Groups desiring to empower women globally must start with themselves

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gender-Balancing our Insitutions: An Interview with Emily Nielsen Jones.
Emily Nielsen Jones is the co-founder and president of the Imago Dei Fund, a private foundation formed in 2009 to provide grant money and otherwise support and cooperate with what Jones calls “ ‘movements’ of God promoting justice and wholeness in our world.”  The foundation has especially partnered with groups that work to combat human trafficking.  Because 80 percent of the trafficking victims are female, she and her colleagues began trying to trace what lies behind such terrible violence against girls and women.  Why is this happening in the 21st century?  They realized the answer lies in “a complex web of both economic factors and cultural ideas and practices which diminish the worth of females, making them vulnerable to being treated as a ‘lesser than’ class of human beings.” And Jones is very much aware of something else.  “As a person of faith,” she says, “I could not ignore the religious dimension of this devaluation of females that exists all over the world.”

She points out that this devaluation of females can be found in teachings and traditions rooted in many different religions, including Christianity.  So the Imago Dei Fund team decided to begin using a “gender lens” to guide their decisions about grants. Jones says she grew up in an evangelical setting and is well aware of the “gender-role ideology that affirms women’s human equality yet still circumscribes women to a ‘role’ at the margins of decision-making” and misses the point of how Jesus honored women, while also ingoring the implications of Paul’s declaration that in Christ, “there is no longer male and female” (Galatians 3:28).  “So at this stage in my life,” Jones says, “I have become increasingly aware of, and distressed by, how some religious-based ideas are contributing to the dangerous mix of cultural ideas, norms and humanitarian problems which continue to wreak havoc on the bodies and souls of girls and women around the world.”  She is disturbed to know that some of the organizations her foundation has worked with do not have women in leadership positions on their boards and “still maintain disempowering, diminishing gender ideas and practices which can make girls and women vulnerable to a host of abuses or devalued as second-class citizens.” The Imago Dei Fund wants to help change such attitudes. The interview with Jones comes from Evangelicals for Social Action and Gordon College. My thanks to EEWC member JoMae Spoelhof for calling this link to my attention.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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