The struggle for gender equality goes on. But leaving aside wages for the moment, if you are a woman in today's world, have you ever considered what you're worth? I mean really worth?
More than a hundred years ago, playwright Oscar Wilde recognised that people tried to find value from the wrong places. He said, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
So how do we rate ourselves, as women?
The current scene
If we just looked at our status through history, we could be forgiven for feeling a little discouraged. In modern western countries we're now relatively liberated. But we fortunate ones are only a small minority of the world's women today. In the developing world most women still live in a subjection and misery. Most of their energy is consumed by a hard and unrelenting struggle for sheer survival.
In nearly all developing countries, boys are favoured over girls from the moment of birth, since parents consider sons as a guarantee for their economic security in old age. Girls, on the other hand, marry into some other family. So even under conditions of abject poverty, boys are better fed, clothed, and educated than girls.
In emergencies and in case of natural disasters, female needs also take second place. Furthermore, in many poor countries women have few rights and are early given away in marriage with hardly a voice in the matter. Backbreaking work and constant pregnancies then keep them weak and dependent.
We've all heard or read the statistics. More than a billion women(that is, most of the world's female population) live in poor, rural areas, and most of them are illiterate, malnourished, exhausted, or even ill. They are forced to work long hours for little reward. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours a year just collecting water!
More than32 million people (74 percent of them women and girls) are enslaved around the world in fields, factories, brothels and homes. Exploitation happens both at home and in the workplace. Women worldwide are paid 10 to 30 percent less than men for the same work. When 126 countries were reviewed, in more than a third of them, women were prohibited from working in the same industries as men.
Women in history
The undervaluing of women happened in biblical times, too. Women in ancient Israel, like many today, were valued according to their productivity. According to Leviticus chapter 27 verse 7 a woman's value decreased to ten shekels (down from thirty) after she turned sixty. A footnote in my Bible explains that ten shekels were the equivalent of 115 grams of silver.
Curious, I consulted the internet to find out the market value of silver today, and learned that 115 grams of silver would fetch a whopping $59.80 in US dollars, or just under $90 in New Zealand currency. Since I, too, am over sixty, the revelation didn't do much for my self-esteem. Even though I might not be as swift as I used to be, I felt I could still be worth more – on a good day — than a new pair of joggers.
However, as any theology teacher will tell us, the most important rule of biblical hermeneutics is that any verse must be interpreted not solely on what it says or on what we think it says, but on what the rest of the Bible has to say on the topic. So we cannot leave the matter with Leviticus. We find a welcome balance in Proverbs chapter 31 verse 10, which tells us a good woman is worth far more than rubies. Furthermore, Psalm 8 reminds us that human beings—all of us—have been created just a little lower than the angels.
If we do not realise our immense value in the sight of God, we women may succumb to poor self-esteem. Even today, discovering the purpose and value of our life—why we matter—can be challenging. Some may even wonder, "Why was I born?"
As women we've always felt a deep need for affirmation, and unfortunately some of us have sought it in the wrong places. When Jesus came to this earth he affirmed us in a way others had never done. Remember how Mary of Bethany sat at his feet, listening to his teaching, and how gently he defended and encouraged her? (This was at a time when Israeli women were not considered worthy of learning anything at all, and rabbis did not allow women to sit at their feet as students of the law.)
Sisters, our value is priceless. It's not dependent on good looks (for which we may be grateful). Rather it depends on the inner beauty each of us possesses. The mirror can be harsh, but if we remind ourselves daily that we are beautifully and wonderfully made, it ought to restore a smile to our faces.
For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. (Psalm 139:verses 13-14. NIV)
To be loved by God we don't need a man, or a job, or to be perfect. We don't need to get caught up in a contemporary culture that doesn't value us. It's enough to realise that each of us is a Designer Original! Wonderful, valuable, precious and priceless. Let's never underestimate this. Our value and worth come from the One in whose image we were created.
Julie Belding is a freelance editor, ESOL teacher and grandmother of five.
Julie Belding's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/julie-belding.html