Towards a Christian Understanding of Gender Equality

Photo by SondiyaKB

Listen to an audio version of this article read by Lilly Million of South Africa

Human cultures, including African ones, have generally considered the difference between the sexes as not only a distinction in roles but also value. This fundamental error fosters a wrong mindset about gender with several implications. For of course, if women are a weaker species, less in value than men, they can be exploited as men deem fit. Consider these troubling statistics from the UN:

  • 35 percent of women globally have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a partner or non-partner
  • Some national studies indicate that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical/sexual violence from an intimate partner
  • More than half of the 87,000 women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by intimate partners or family members

Misunderstanding Gender Differences

A false understanding of gender differences promotes abuse and oppression of women within the home. It encourages discrimination in the workplace and nurtures bullying in schools. Sadly, it even thrives within Christian communities.

A false understanding of gender differences promotes abuse and oppression

Many Africans have grown up in homes where the mother is practically responsible for everything, from cooking and feeding the children to keeping the house clean and tidy. She is also charged with seeing to the sexual needs of the father. The father, however, is nothing less than a ‘lord’, responsible for nothing other than provision. Understandably, many women have groaned silently under such systems, while their daughters resolved to have nothing to do with such an oppressive institution called marriage.

Discrimination in the workplace is another evil which an overemphasis of gender differences promotes. You can imagine – or have experienced – the humiliation when you are passed on for a promotion or denied some career opportunities for the unstated reason that you are a female. Or the equally frustrating inability to get a job because you’ve been away from the labour market too long, raising children.

Sadly, many women channel this resentment and frustration into having nothing to do with marriage and family. Instead, they pour themselves into their careers. Since society will not honour them, they give all they can to progress in the workplace and break the proverbial glass ceiling. Even if this drive fails to fulfil their deepest longings.

The Biblical Corrective to a Low View of Women

The first step, I believe, is to recover a true understanding of gender. And there’s no better source than the word of the God who created that category.

So, looking at Scripture, we understand that at the foundation of reality is God the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our supreme concern every day should be knowing, loving and pleasing this God (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; Psalm 31:23; Matthew 22:37).

The differences between male and female, whether in their features or roles, does not make them unequal, just as the similarities between humans and apes do not make them equal

When God created humanity, he made them male and female (Genesis 1:27). Thus men and women both derive their identity from God. Therefore a women’s femaleness comes from God and a man’s maleness comes from God. That means that both genders are equal, despite the physical and non-physical differences. What makes humanity special relative to other creatures is their creation in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26). Humans share many physical features with other animals, yet we are superior. Why? Because of the image of God which we possess. This ascribes to us the responsibility to exercise stewardship over creation.

In other words, the differences between male and female, whether in their features or roles, does not make them unequal, just as the similarities between humans and apes do not make them equal. What counts is the image of God that they bear or do not bear.

The Redemptive Power of the Gospel

Sin has distorted this clarity about the equality between the genders. But God’s redemption reinforces this equality, without negating the differences between them (Galatians 3:26-29). Jews remain Jews and slaves do not automatically gain their freedom. Neither does a woman become a man. Through faith in Christ, everyone becomes a child of God, co-equal with every other believer.

In light of this, as a people who are called to be light, we must oppose low views of women in our cultures and society. Where practices and traditions have developed which restrict the flourishing of women, we should work to annul them.

as a people who are called to be light, we must oppose low views of women in our cultures and society

At the same time, we must encourage women that they do not need to ‘prove’ their value. They are valuable by virtue of their creation. Made in the image of God, they are co-equal with any other man (or woman), regardless of success, gifting, or privilege.

Thus we should proclaim and remind ourselves, our institutions, and our cultures that distinctions in roles and differences in nature do not imply a difference in value. Men and women are both different and equal. God’s word affirms both, and so should we.

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