One more workshop presented. One more keynote spoken. One more church informed. One more person inspired.
If I had done my job well, that is.
I had just finished yet another presentation interpreting the relief, refugee and development work that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) funds through offerings received during our annual Week of Compassion. Our primary implementing partner organization has always been Church World Service. As always, I defined terms that those of us in the humanitarian arena use on a daily basis, such as “food security” and “capacity building”, but that most people probably hadn’t overheard waiting in line for a Starbucks skinny soy café latte. That particular day, I fielded questions about agribusiness and GMOs; “why in the world are all these ‘illegals’ crossing our borders?” and my personal favorite: why don’t we “just pass out birth control” across the continent of Africa?
But of all the questions posed that day, this one trumped them all: “Since when did we stop helping boys and men?” And here’s what may be even more baffling about this particular question—whoever asked it didn’t have the courage to do so in public, but rather sent me an anonymous e-mail a few days later.
Admittedly, I didn’t understand the question at first. Had I missed something? What had I said that led this person to believe that Week of Compassion, and by default, CWS, no longer supported the male species? I was utterly confused. How had I given the impression that we pick and choose? Hadn’t I been clear that we help anyone in need?
Nothing could be more inaccurate, obviously. But the mere idea that the question had to be raised at all makes me want to shake my head and scream out loud. Or, if I’m gut honest, makes me want to weep.
So I pull myself together, take a deep breath (or five or six) and invoke the spirits of all the women along the way who have inspired me thus far.
Some of their names I know, some I do not. But I see their faces as clearly as I did upon first meeting them. I remember their stories. I fulfill the promise I made to each of them, that I would share those stories so that the world might know. So that we could transform the world into a safe, welcoming, equitable and joyful place just waiting for the gifts women bring to it.
Caroline Thuo from Kenya, I honor you. Ana Kima from Sudan, I honor you. Nana Doliashvili from the Republic of Georgia, I honor you. Denisse Prichard from the Dominican Republic, I honor you. Milica Djordjević from Serbia, I honor you. Shama Mall from Pakistan, I honor you. Danka Želić from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I honor you. Mariana Sinaro of Indonesia, I honor you.
The Weenhayek women of the Chaco Region of South America fighting for land rights and working to make their communities food secure, I honor you. The girls who have found shelter and safe haven at our partner INPRHU in Managua, Nicaragua, and for the women caring for them, I honor you. The Masaai women of Kenya who are building sand dams and creating new sources of water, I honor you. The cadre of female animators combing the streets of Belgrade, Serbia to reach out to Roma girls and boys, I honor you. The orphans who are now teenage heads of households in East Africa and part of our Giving Hope program, I honor you. The brave women in Pakistan and Afghanistan who are paving a way for peace education in places where there is anything but peace, I honor you. The women who volunteer at the House of Hope in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, teaching and mentoring young Haitian restavek girls in Cité Soleil, I honor you.
Today is for you. Today is for us. But in my heart of hearts, I pray for the need that one day there will no longer be a need for an International Women’s Day, because each and every day will be a Day to celebrate and honor girls and women. We will no longer need to be “empowered” but we will have truly turned our pain into power, our obstacles into opportunities, and our vulnerability into victory.
The Rev. Amy Gopp is an activist for girls and women everywhere. She also serves as the Executive Director of Week of Compassion: the relief, refugee, and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A committed ecumenist, she also serves as an officer on the Church World Service and IMA World Health Boards of Directors and as part of the Ecumenical One Great Hour of Sharing Committee.