Monday, July 15, 2013

Talitha Koun. Girl Rising

There’s a movie I’ve been wanting to see, Girl Rising. It will be showing this week, on Wednesday, at the Phoenixville Colonial Theater. If you’re in the area, come see it.  

"One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world."
It’s about nine girls from nine countries who face the challenges too many girls face: child marriage, sex trafficking, slavery, abandonment, staggering poverty.

This past Friday, the UN celebrated the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafza, the teen shot in Pakistan last October for daring to speak out against the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. Malala spoke to the gathered world leaders “as one girl among many”:  
"I speak not for myself but for those without voice ... those who have fought for their rights -- their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated."

"In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflict stop children to go to their schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering”  
In Malala’s home nation, only one in three women can read a newspaper or write a letter.  

And one in four girls is married before turning 18.   

According to a 2012 study by World Vision, the number of child brides continues to rise:  
“One in nine girls around the world is forced to marry before her 15th birthday.
“Those who are subjected to early marriage are more likely to experience domestic violence, forced sexual relations, poor reproductive health, and lower levels of education, according to the report.
“Early marriage poses a serious challenge to extremely hard-won development gains in least developed countries . . .And yet, in the face of these facts and the widespread condemnation of the practice, early marriage continues to flourish.”
I’ve been reading in the Gospel of Mark, and a passage from Mark 5 has been troubling me. Jesus, traveling to heal the daughter of a church leader, encounters a woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years." After spending all she had on a series of doctors, “instead of growing better she grew worse.”

The woman reaches out in the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak – a forbidden act. Woman touching man; unclean, untouchable person reaching out to share her uncleanness. Jesus stops, wants to know who has touched him (you can read the whole story here). She falls at his feet, “trembling with fear,” and explains her humiliating story. His response is gentle, affirming, and deeply compassionate: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The story continues with Jesus’ arrival at his original destination, but the girl he’s come to see is dead. 

No matter. 
“He took her by the hand and said to her ‘Talitha koun!' (which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up!')"
Set aside discussion about whether miracles happen. Mark’s description is matter of fact, and as precise as he can get it. No respected religious leader of the time would call a woman breaking the rules “daughter.” No ordinary man could see the depth of the woman’s misery and meet her there, so gently offering freedom from that suffering.

And that little Aramaic sentence Mark gives us: apparently he thought the heart of it would be lost if he translated it into the Greek of his text. “Talitha koun”: sweet little lamb, dear little girl, treasured little ewe child, hear my heart and rise.

As I’ve been trying to understand more about the suffering of women around the globe, I’ve carried those words with me: daughter, be freed from your suffering. Sweet treasured girl, rise up.

Several years ago Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, authors of  Half the Sky, tried to quantify the misery of women: 
“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
"The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day... life time risk of maternal death is 1,000x higher in a poor country than in the west. That should be an international scandal.” 
 And this: 
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”  
In a chapter entitled “Family Planning and the ‘God Gulf’” WuDunn and Kristof discussed the deep divide over funding for abortion, contraception, condoms, even sex education.
“One of the great scandals of the early twenty-first century is that 122 million women around the world want contraception and can't get it." 
That number, according to the UNFPA (the UN Population Fund) is now close to 222 million, but funding for the UNFPA and for clinics that offer contraception and prenatal care has become a political football, with groups opposed to abortion insisting on cuts to UNFPA funding, even though the organization “does not support or promote abortion as a method of family planning.” 

Numbers can’t convey the story, but sit with these statistics a day or two:    
  • About 16 million adolescent girls give birth every year – most in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Worldwide, one in five girls has given birth by the age of 18. In the poorest regions of the world, this figure rises to over one in three girls.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among girls under twenty: more than 70,000 each year.
  • An estimated three million girls under twenty undergo unsafe abortions every year.
  • Globally, only 50% of women received the minimum recommended prenatal care – just four visits with a skilled caregiver. 20% receive no care at all.
  • One third of all women have no skilled help during labor and delivery.
  • More than 2 million young women live with debilitating, untreated obstetric fistula -   caused by teen pregnancy and inadequate obstetric care.
Numbers, I know, but each number represents a little constellation of suffering, a story of powerlessness, fear, physical and mental pain. 

I’ve read much of what groups like Concerned Women of America have to say against the UNFPA, and I’ve spent time reading the Fund’s materials on abortion, family planning, training of midwives, International Guidelines on Sexuality Education.

As I read, I find myself thinking about the Pharisees, and their outrage over perceived violations of the law. 

And I think of Jesus, and his compassion for the suffering women of Mark 5. 

Maybe it’s time to get past the arguments about gender equality and family planning, and focus on girls, and the women they’ll become: women trapped in a cycle of powerlessness and poverty, or women who know they have value, who dare to learn, and dream. 

As I said, I’ll be watching Girl Rising on Wednesday. Join me if you’re in the area.

And be thinking about how to join Jesus in saying  “Daughter, be free from your suffering.” 

Little girl, rise up.