March Consultation on Global Women’s Health, Washington DC

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It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.[1]

Regardless of the accuracy of this claim, as of 2006 the number of missing girls in India alone was estimated at 163 million, and is clearly much higher today given the continued practice of gendercide and female infanticide worldwide.[2] This does not begin to account for girls and women who die from lack of medical care, complications from renting their womb as a surrogate or selling their eggs to be harvested, or the many other issues that women and girls are facing globally. The problems can seem overwhelming.

With that in mind, in March 2012 CBHD hosted and facilitated a closed-door consultation on global women’s health and the unveiling of HER Dignity Network. Twenty-seven leaders representing twenty-one organizations from around the country participated with the Center in a charitable dialogue on these issues at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

Why an initiative and network on global women’s health? The plight of women and girls is quickly coming to the attention of the world community, especially through the United Nations and mainstream media. The topic has become a popular forum for discussion among academics and the general public alike and was a primary focus of our 19th annual summer conference, Reclaiming Dignity in a Culture of Commodification. And rightfully so, as women and girls are often overlooked or neglected in the broader issues of health and well-being, particularly in the developing world. The world is beginning to pay attention and forwarding change, but where is a unified Christian voice? Thus far, inadequate attention has been given to a full understanding of the theological reality that women are created in the image of God, giving them inherent dignity. Bioethical reflection in this area from a Christian perspective extending the implications of this insight into global women’s health issues is also noticeably lacking.

The consultation was the culmination of several years of activity at CBHD that highlighted the various aspects of our work in research, analysis, conversation, and networking with key people who also work in this area. The day began with three short presentations. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, PhD, and Pia de Solenni, SThD, reconfirmed the unique contribution of the Christian voice through the theological underpinnings of women in full possession of human dignity and as equal participants in the image of God. Monique Chireau, MD, surveyed the landscape of health issues women face around the world, sharing the data of some key studies.

The majority of the day was spent in rotating discussion groups where participants were asked to reflect on the proposed mission and vision of HER Dignity Network and answer several questions, such as, “What questions, if answered, could make the greatest difference to the future of the dignity and health of girls and women around the world?”

Our hope was that this consultation would further refine our thinking about the global women’s health initiative and the eventual launch of HER Dignity Network (in truth, it far exceeded our expectations). We have continued to work on the language of our mission and vision and expanded our guiding principles. In the intervening months since the consultation two organizations have joined CBHD in committing to be founding members of HER Dignity. In addition we have received a modest amount of restricted gifts designated specifically for our initiative in global women’s health and HER Dignity. The contribution of these key leaders and financial gifts have brought us several steps closer to the 2013 public launch of this new network.

In discussing abortion in her book, Affliction, Edith Schaeffer wrote

The philosophy of living with an underlying motive of doing everything for one’s own personal peace and comfort rapidly colors everything that might formerly have come under the heading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ This new way of thinking adds entirely new shades, often in blurring brushstrokes of paint that wipe out the existence of standards or cast them into a shadow that pushes them out of sight. If one’s peace, comfort, way of life, convenience, reputation, opportunities, job, happiness, or even ease is threatened, ‘Just abort it’.[3]  

She goes on to describe that this attitude is not exclusive to abortion, but can penetrate all of life’s decisions.

The issues facing girls and women around the world are overwhelming and can make us uncomfortable. May we not be a people who “Just abort it,” but a people who stand for what is right, even if it is not convenient. Dr. Michelle Kirtley reminds us that “Life as a dignity issue obligates us to look beyond the abortion issue.” Our obligation does not end there. Theological convictions and our understanding of the image of God compel us to show compassion that, even in a small way, leads to action.

[1] Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Vintage, 2010), xvii.

[2] Christophe Z Guilmoto, “Sex-Ratio Imbalance in Asia: Trends, Consequences and Policy responses,” United Nations Population Fund, (accessed on August 29, 2012). Cf. “The worldwide war on baby girls: Technology, declining fertility and ancient prejudice are combining to unbalance societies, The Economist, March 4, 2010, (accessed on August 29, 2012).

[3] Edith Schaeffer, Affliction: A Compassionate Look at the Reality of Pain and Suffering (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 212.