is 8th March as I write this post, that means it is International Women’s Day. The theme of this year’s IWD is ‘Choose to Challenge’, encouraging all to celebrate women’s achievements while not failing to call out gendered inequalities and women’s invisibility. It has encouraged me to recall some of the amazing women I have known personally, and some I have observed though never met or known personally.
This story of Vivienne Stacey exemplifies a life of love for the people she chose to spend so much of her life living among in Pakistan: ‘Once Vivienne was traveling as a single, foreign women on a rural bus. She heard the passengers around her discussing who she was and what she was carrying in her bags. So she responded, “I have seed in my bag.” “No you don’t,” they said.” It looks like you have books.” So Vivienne took out the books to show the tracts and Christian literature in Urdu. “See,” she said. “it is seed. These words give life and produce fruit.” She handed out the materials. Different passengers read some of the pieces out loud with others listening and commenting. “This may be seed,” one passenger said to Vivienne. “But it is foreign seed and won’t grow in Pakistani soil.” “Oh no,” said Vivienne. “This seed is Middle Eastern and was prepared for the whole world.” We celebrate this remarkable woman who paved the way for so many to begin to think about how women experience and live faith as Christians and Muslims and how women from these two communities speak to each other.
We have previously done blogs on both of these women: Asma Jahangir https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/do-justice/ and Sabeen Mahmud https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/community-spaces/ , women enacted a commitment to justice and equality, born at great personal cost so that silenced voices could be heard, systemic injustices challenged, and the least given hope. Both women lived under the shadow of opposition to all they worked for. Sabeen was ultimately killed for creating a space for those who were excluded everywhere else. Asma spent time under house arrest, bearing a heavy burden that ultimately took her life early. We celebrate these remarkable women who showed how to love mercy and justice so as to include the excluded.
Another remarkable woman we have spoken about in a previous blog is Esther John, https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/disciplining-those-who-pay-a-great-price-for-faith-esther-john-1929-1960/ . Esther John chose to be a follower of Jesus, when she saw his beauty and love in the life of one of her teachers. The great witness of Esther was when they police investigating her murder could see in what remained of her life how much she loved Jesus. We celebrate the Esther John, her life of faith, her love for Jesus and her courage to follow him even to death.
When I was working in the Middle East, several years ago, we obtained funding for development work. One of the women who received some funds used it to buy a buffalo calf which she raised and sold. She used that money to buy another calf and to send her children to school. Each year this was her pattern; a mother who wanted and worked for the best for her children. We celebrate this mother and her commitment to nurture and care for her children, to create opportunities for them and their future.
These are just a few women who have chosen to challenge. They have challenged injustice, exclusion, cultural norms, inequalities, religious boundaries, authorities and their own fears. As they navigated the boundaries of their everyday lives, they challenged the inequalities that confronted them and broke walls of exclusion.
The Bible includes remarkable stories of women who chose to challenge inequalities, injustices, marginalisation and exclusion. One of the many remarkable stories is that of Tamar who was shamed by her husband’s family who refused to fulfill their responsibilities or her. While many focus on her actions in choosing to challenge as those of a prostitute, God does not. He acknowledges the justice of her actions, affirms her, and calls those who were wrong to account.
Abigail is another woman who chose to challenge. Her husband, who is described as an ignorant fool, brought wrath with impending destruction on his family community. Abigail challenges cultural norms by going out to plead for mercy for her family. This risky choice saves bloodshed and saves David, a man who went on to become a great leader, from the guilt of shedding innocent blood.
The remarkable story of the Bible celebrates women who chose to challenge. It draws us into the heart of God who calls us to choose to challenge, to challenge injustice and unrighteousness, exclusion and marginalisation, faithlessness and doubt.
This International Women’s Day we, in the When Women Speak… network, celebrate the women who choose to challenge – past, present and future. Join us and share your story of choosing to challenge or the women you know who choose to challenge.
Featured Image: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme
© When Women Speak … March 2021
CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).