In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th c. & totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th c., the challenge that women & girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time.

~ Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof

Friday, October 11, 2013

For the Sake of the Girl Child: Measuring Progress Toward Gender Equality by Emily Nielsen Jones

Happy International Day of the Girl!  Today we celebrate girl rising around the world knowing that an empowered girl is the best way to create positive change in our world.

In the spirit of this day, I pass along two links to efforts which are working on the level of religious ideas/practice to create a more just, free world for our world's girls to grow up in and thrive.  Girls deserve way better than the violent, enslaving world they are growing up in.  These two initiatives recognize that equality is not something ethereal that just happens or doesn't happen, like a rainbow that just appears or a sunset.  Rather, it is a daring ideal that we must resolve to operationalize in our very tangible lived realities.  What I love about both of these efforts is that they seek to create tangible, measurable impact and, in so doing, to set off a virtuous cycle of change in our world.  Check them out and take a few moments today to hold in your heart a prayer for a more kind, empowering world for the girl child.

- a link to a study being launched by Gordon College to measure progress toward gender parity among evangelical institutions:  

- a new global movement to end enslaving early marriages which rob millions of girls around the world of their childhoods:

Text to links below.  Let's make a commitment to do something big or small today to keep bending the moral arc of the universe to give our world's girls a world they deserve.


Editor’s Note: A national study of women in leadership among evangelical nonprofit organizations has been launched by Gordon College. The advisory board for the study is co-led by Emily Nielsen Jones of the Imago Dei Fund and D. Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College. This essay is adapted from an interview with Emily Nielsen Jones about why this study matters which can be read in its entirety at

Where do our policies and practices run counter to our larger humanitarian goals?

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.
I grew up in an evangelical setting, and have been very familiar with gender role ideology that affirms women’s human equality yet still circumscribes women to a “role” at the margins of decision-making. Nonetheless, I was always inspired by the culturally radical way Christ treated and honored women as well as Paul's proclamation in Galatians that in Christ, there is no distinction between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. So at this stage in my life, I have become increasingly aware of, and distressed by, how some religious-based ideas are contributing to the dangerous mix of cultural ideas, norms, and humanitarian problems that continue to wreak havoc on the bodies and souls of girls and women around the world. That’s primarily why our foundation, Imago Dei Fund, began using a “gender-lens” to guide our decisions.
As a result, we have become more intentional and deliberate about asking questions regarding implicit and explicit gender policies both within an organization and out in the field. These are questions such as:
  • What ideas, if any, around gender guide and shape your work in the world?
  • Does your organization have any explicit policies around gender that limit what women can or cannot do within your organization and out in the field?
  • How have you been working (or not) to promote gender balance within your organization?
Basically, what we’ve started to find is that many evangelical organizations, even those doing great work for girls and women in the world, have some sort of hidden or “de facto” institutional practices that either explicitly or implicitly (or both) keep women from serving in leadership roles or advancing above a certain level in the organization. Yet by simply asking these questions, we have discovered that many organizations do in fact want to be more gender-balanced and realize that this is central to preserving their Christian witness in our world, but for a variety of reasons this just has not been a priority. That’s when we began to find our philanthropic “niche” in the world: we strive to encourage organizations to work a little bit harder to connect the dots between their faith-based ideas around gender, their institutional practices, subculture, and their humanitarian goals of working to create a more just and equitable world for girls and women.
So in what I hope was “holy angst,” our original idea was to create some type of "gender scorecard" to help all the stakeholders of faith-based charities/nonprofits (staff, board members, clients, potential donors) look at their own internal policies to see where there are gaps or inconsistencies in order to set goals for how to make tangible incremental steps toward greater gender-balance.
But the idea meandered around for a year or so and evolved into more of a “gender landscape” study to get a broad snapshot of where evangelical social services and charities stood with respect to gender balance. The idea would have remained just a good idea if it were not for a very engaging and fruitful conversation over dinner with Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay and his wife Rebecca, which led to the idea of the study launched with Gordon’s Provost Janel Curry and the new Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Gordon.
My simple hope for this study is that it would fuel the positive gender winds of change blowing in our world today and that it will serve as a collective mirror to help Christian stake-holders see where positive change is happening in our organizations as well as where obstacles persist. Awareness of “what is” is an important part of the process of change, of “what could be.”
That is the basic purpose of the study: to step back and see how we measure up as a faith-based sector with regard to the larger social goal of working toward gender parity within all of our organizations and workplaces. Sometimes simply seeing what is with one’s eyes wide open can be a catalyst for seeing what can be.
We hope to put a spotlight on a set of best practices that are working in the field, so as to make incremental steps toward more gender-balanced organizations. We also hope the study will give validation to people working within their organizations and stakeholders who are influenced by these organizations to keep on asking the good questions. We’re holding up a mirror to where our organizations might have blind spots or are falling short of the ideal of full human equality of men and women as co-image bearers of God. As Jesus once said, those who have eyes to see, let them see.
Emily Nielsen Jones is co-founder and president of the Imago Dei Fund.  She is a donor-activist who ispassionate and engaged at the nexus of faith, gender, and development and working to mobilize our faith traditions to more fully and unambiguously embrace gender equality.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Forward icon
Happy International Day of the Girl 2013! Let's celebrate together
We are thrilled to take part in this worldwide celebration of girls’ potential and we hope you join us today in calling for an end to child marriage.
Have you watched our video on what child marriage means for girls?
Until recently, little attention was paid to the plight of child brides. Now, governments around the world are taking steps to end child marriage.
But we need more countries to commit to protecting and empowering girls.
By speaking up against child marriage, we can pressure governments to invest in girls’ education, to fund programmes that support and empower adolescent girls, to adopt and enforce laws that set the legal minimum age of marriage at 18.
YOU can make them take notice.
This isn’t just about sharing a video. It’s about taking a stand for girls.
We’re counting on you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Holding Up A Mirror to Ourselves: Faith, Anti-Trafficking & Gender Inequality by Emily Nielsen Jones

Practically every day I receive an email or read about a new anti-trafficking conference being held, a new anti-trafficking network being convened, and new philanthropists and activists joining the global effort to rid our world of modern-day slavery.  Many of these voices and humanitarian efforts are being led by evangelical Christians who are rolling up their sleeves to set the captives free and create a more free world.  The problem is indeed staggering and horrific in it's magnitude and normalization:

• there are more humans enslaved today than any time in history – estimates range from 20-30 million people trafficked annually
• of these 20-30 million, approximately 80% are female
•  the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation
•  the second most common form of human trafficking is forced labor (18%),
• the total market for “illicit human trafficking” is estimated to be around $98 billion
• trafficking takes many forms as a continuum of exploitative, enslaving conditions that diminish human agency through a variety of psychological and physical means and normalized cultural/religious practices like child marriage which impacts nearly 70 million girls around the world in what is essentially trafficking, i.e. the bartering/enslavement of girls as young as 8, bringing the estimates of trafficking up way beyond 100 million/year


I don’t know about you, but when I hear these statistics I want to do something about it!  That slavery still exists in our world and has been getting worse is just simply hard to stomach.  As Americans, and likewise as people of faith, the notion of freedom is so central to our ideals of human flourishing, justice and equality.  The abolitionist struggle of the 19th c. is so central to our American sense of identity and our collective human heritage.  Yet in the year 2013 right here in our own country, right here in our own backyards and around the world, slavery in so many manifestations has not abated over the centuries but rather has become eerily normalized into the fabric of culture and continues to be a collective thorn our human side.  Will we ever really be able to liberate our world from the scourge of slavery?  Or is it here to stay?

I love the abolitionist spirit that we see being awakened today.  In our polarized world, it is rare to see things that bring people together and anti-trafficking is definitely one of those things.  People who don’t typically see themselves as “activists” are getting activated!  Collective awareness is leading to a heightened moral commitment in this moment of time to finish the unfinished work of the abolitionist movement to, once and for all, eradicate enslavement in all its forms from our country and from our planet.  Training down to NYC for InterVarsity's Price of Life week long faith-inspired anti-trafficking campaign/conference, top of my mind is the ?:

In this particular moment of time... the year 2013...
What is the unique contribution of faith/religion in this global movement to keep bending the moral arc of the Universe to create a more free, just world where no human beings are transacted or sold as commodities or diminished in their full human agency as image-bearers of God?

In this article below published by InterVarsity, I ask evangelicals to hold a mirror up to strange elephant in the room that continues to lurk around in our faith-based ngos, our churches, and para-church ministries:  the feminine face of trafficking that is inescapably linked with cultural/religious gender norms around the world which continue to restrict females to a subordinate, lesser than class of human beings which makes them/us vulnerable to various forms of enslaving social conditions.

That an organization like InterVarsity is addressing this uncomfortable reality is testament to their commitment to not just raising the floor for girls/women around the world but also to raising the ceiling at all levels of their organization.  Kudos InterVarsity!

Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves, pt 2: Faith, Human Trafficking & Gender Inequality

About Women: Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves - Human Trafficking & Gender Inequality
by Emily Nielsen Jones

The more we peel back the layers of the onion and look at the ugly beast we call "human trafficking" with all of its grisly manifestations, the more the world begins to seem hopelessly in the grip of dark forces which capitalize and exploit any human vulnerability. One seasoned veteran I met in Cambodia who worked for years in the region combatting trafficking described how she has seen the same women and girls rescued multiple times from brothels. The problem is not "out there somewhere" but is a web of exploitative push/pull factors woven right into the fabric of our collective social and economic structures.

How can we as "Christian abolitionists" think and act more systemically to create a world that is more free and just?

Trafficking is a highly gendered problem. Of the 32 million trafficking victims, over 80 percent are women. "Slavery" in the narrow sense (i.e., someone being held against their will) falls into a larger continuum of gender-based violence and enslaving ideas and conditions which make the poor, migrant, ethnic minorities and women most vulnerable.
The core of abolitionist vision, both in the 19th century and today, is the daring spiritual ideal of human equality, that we are all made in the image of God, male and female alike, and thus are endowed with equal intrinsic value and a common human yearning for freedom.

The human quest is not just to be free from abuse; it is to be free from confinement in a restrictive role, free to soar with full human agency as image-bearers of God. Until we as people of faith begin to see trafficking as part of the larger continuum of gender injustice and a subordinate view of women, we will not be giving girls and women the full dignity they deserve nor will we be transforming the deeper religious roots of our enslaving world.

If we hold up a mirror to ourselves, we recognize how every little ripple we send out into the world contributes either to a more just or a more unjust world, a more free or a more enslaving world. How does religion (ours included) factor into creating such an enslaving world?

If we recognize that religious beliefs weave themselves into global cultural patterns and power dynamics... if we remember the sometimes sad history of our own tradition and how the Bible was used by many to endorse slavery and keep the right to vote and own property and other basic human rights from women... if we open wide our spiritual eyes and ears and try to connect the dots between the seen and the unseen dimensions of the trafficking problem... if we address root causes, we as people of faith might think twice about how ideas of authority and inequality of men and women impact the larger structures of the world. We do not in any way want to undermine the global movement of girls and women of low social status rising from abuse and living fully into the human equality and freedom that is all of our birthright as image-bearers of God.

On a very practical level, there is lots of great humanitarian work we can do, but we can also channel our abolitionist spirit towards creating a more gender-balanced spiritual climate in our churches, ministries, and families which fully values the human agency and spiritual equality of both genders. Start by being the change you want to see right at your own doorstep.

Nothing is too small — one little question, one little email, one simple protest of something that seems unjust or diminishing of the full human equality of women — it may not feel like you are being an "abolitionist" but it is the little things that each of us do that together unleash a virtuous cycle of freedom.

Lord, have mercy on us. May we each be an instrument of your peace and your freedom in our world. May we begin right where we are. May we have the courage to dare to say "no" to all the little enslaving forces that work against freedom and equality for all. Amen.

Emily Nielsen Jones is a donor-activist engaged in promoting human equality, justice, and peace around the world. As President and Co-Founder of the Imago Dei Fund, she is engaged in the nexus of faith, gender, and development and working to mobilize our faith traditions to more fully and unambiguously embrace gender equality, including partnering with Gordon College to conduct a study to measure progress in evangelical institutions toward gender parity. The Imago Dei Fund is a faith-inspired foundation that partners with anti-trafficking organizations to transform the underlying systems which make girls and women so vulnerable to enslavement.

Staff News
From the President
Monthly Columns Announcements Fellowship News Print Issue Archives
printer friendly
various forms of enslavement and abuse. She serves on the External Advisory

various forms of enslavement and abuse. She serves on the External Advisory
Board for InterVarsity's National Women's Council.
© 2013 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA ® | Privacy Policy Questions about the website? Contact the Webservant Member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students