Today is International Women’s Day. Celebrated in many countries worldwide, it recognizes women’s contributions, inspires progress, and sensitizes the public to the difficulties still faced by many women and girls throughout the world.
This year, the United Nations’ theme for International Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.” Various activities will be held around the globe. In India there will be an event to raise awareness for prevention of female infanticide. In Canada, observance of International Women’s Week is focusing on women’s vital role in Canada’s rural and remote communities. In Ghana, an intergenerational dialogue is taking place to inspire teenage girls to take on future African leadership roles.
How can society advance by empowering women without losing the nurturing qualities – the strength most often noted in women? How can men continue to contribute without impeding women’s rightful progress? Polarization of each gender’s desires and goals isn’t the best way forward.
There’s a sound spiritual basis for the rights of all men and women to contribute equally to society and to live in mutually supportive, constructive relationships. This is beautifully described in the Bible’s account of how men and women are created (see Genesis 1:27, 28, 31): “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” I understand this to mean that the full expression of God consists of both male and female, both genders reflecting all divine qualities, such as intelligence, creativity, altruism, integrity, kindness, and perseverance.
The biblical account continues, “God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” To me this signifies that men and women are created to coexist and cooperate in harmony, possessing all the necessary tools to be productive and to triumph over any obstacles to collective progress. The account concludes: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”
Delving into the Bible, I’ve found female characters who exhibited leadership qualities that enabled them to courageously help whole communities while maintaining their nurturing qualities. For example, when the Israelite slaves in Egypt were multiplying in strength and numbers despite their hard labor, Egypt’s tyrannical Pharaoh feared they would soon outnumber his people and join forces with Egypt’s enemies (see Exodus, Chap. 1). So Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all male Hebrew newborns. But the midwives held to their values and did not comply. God protected the midwives from retribution, and the Israelites continued to thrive.
Also inspiring is the “exemplary woman” described in Proverbs. She owns property, runs a business, and is creative, trustworthy, strong, wise, kind, generous, and faith-filled. She is respected by her husband and children.
These examples show that the traditional nurturing qualities often associated with women are in no way lost when supported by attributes such as strength of character and initiative.
Similarly, the “strong” qualities often found in men are not weakened when accompanied by nurturing traits such as compassion. For example, when Israel’s king, Saul, became jealous of David’s growing achievements and sought to kill him, David felt God’s presence and refrained from harming Saul (see I Samuel, Chap. 24). And of course, Jesus is the ideal example of a man expressing a graceful balance of strong character and caring, as in the Bible passages describing his compassion for people before he healed them (see Matthew 14:14).
In fact, everyone in society benefits when men and women are free to express the full range of spiritual attributes and capabilities.
The Monitor was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy at a time when few women played a role in media or public life. She embodied the strong-mindedness and business acumen needed for this large-scale endeavor, yet her motive went far beyond the desire to present the news in a balanced, constructive way. She founded the Monitor with the objective “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 353). She did this from the premise that undergirded her work as an author and as founder and discoverer of Christian Science – the understanding that “Man and woman as coexistent and eternal with God forever reflect, in glorified quality, the infinite Father-Mother God” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 516).
As we strive to foster the development of each individual’s strengths and talents, men and women will continue to see genuine progress, and even balanced leadership. The result will bless families, communities, and nations.
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