Read: Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created.
Women in South Sudan work hard. They haul their family’s daily water, often for miles, collect firewood, do some 90 percent of crop cultivation, cook, clean, hand-wash clothes, and bear and rear children. Twenty women die for every 1,000 births, and more than 80 percent are illiterate. True, some educated women work in government, the church, and the private sector, but the reality for most women is that they receive little if any education, are married early, bear child after child, and struggle from dawn to dusk merely to survive.
Go to South Sudan, and you will find the women in church singing joyfully, but don’t expect to see much of them otherwise; they are busy at home and don’t speak English anyway. Talk with church and community leaders about women’s role in society, and you will hear women’s empowerment endorsed, both from a human rights perspective and a realistic awareness of economic good. But the culture keeps women down to an enormous extent.
What can we do? Aware of the complicity of the church in colonialism, Western Christians have to tread lightly, listen long, and let our South Sudanese sisters and brothers guide any actions we take. Some ways Christians have been trying to help empower the women of South Sudan include building schools for girls and providing adult education, starting cooperative preschools run by mothers so school-age girls can stay in school, helping women’s groups start micro-lending programs to fund women’s entrepreneurship, drilling wells and funding grinding mills that decrease the time women must spend on subsistence tasks, and introducing farming practices that will yield crops to sell as well as to eat.
Women in South Sudan already work harder than most of us. They deserve our help, prayers, and advocacy to bring freedom and dignity to their working lives.
O God who created us male and female in your image, you teach us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being. Hear our prayers for the women of South Sudan: Deliver them from violence, oppression, and degradation; bring them justice and dignity; and help them to provide for themselves and their families through meaningful work and equal participation in their society. Guide decision makers in the church and other institutions to follow in the footsteps of your saints, Pandita, Sarah, Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner Truth, Harriet, and Vida, by working for women’s education and rights, and lead your people far and near to work for economic justice and gender equity in South Sudan and throughout the whole earth. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Holy Women, Holy Men (Pandita Mary Ramabai, pp. 307-08; Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, pp. 352-53; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman, pp. 474-77; Vida Dutton Scudder, pp. 632-33).
Debra Morris Smith is a member of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Creve Coeur, Missouri. She coordinates communications with and travel to the Diocese of Lui in Sudan for the Diocese of Missouri and is a member of the board of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.