I’ve had a very contrasting week in what I’ve been reading. This month, my book group book is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It’s one of the very best books I have ever read. One of the reasons for that is its subject matter; which tells the story of Mariam, a young girl from Herat in Afghanistan. The story may be fictionalised, but I think we all know, from those who have been brave enough to speak out, that Mariam’s experiences are the truth in some quarters and it’s shocking. Of course, you could point out that that’s just way Muslims do things, that it’s the cultural norm and none of our business. But also this week I’ve been reading Danielle Strickland’s book The Liberating Truth, which asks the question when do you stop explaining things away as the cultural norm and start to come to the realisation that the abuse and marginalisation of women and girls in any culture is just plain wrong? While barbaric practices like genital mutilation, forced marriage may not be part of everyday life in the UK and the US (and let’s not pretend that they’re not happening somewhere), what about the cultural abuse of women and young girls that goes on right under the noses of us all, in the church? Yes, the jolly old church. That nice place down the road. Many denominations give women and girls the idea that their only role in life is to look beautiful, provide children and keep a lovely home. While working may not be outlawed, it will be culturally rammed down their throats that any economic benefit they bring to the family is secondary compared to the all-conquering casserole!
We may not force our women to marry, but what’s with all this ‘giving away’ in a wedding ceremony, when a father gives his daughter to her husband? That’s not just a nice quaint thing, that’s rooted in a time when women were the property of their fathers and when they married they became the property of their husbands. It’s still right there in a Church of England wedding service and we let it perpetuate! And what about the systematic subjugation of women that persists in many denominations (including my own!), that tells women that just because they are women, they are excluded from serving fully in God’s Kingdom? You wouldn’t call up an Army and then tell half of them they couldn’t fight because they had brown hair. The fact is, is that God created men and women to be equal, to have equal standing before him and to be equal in value and use. Any hierarchical bias has come from cultural hermeneutics and has been used for centuries to essentially keep half of God’s army on the sidelines. While the nineteenth century in the church was all about freeing slaves, the twenty-first will, I’m sure, be about freeing women.
So while we might get rightly outraged about the blatant abuses of women like Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns, we must not forget that right here on the very streets of Britain, we insist on pedalling myths that women are inferior to men, sometimes very blatantly and at other times more insidiously. We do it a thousand different ways, from Page Three to the ‘giving away’ in a marriage service; but it’s there, running like the roots of a tree the length and breadth of our country.
That’s what I have been challenged about by God about this week. OK, so I can’t tackle the plight of Afghanistan women other than through prayer and petition, but I can make a practical difference to the lives of women and girls in the UK.
It’s time those roots came up.