Since its inception 1990, Women’s Ministries (WM) department leaders at the global Church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, have identified six critical areas that affect women worldwide: illiteracy, poverty, health threats, workload, abuse and domestic violence and lack of training or education. Embracing Christ’s method of reaching hurting people, they’ve chosen to direct their energy and resources into bringing attention to, and providing some relief from, these challenges.
Heather-Dawn Small, director of Women’s Ministries for the General Conference (GCWM), and assistant director Raquel Arrais try to attend the annual United Nations Committee on the Status of Women (UNCSW) Conference in New York to stay up-to-date. Small believes it’s vital for them “to stay knowledgeable on all six of these issues and then share the information with our division WM directors.”
The Challenge at Hand
Arrais says, “Poverty is a critical issue impacting millions of women. Though we may think women’s lot has improved, today poverty locks countless numbers of our sisters in hopelessness.”
This issue can be attributed to several factors: global economic deterioration; families transitioning from rural to urban areas because poor soil quality has affected crop production; local conflict has resulted in refugee movements, most of whom are women and children; gender discrimination; and widespread female heads of household. The current Covid-19 crisis has only made things worse.
The UNCSW estimates that “one-third to one-half of all households worldwide are headed by women, a major risk factor for poverty as women overall simply do not make as much money as men. The poverty cycle tightens for poor women who have limited education, limited job opportunities and responsibility for growing children without sufficient resources. According to the International Labor Organization of the United Nations, women who…represent 50% of the world's population, do two-thirds of the world's paid and unpaid work, earn 10% of the money in the world and own 1% of the world's property.”
What is Being Done?
Over the years, efforts and strategies by multiple organizations have been implemented to reduce female poverty: investing in and improving livestock management for poor rural women; micro-loans and financial services for women who don’t have access to a banking system; and increasing women’s access to land ownership so they can “use the land to produce food or generate income, or as collateral for credit.”[i]
Women’s Ministries leaders around the world are taking up the challenge to enrich the lives of poverty-stricken women in their region. Debbie Maloba, Women’s Ministries director for the East-Central Africa Division shares what is happening in their territory:
“Adventist women are reaching out to thousands of people who are in need—people who are hungry, in prisons, or families touched by flood situations in our territory. [Not only] are they providing food, water, clothes, kitchen items, but they are also distributing masks and sanitizers in the community, and children’s homes.
They have transformed their offices to stores where they keep their contributions ready for distribution. They are also promoting and observing social distancing and wearing masks while reaching out to people.
Students who have decided to be busy while school is closed, organized the Girls on the Go Projects. They are earning an income, contributing to supplying their homes, venturing into entrepreneurship, and protecting themselves from HIV and pregnancies by making themselves busy and taking advantage of their time during this crisis period [referring to the Covid-19 pandemic].”
Premila Masih, Women’s Ministries director for the Southern Asia Division, shared that their members have also mobilized to help those suffering most with food and supplies. Many of these women are refugees or migrant workers.
Women and children who live in poverty are more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual exploitation because they lack resources to get the help they need. Poor women and girls lack access to education which would ensure them higher pay rates, allow them to make informed decisions about their future and give them the insight to influence community change.
Arrais comments, “Since education is the key to empower women and lift them from poverty, the GCWM department supports higher education for women in poor countries of the world though the GCWM Scholarship Fund, providing them the skills to fulfil their potential, break the cycle of poverty, and equip them for His service.”
Poverty and inequality is a challenge that everyone in the church can confront. Together we can make a difference in our community. We can meet our neighbor’s physical needs, and lead them to the One who truly satisfies.
Small says, “I pray that God will awaken in our members a deep compassion for those in need. I believe that we need to be aware of the poverty women face each day, to realize the impact this is having on families, and pray that God will use us to help them.”
The GCWM department has created a brochure with a check list of how to begin a ministry in your church that addresses this challenge. It also gives ideas for things you can do in your community to provide assistance to those in need. You can find that pamphlet here.
For more information and resources, visit women.Adventist.org.
[i] Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/womenintheworld/chapter/chapter-1-women-and-poverty/#over2 on May 5, 2021.