When we were little, my sister used to go missing a lot. She had a cute inquisitive mind of her own. We still laugh about an occasion when we were up the Eiffel Tower in Paris and suddenly realised she wasn’t with us. It wasn’t long before my parents found her though, and we all gratefully swept her up in a relieved, warm hug. She’d just wandered off because something had caught her eye.
For many girls who go missing though, the story doesn’t quite end like that.
Amanda Jackson wrote about 23-year-old Noka Bir Moktan from Nepal who died four months ago in Qatar. He was one of thousands of young men working on the World Cup site in order to send income back home, and is predicted to be one of 4,000 Nepalis who will die working on it. His dad borrowed 175,000 rupees to pay for his passage and agency fees. The Qatari employer promised to pay this back, but never did, and now the family have no way to repay the loan. Moktar’s two young sisters, age 14 and 16, were collateral for the loan. They could now be sent to work in Mumbai’s brothels to pay off the debt, perhaps never to be seen again by the family.
Why were these two girls collateral for such a large sum of money? Why does an already tragic tale of poverty, exploitation, death and corruption have to end with two young girls going missing into a world of darkness and fear? The truth is that at the centre of the heartbreak of extreme poverty is often the life of a girl.
Actually 113 million to 200 million women and girls are missing from our world today.
Child sex ratio in India has dropped to 914 girls for every 1,000 boys – the worst ratio in over 60 years. Girl foetuses are routinely aborted because their parents want sons.
Of the 600,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across our international borders each year, around 80 per cent are women and girls. Up to 50 per cent are children.
Young girls die from neglect because food and medical attention are given first to fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
And then domestic violence, honour killings, dowry deaths and sexual violence as a weapon of war ensure many more millions of girls’ voices and lives are missing from our earth.
Perhaps you’ve heard some of these statistics before. Perhaps you allowed your eyes to glaze over them, because it’s just too huge. I certainly have. But behind the numbers is a whole lot of pain. Millions of cries, screams and names that will never be known.
While the Church has sadly often been complicit when it comes to the silencing and suppression of women and girls, it hasn’t always been that way. If discarded baby girls survived in ancient Rome, they probably faced one of three options – slavery, prostitution or adoption by a Christian. Contrary to what I sometimes assume about the early Church, its attitude towards the life of a baby girl was radically different from that of society. Not only did these Christians take in rejected baby girls, but they also publically challenged infanticide.
This is a challenge to me. I’ve no idea why I was born into a family who had enough money to provide me with three meals a day. I don’t know why I was born in a relatively rich nation when I was, placing me pretty much at the top of the pyramid (so far) in terms of gender equality anywhere in history. But I do know I didn’t somehow earn it, and that I can no longer discard along with the rest of the world my sisters who are suffering as a result of systems that inextricably link me with them.
And I also know that Jesus noticed girls and women who were otherwise unnoticeable: the bleeding, the prostitutes, the adulteresses, those on the very fringes of life. Each had a powerful place in the unveiling of God’s redemptive and liberating mission.
God asks us to continue in His mission – to take notice of the missing girls in our world. All 113-200 million of them. God doesn’t see statistics but unique and beautiful girls created in His image, made with huge potential and purpose. And He asks us to see them too.
How are we shifting and lifting and challenging our cultural norms? How are we raising the value and dignity of girls through our everyday living, and how are we speaking out against the injustices we see? The world, the Church, needs to do more to prevent the gendercide happening around us.
As one prayer goes: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.”
As it is International Women’s Day is tomorrow, what we can do?
- Pray for change in the world and in our hearts.
- Consider and speak out. How might your everyday living be impacting girls around the world? As a consumer, your voice can mean a lot. Public pressure has recently led to Apple and Intel publicising which of its suppliers may be sourcing minerals from conflict-zones where rape is a weapon of war. This is a great step. We can continue to put pressure on other companies to follow suit.
- Check out great organisations involved with challenging gender-based violence, discrimination and trafficking via Half the Sky website. You could consider organising a campaign for Stop the Traffic in your community.
This article is part of a special series commissioned by guest editor Claire Rush to celebrate and remember International Women’s Day on 8 March.
photo via Creative Commons