In my last blog post, I reflected on gender normalization, accepting the status quo without addressing its underlying inequality and injustices. I reflected on women’s roles in society where we are expected to accept certain aspects of our culture because they are part of our tradition, or our past. I also discussed family inheritance and its inherent discrimination against daughters. In this post I wish to reflect on women in politics and religion, particularly Christianity as that is the context I know and live in.
Women, particularly mothers, are engaged in the resistance movement. This is particularly evident as their children grow, perhaps are taken by soldiers, and mothers take a more active role in trying to prevent conflict and protect their children. Yet the number of women involved in roles with political power are few and far between. In Bethlehem we have Vera Baboun, our mayor, and Dr. Nisreen who is Minister of Tourism, but beyond that, we have very few role models in this arena. Why? Women are not encouraged to have authoritative voices in our society, and in order to improve women’s standing (we are nearly 50% of the population in Palestine!), we need equal representation. When we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for others. As Maya Angelou wrote, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
As Christians, we have laws that women and men are equal. Yet, we follow the Muslim way where women receive ⅓ and men ⅔. In doing so, we publicly affirm that women are less capable, able, and deserving than men. If I were to go to the church and ask for the church to implement a law indicating my equality, most of the time, nothing will be done. In some cases the church courts grant the woman inheritance, but if she does not make this case obvious and public, others will not acknowledge it or see a precedent they can follow. Unfortunately, as women we do not have these examples, so why don’t we plainly state that Christians observe Muslim law on this issue? If you don’t like it, do something about it.
If you enter our churches, we are still underestimated, not just in implementing the laws, but in practice. I have never seen a Palestinian Christian woman in a church who carries the same responsibilities and authority that men do; perhaps you assume we do not want this, but how will you know until you make a better effort to encourage us to seek responsibility, opportunity, and authority in the church? Many of the traditional churches are far from acknowledging women, and they often believe that woman should be silent. In evangelical churches, they say women can be involved (after all, who will take the notes, bring the food, coordinate children’s events, and make sure details are not overlooked?), but our men don’t believe in ordaining women or appointing them as elders in churches. Women, like men, want to use their gifts and talents. If we can’t do this in our churches, in our spiritual homes and refuge, where can we do so?
I do not accept the institutional discrimination and gender normalization where we can maintain the status quo where women are considered inferior and men superior. We do not want power over men, but ourselves, an opportunity to influence, govern, make decisions and tackle spiritual and political challenges alongside you. Too many of us are silent because we’ve lost hope in society and the potential for change. When we discuss it and I challenge friends to do something, they often say, “Why me?”’ But if it is not you, then who?
Here are a few more suggestions of how we can do this:
Be aware of your rights -- not only as citizens in Palestine, but as Christian women in terms of Christian law.
Discuss discrimination in your church, law and practice.
If you manage to succeed in gaining a better inheritance or a position of authority in church, let others know about it! Our girls need more examples of women who stand up for themselves, because you stand up for us all.
Take a more active role in deliberating bodies, particularly competitive ones in municipalities and higher positions in governmental offices. The places with the fewest women need us most. Help represent the Palestinian “everywoman.”
Resolve to call gender discrimination what it truly is -- gender normalization. “Normalization” is a word with negative connotations in politics; let us make normalization in terms of the gender status quo just as unacceptable as political normalization.
If you have more thoughts to contribute, please do so in the comments! I can speak up, but I do not have all your ideas, wisdom and voices. Share your thoughts with me. I believe we are stronger together than apart.