As of the writing of this article, the death toll resulting from Japan’s natural disasters has topped 10,000 people. My heart breaks for all those who will never see their dreams realized and never be able to sing or dance or laugh again.
Yet, this number is just a fraction of lives lost in Asia due to gender discrimination. I don’t mean to dismiss the loss of life in Japan, but I think recent events require us to take pause and remember that people die in Asia every day, not from natural disasters, but from political and economic decisions driven by gender inequality.
A recent (14 March 2011) Newsweek article by Niall Ferguson highlights a statistic by noble laureate economist, Amartya Sen, that places the number of deaths due to abortions, infanticide, and “economic discrimination” at 100 million. That’s the population of about 1,190 Rockdale Counties.
Scariest thing: the statistic only includes females.
For decades, Asia’s economic engine has valued men at the expense of women. Apparently, women in Asia (and India) can neither contribute to the household nor obtain professional positions.
Furthermore, several countries have birth quotas. All of this means that females are aborted or neglected more often than males. A 9 March 2011 Baptist Press article by Tom Strode claims that female suicides come to nearly 500 a day due to China’s one-child policy.
And as the wheel of time turns, those figures add up. Consider that Asia would have to be hit with over 3,000 earthquakes and tsunamis like the one that hit Japan in order to lose that many people.
All too often, Christians see abortion as a local, or perhaps national, issue as they navigate women’s rights and medical ethics in the 21st century. I fear that there is little consideration of the larger tragedy on a global scale.
We can have our debates concerning abortion in this country, but it seems to me that the call to bring a pro-life message overseas is just as urgent. It is hard to fight for the right of unborn girls (and children in general) around the globe, however, when we continue to struggle with gender inequality in our borders.
Women in the United States continue to make about three-fourths the salary that men receive in comparable positions. Only 3 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women, and roughly 16 percent of Congressional seats are filled by female representatives (16 percent in the Senate, and 17 percent in the House according to Kathleen Parker writing for said Newsweek).
Religious institutions are no better: Many places of worship and denominations still deny certain positions to women.
Female minorities and refugees make up the majority of victims in the underground sex trafficking rampant in cities such as Atlanta.
Jesus’ challenge from Matthew 7 comes to mind: “Thou hypocrite; first cast the beam out of thine own eye.” For our nation, gender inequality and injustice is still a beam deeply rooted in the eye sockets of society and culture.
It would help to reclaim gender equality as a biblical core value. This must transform everything from the Catholic priesthood to ordination in the farthest reaches of church life. It must impact how we preach and how we do worship.
(And a word to folks in my own tradition: I encourage the Southern Baptist Convention to take a second look at the U.N. treaty regarding the Convention of the Rights of the Child; which the SBC has opposed since 2000; and also reconsider putting into place a denomination-wide policy regarding sexual misconduct that includes a public sex offender registry.)
Reorienting pro-life legislation to encompass the dignity of all women, as well as one that advocates for minorities and the poor, will also increase the quality of life for women in our midst.
When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, He wants to transform the very political, social, and economic systems in which we find ourselves. Working on behalf of women in particular can help save lives beyond the occasional natural disaster or two.