Women’s Roles, Worldwide

I find it noteworthy that in the developing world, research has shown that increasing women’s health, education, and economic viability greatly increases the overall health and success of communities. Micro-loans, education on child bearing and rearing, and nutritional information has a much better chance of affecting the rest of the family and the whole community when women are the entry points. It is also women, mostly of color, who are often the ones around the world who end up bearing a disproportionate amount of the poverty burden: by being exploited, bearing children as young teenagers, being the recipient of STDs or AIDS from a traveling partner, caring for children and other family members, as well as working in the field, retreiving water, and cooking and cleaning at home. Several female African teenagers I met in South Africa confided that they didn’t want to get married, because many people’s attitudes were that a married man can have as many partners as he wants, while married women cannot and are expected to always acquiesce, no questions asked, when their husbands want to have sex with them. Faithful married women, then, have no safety net to guard them from getting AIDS or passing it on to their children, not to mention the emotional and spiritual cost that these double standards set up for those individuals. All of these roles – the option to positively build up families, and the negative cost that too many women incur – deeply impact a society’s health.

A recent article covers the increase of “fistulas” around the world – the obstetric nightmare where (mainly) young girls who are unable to deliver their first child have a dead baby lodged in their birth canal and broken urethras and/or bowels from the pressure of a failed delivery. They need surgery and are often incontinant, in great pain, shunned socially, and obviously have the added pain of a failed delivery. This article is not just meant to be gross or show an extreme issue, it points out a real health issue that women are facing every day around the world. Many things contribute to this suffering – pregnancy at too young of an age, social norms about sex and being married, limited ideas about women’s roles and empowerment, education, health care access, community support, faithful interpretations of caring for married partners, reasons that men have to leave their own communities to work elsewhere, lack of economic viability in communities to support local health care staff, etc. They are all linked.

Article excerpt: “The fistulas point to the broader plight of millions of African women: poverty; early marriage; maternal deaths; a lack of rights, independence and education; a generally low standing. One in 18 Nigerian women dies during childbirth, compared with one in 2,400 in Europe, the Population Fund says. A larger share of African women die in childbirth than anywhere else in the world.”

I am still learning about all of the pieces that come together to create health or brokeness in poverty-stricken communities, but part of what the Millenium Development Goals point to is this inter-connected nature of fighting poverty and brokenness. MDG 3 and 5 both point directly to educating and empowering women, and improving maternal health. These are linked to eradicating extreme poverty, stopping the spread of diseases, acheving universal primary education, etc. because success in one area feeds into success in the others areas.

I am sickened that women, some much younger then me, have stories like this to share. I know that at one level, changing this reality is complicated and takes time and involves many players all doing their part, including the women themselves. On a more important level, I would argue that we need to eradicate this and related suffering/loss of life, because it is unacceptable. It is wrong. It is not how life was intended for these young girls, their babies, or their communities. As U2’s “Crumbs From Your Table,” says, ‘where you are born should not determine whether you live or die’. I pray that we will know how to act, be daring in our compassion toward the multiple health crisis that can seem too overwhelming and too removed, do justice in our work and in our churches whenever we can speak out about international aid and debt/trade justice, and that we can faithfully be witnesses to these lives and deaths.

Crumbs From Your Table…

Last night I was part of a crowd that raised its hands toward the stage while we clapped and sang along to songs about faith and conviction. The music was interspersed with stories, passionate calls to live a life of service to others, warm reflections on the strengths of the heartland, encouragement to support Africa and other poor countries through advocacy and aid, and acoustic versions of ditties like “Father Abraham,” “Old Man River,” and “Johnny Came Marching Home.”

No, this was not an evangelical gathering of youth pastors – it was U2’s Vertigo concert! And it was simply amazing. They put on a great show; Bono danced with a girl from the audience whose sign read “I lost 75 #s to dance wth Bono,” and admidst a flag show, swirling lights, and a circle catwalk, they introduced social justice issues like a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Coexist (peace between the Abrahamic faiths – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), and the ONE Campaign (my job!! see link at right). Four encores, a song dedicated to the Mayo Clinic, and music by Dashboard Confessional were also packed in there. Mix in a little Miller Lite and sweatshop-free t-shirts – Target Center presents a night of fun for the whole family!

I was struck with so many aspects of the evening: the song lyrics, the pastor-like qualities of Bono in his lead role, the way all four band members were in the spotlight and shared attention, the balance of simple six-string guitar after pounding drums with inundating electric bass, and the responsiveness of the audience to the whole experience. And while its not meant to be a worship event, per se, or a community of faith engaging in confession and ritual to remember our role as the church, I felt many of those things as I swayed and sang. (FYI, there are many sites that examine U2 and their journey through faith, rock ‘n roll, politics, and the US – but check out @U2, U2 sermons, or my friend Adam’s site for some great places to start getting more info.)

The CD is called “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and has some classics like the upbeat “City of Blinding Lights” (opening song), and the spinning “Vertigo.” It also has convicting lyrics in “Love and Peace or Else” and “Crumbs From Your Table” – which was debuted for the first time live in Minneapolis last night, I later learned. (Excerpted lyrics: ‘You speak of signs and wonders, But I need something other, I would believe if I was able, But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table. Where you live should not decide, Whether you live or whether you die, Three to a bed, Sister Ann, she said, Dignity passes by…’)

And my favorite song from the CD, played acoustically by The Edge as Bono sang, is “Yahweh.” More excerpts from lyrics:

‘Take this shirt, polyester white trash made in nowhere, take this shirt, and make it clean.
Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones, take this soul, and make it sing.
Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born… Still I’m waiting for the dawn.

Take these hands, teach them what to carry, take these hands, don’t make a fist.
Take this mouth, so quick to criticize, take this mouth, give it a kiss.
Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born.. Still I’m waiting for the dawn.

Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill, take this city, if it be your will.
What no man can own, no man can take, take this heart, take this heart, take this heart, and make it break.’