Today, International Women’s Day, many women will receive flowers or small gifts from husbands, children, or colleagues. Over a thousand special events and activities will be held in countries all over the world: art fairs in the U.K., essay contests and a gathering of female doctors in India, a film and lecture in Afghanistan, a peaceful demonstration and cake-cutting in Kenya.
It’s a day to celebrate women, and the strength and beauty they add to the world. It’s also a day to celebrate the many strides that have been made in gender equality since the first International Women’s Day in 1910. We need to celebrate those strides—the freedom they’ve brought to women, the lives they’ve saved. I’m deeply grateful for those who fought for women in America to be able to vote, to go to college, to work and lead in every sector of society.
But today is also a day to grieve. Because today, about 800 women will die from childbirth complications, over 1,100 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone will be raped, and over 2,000 women will be trafficked as sex slaves.
Indeed, the celebration of today—celebration that is necessary and good and right—is an invitation for us to actively engage in the work of God's kingdom: to bring his shalom--his true peace and rightness and justice and mercy--to reign in the U.S. and Rwanda and India and Mexico. It's a day to name the things that should not be and move toward what could be, what is meant to be: freedom for all, where men and women alike are valued as ones made in the image of God.
I need today. I need it to inspire in me a deeper gratitude for the relative safety and freedom I live in. I need it to remind me how deeply God's heart beats for the oppressed and forgotten. And I need it to move me to take another step toward helping bring his kingdom-justice to reign.
Two trips to Cambodia with my church allowed me to see up-close the hardships people face, and to learn from those who know and love the country what solutions are truly helpful. Giving to organizations whose work directly combats violence toward women, poverty, and inadequate medical care also teaches me about effective care, and allows me to participate in fighting injustice in different corners of the world. In addition, buying fair-trade products as much as I’m able lets me play a role in combatting material and emotional poverty, by supporting organizations who are paying men and women a fair wage for their work, allowing them to care for their families and restoring their dignity.
These are all small things, to be sure, and I have much (much) more to learn. But books and short trips and conversations and giving are good places to start as I continue to discern where and how God wants me to be more heavily involved in the work of justice in his kingdom.
Today Is a Day
I don’t know where you’re at regarding justice issues. Maybe you’ve started your own non-profit to train police officers and lawyers to prosecute rapists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maybe your InterVarsity chapter has campaigned against sex-trafficking on your campus. Maybe you’ve fasted through certain meals during Lent in solidarity with the poor. Or maybe God just started speaking to you at Urbana 12 about his heart for the poor, the outcasts, the oppressed, and the suffering.
Wherever you’re at, today is a day when you can do something to inform yourself more about the plight of women and girls in the world. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Choose a book you’ll read to grow in knowledge and awareness of the issues.
Explore the work of some of the organizations represented at Urbana, and sign up to pray for one of them.
Give to an organization like World Vision that’s working to educate girls in the developing world.
Consider going on a short-term trip to a Majority World country this summer.
Commit to spending a semester abroad in a country where your skills are needed—and where your perspective and heart will be radically changed.
These seemingly small acts are, in themselves, a step of defiance with regards to injustice, and a tangible way of celebrating the kingdom work God has done and will continue to do, through us.
And don’t forget to celebrate the women around you, as well: your mom, friends, girlfriend, wife, sister, or mentor. A thank-you note, flowers, a surprise cup of coffee, or an act of service can all be ways of affirming who they are, and the gift they are to you. Then invite them to fight injustice with you, for the women and girls around the world who are still waiting for a reason to celebrate.
Leave us a comment letting us know how you’re celebrating International Women's Day.
Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on InterVarsity’s communications team. She worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor (and, as it were, resident limerick-writer). She is continually inspired by the beauty of the sky and loves good conversation with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.
A few more resources to help you engage in God's kingdom-justice work: