Nearly all of us have heard the term “weaker sex” used to refer to women. Throughout centuries of literature, women were portrayed as delicate and prone to swooning in the face of difficult news. Laws kept from women such fundamental rights as voting and owning property.
Even fashion played a part in keeping women in a weakened state, with restrictive corsets hindering circulation and, often, damaging vital organs. It is no wonder that this depiction of women as weak and frail permeated so many of the world’s cultures.
Over the last century, women have fought—and in many cases succeeded—to claim their rightful place in society. But as the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8, the perception of women as the weaker sex still must be confronted more often than it should.
But I know a group of women who shatter the myth of the fragile sex for anyone who takes the time to get to know them. They are the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the past two years, American Bible Society has been privileged to meet groups of women who have not only survived unimagined horrors but also are now helping others heal from their own trauma.
She's My Sister is a collaborative effort of organizations from around the globe dedicated to providing scripture-based trauma healing and practical aid to the women of the Congo and the surrounding region.
For decades, paramilitary groups in the Great Lakes region of Africa have used rape as a weapon of war to terrorize women, even as they murder the men of the region and abduct its children. The brutality of the often-repeated rapes has left women’s bodies broken and scarred. Some are confined to wheelchairs. Others are left permanently incontinent.
But what is most remarkable about these women is not the their victimization but their triumph over it.
During a recent visit to Congo, a woman living in a refugee camp told a member of our team that a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground; and then it is finished. Through She's My Sister, women are lifting the hearts of other women. They are rebuilding their communities, one heart and one life at a time.
But these women—and countless others suffering oppression and violence—shouldn’t have to do it alone. They need and deserve the support of all compassionate men and women.
On International Women’s Day, it is appropriate to celebrate the gains women have made towards achieving equal economic and political status. But let’s not forget the amazing women around the world who are demonstrating extraordinary strength in the face of true evil. In doing so, they are destroying forever the stereotype of the “weaker sex.”
Lamar Vest is the president and CEO of the American Bible Society. Founded in 1816, the American Bible Society exists to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message.