“Their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of cobras” (Deut. 32: 33).
In Takhar province, Afghanistan, 160 school girls were poisoned this week. A puzzling headline, hardly a blip on the screen. But this is not the first instance of such poisoning. Last week, more than 120 school girls were hospitalized in another poisoning incident. In April, over 170 women and girls were poisoned by well water at a school. There have been other incidents in the past several years.
Under the Taliban’s rule from 1996-2001, few Afghan girls were permitted to attend school. Though the Taliban denies responsibility for these latest poisonings, the prohibition against schooling for women is deeply rooted. Schools have gradually reopened since the US invasion in 2001, but conservative Afghan families frequently prohibit their wives and daughters from pursuing an education. Domestic abuse of women is, also, tolerated with victims blamed for provoking the violence inflicted on them.
Across time and across the globe, women have been harassed, threatened, imprisoned, violated, and put to death for seeking equality with their male counterparts.
There have been political, cultural, and religious reasons given for this inequality. Perhaps the recent poisonings were intended to embarrass US and NATO forces (a more important objective, presumably, than the welfare of the women and children directly impacted). Perhaps a 12th Century view of women is as legitimate as a 21st Century view – at least if the voices of women are barred from the debate. Perhaps actions depriving a target group of what Americans know as unalienable rights must be defended, if those actions are the outgrowth of religious beliefs. Aztec human sacrifice would qualify for protection under this test.
At heart is the matter of poison. Not the chemical or biological agents of warfare, the weapons of mass destruction about which we have heard so much. This is instead an insidious poison of the mind.
Simply put, many consider half the population of the earth – the female half, the very mothers who bore them – less worthy than the other, male half. This toxic belief corrodes nations and cultures, along with relationships and individuals. It establishes and enforces a power differential in favor of the male members of society which is a temptation toward abuse.
More than that, the inequality violates the laws of God. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1: 27). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Sin has throughout history distorted the relationship between men and women.
Though Deborah, an Old Testament prophetess, more than capably judged Israel; though women were faithful at the cross, and the first to arrive at the empty tomb; though Mary, Persis, Priscilla, Tryphena, and Tryphosa were just a few of the women who ministered in the early church; and though God pours out His spirit on sons and daughters alike (Joel 2: 28-29; Acts 2: 17-18), Christianity has not been immune to this distortion. There has been a great deal of emphasis on the submission of wives to their husbands (Eph. 5: 22-24; Col. 3: 18), and very little on the requisite love by husbands for their wives (Eph. 5: 25-26, 28-29, 31; Col. 3: 19, 1 Pet. 3: 7).
This skewed emphasis by the church has done greatest damage – both spiritual and physical – in regard to abuse. Over the centuries, women have again and again been counseled by their priests and ministers to remain in abusive marriages, even at the risk of their lives. For many of these women, the poisonous belief that they were of less value than men proved lethal.
Abuse is, of course, biblically prohibited. The concept of “headship” is best assessed vis a vis the servant leadership modeled by the Lord. Submission to another flawed human being was never intended to supercede the right of self-defense. Nor does forgiveness necessarily restore trust. That may be lost forever. Certainly, an abused woman is not required to return to a situation she perceives as dangerous.
Christianity is the antidote to this and other poisons like it. Let us live our faith as Christ would have us do. Let us spread the Word, so that there may come a day when little girls are no longer poisoned for going to school.