“Who runs the world? Girls!” If Beyoncé has any say on the matter, the world is on the verge of a revolution, and a female one at that.
Since the first wave of feminism more than a century ago, the women’s movement has gone from strength to strength. Calls for equality by suffragettes meant that females in Australia were finally given the right to vote in 1902 (the second country in the world to do so), and following numerous movements during the last century, we have seen a resurgence of feminism in a new generation of women.
Culturally, we are beginning to see strong female leads like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman redefine femininity, and the role of a submissive homemaker is being swapped for the portrayal of independent, intelligent and capable women.
And it’s not just fictional women who are continuing the revolution: just this year Taylor Swift won a court case after she was sexually assaulted by US DJ David Mueller. Musicians like Kesha and Rihanna have also been vocal about their own experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence, and in doing so have represented women everywhere.
Given all this, I can tell you: it’s never been cooler to be a strong woman.
We’ve also seen feminism rise up in the Church. Since it was founded in 1865, The Salvation Army has held to the core truth that all people are created in the image of God, and therefore the worth of both sexes is inherent.
It’s not a new idea, but one that is informed by both the words and actions of Jesus—who first appeared after his resurrection to his female disciples—and the biblical examples of female leaders in the early Church, such as Priscilla and Apphia. It also acknowledges how many women were martyred in the name of Christ as the faith battled for its place in an often hostile world.
This belief has put them at the forefront of ministerial equality, with founders William and Catherine Booth both playing integral roles in raising up young leaders and championing the cause of women, who were some of the most discriminated groups in London’s East End.
Years ahead of her time, it was Catherine who said, “Why should woman be confined exclusively to the kitchen and the distaff, any more than man to the field and workshop?”
Given this history, it was significant when The Salvation Army announced its new Gender Equity policy earlier this year. This showed that even a progressive movement still has to address gender equality in a society where patriarchal ideas are inbuilt—and so do we.
On a broader religious level, Sarah Bessey’s popular 2013 book Jesus Feminist dramatically altered the public’s patriarchal interpretation of the Bible, and many facets of the Church have exchanged the historical interpretation of a women’s role to a more well-rounded, empowering view.
If there was any time in history to be a girl, 2017 seems to be the pinnacle.
But for many women—dare I say all of them—it’s not. Because while society has made leaps and bounds in its treatment of women, there’s still a massive gap of inequality. And this is particularly prevalent for young girls.
“Our society tends to have ideals about how gender is played out in our day-to-day lives, and from a very young age, girls are conditioned to think certain things about their gender,” explains Amanda Merrett, member of The Salvation Army’s social justice team.
“Because of sexism in our culture, girls and women are often reduced to whatever their bodies can offer—labour, children or even sexual favours.”
The International Day of the Girl Child exists to change this. Instigated by the United Nations in 2011, this year it takes place on October 11. The day raises awareness for the 1.1 billion girls who have the capacity to transform the world and have unlimited potential. Yet, so many never receive this opportunity, due to discrimination, violence and lack of equal opportunities.
“There are unique challenges faced by girls simply because they are a girl,” says Amanda. “Across the world and in Australia, girls are held back because of poverty, gender inequality, child marriage, modern slavery and more. There are many things that strip young girls of dignity, and expose them to discrimination and oppression that can continue throughout their lifetime.“
In developing countries, this inequality looks like forced and early marriage. In fact, one in three girls in these countries (except China) will enter forced marriage before the age of 18. Globally, one in seven girls are married or in union before this age. Many have children before they are physically or emotionally ready, and a large number also experience physical and sexual violence.
It’s easy to get caught up in the statistics, but we can’t forget that at the core of this issue is the future of each single, important life. And while some of these girls live overseas, many are right here in Australian homes and workplaces.
A survey of 600 teenage girls by Plan International Australia and Our Watch found that 51% of participants thought that girls are often pressured to take and share nude/semi-nude photographs.
In addition, of the 40.3 million people in the world who are victims of modern-day slavery, 71% are women. And in Australia, one in four females have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Corporately, we also see this disparity in the pay gap. Though scoffed at by many, it is more obvious than ever before that inequality exists in the workplace, with women earning on average 84% of a man’s pay cheque in Australia. We also know that many women find it harder to rise up to management positions in the workforce.
If we want the girls of the future to grow up in a world where they are free to dream, create and reach their God-given potential, something needs to change. And that starts with us.
We must throw away our misconception that girls and women from developing countries are more prone to discrimination because of their family, culture, religion or class—because oppression happens to females across the world.
“We can only start to understand the systemic justice issues facing young girls when we engage with the very girls experiencing those injustices. We need to keep the experiences and stories of people, and therefore people’s humanity, front and centre,” says Amanda.
So how can we make a difference? By joining the revolution. A peaceful revolution that recognises the God-given significance of every human being, and calls out inequality whenever it appears in our lives: in our language (no more, “man up” or “you’re weak like a girl”), in our behaviour, and in our assumptions.
Get on board. Because this isn’t just a defining moment in history, it’s the sound of a generation changing the world.