It is International Women’s Day and I pause as I think about the different women in my life who have shaped me, who have helped me grow in areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise. This group of women don’t look like each other – they range in color, size, shape, and personality. They are from different countries as well as different racial and ethnic backgrounds. But where they differ in those attributes, each one is a strong force of faith, hope, and love.
I am so incredibly fortunate to have these role models and mentors in my life. But she who has been gifted much has a mandate to give back.
Everyone of us view the world through a different lens. My lens is public health, and it’s through a public health lens that I think about justice for women in the world on this International Women’s Day. What I see through this lens troubles me greatly. Consider these facts from the World Health Organization:
- Approximately 810 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
- 94% of all maternal deaths occur in low and lower middle-income countries.
- Young adolescents (ages 10-14) face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women.
- Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborns.
- Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
- Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
It feels like a desperately slow road for women’s health and wellbeing. I remember my dismay at my first visit to the women’s and children’s hospital in Rania in 2018. It reminded me of hospitals in Pakistan from my childhood, many, many years ago. Though things in western countries have improved dramatically through the years, little has improved for women in the developing world. I struggle deeply with all of this. I long to see better health outcomes for women, long to see real change occur. I long to see greater justice and focus on women’s health and education, because they are so integrally connected.
I long to see us working toward greater justice and equity in women’s health around the world.
And even as I write this, I am acutely aware that justice and equity are not found in a blog post.
Justice is not an instagram story or a facebook post. Justice is not loud outrage followed by a hot latte. Justice is not one stop shopping or a one time event. Justice is not fired up mirror neurons or copycat anger.
Justice is not pity. Justice is not “poor you!” Justice is not a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Justice is not meaningless nods or empty words.
Justice, true justice, is hard work and community giving. Justice is partnership over pity. Justice is daily humility, letting others be the teacher. Justice is knowing we will get it wrong, but working to get it right. Justice is loving and serving others when it hurts. Justice is quiet acts of courage that people don’t always see. Justice is hard repentance and soul searching.
Justice comes from a heart of love and a spirit of generosity. Justice without love is like bread without salt – it looks good but it tastes all wrong.
So on this International Women’s Day, I publicly reaffirm a commitment to my small part in this journey. I commit to learning, to growing, to cultural humility, to working toward greater equity in healthcare, to loving and serving well this group that holds up half the sky.
Here’s to the women around the world who have never heard of International Women’s Day, but faithfully do what they have to do to care for their families and communities. Here’s to the unsung heroes, the stories that may never be told, and the the daily sacrifice of so many. Here’s to resilience and strength, resourcefulness and tenacity. Here’s to the million choices that are made by women daily – choices that hold up half the sky. Here’s to women.Marilyn Gardner