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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Jesus cares about International Women’s Day. Here’s why… 

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women – so we’ve compiled five inspiring stories of women making a difference with Jesus, right where they are. But it’s also a reminder that we need to keep fighting for women’s rights across the globe, because there’s no place for discrimination, oppression, or othering in the kingdom of God. So, without further ado, let’s set the scene… 

The history of International Women’s Day 

Rewind to the early 20th century, and women across the globe were becoming more vocal and active and campaigning for change – think suffrage, pay, and better working conditions. Then, in 1910, the second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. It was at this event when the theorist and activist Clara Zetkin proposed that in every year in every country there should be a day when women pressed for their demands. Met with unanimous approval, International Women’s Day was born.  

In the century that’s passed since its inception, the focus of International Women’s Day has broadened out – it’s still about suffrage and workers’ rights, but it’s also about providing women and girls with access to quality education, elevating their participation and achievement in sport, helping them make informed decisions about their health, designing and building infrastructure that meets their needs, and forging their economic empowerment, to name just a few examples. 

And, what’s more, huge progress has been made. Take the Olympics, for example. In 1900, just 2.2% of athletes were women and they only competed in five sports. Women now compete in every sport and, at the Tokyo 2020 Games, 48% of competitors were women. 

The stats say it all 

That said, this world is still tainted by injustice, oppression, and discrimination, and so International Women’s Day is still a much-needed reminder that we need to keep campaigning and working for equality across the globe. The stats say it all: in the UK, four out of five companies still pay their male employees more than female ones, the median pay gap remains ‘stubbornly wide’ at 9.4%, and only 35% of board members for the publicly listed companies are women. Then, if you zoom out, the stats get even more disheartening. If the current rate of progress continues, it could take 284 more years to achieve gender equality across the globe 

Responding in a Christlike way 

Faced with systemic and entrenched discrimination, it’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. But, as followers of Jesus, we don’t need to despair. Yes, we’re called to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15), but we trust in a God who is ‘making all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). And that means we can see this International Women’s Day as an invitation to look forward to the world where the inherent value of all individuals is recognised – because, whether male or female, we’re all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) And then, from that place of hope, take the opportunity to think about how we can join in God’s work to bring his just and perfect kingdom to the people and places around us. 

There’s so much you can do, wherever God’s placed you. Focused on this year’s theme, ‘inspiring inclusion’, here are three ideas to get you going: 

  • Supporting women and girls into leadership, decision-making, business, and STEM – if you’re reviewing applications for university science courses or on the selection board for job vacancies or leadership positions, have this front of mind. Check yourself for unconscious bias and keep this front of mind. Or, on a personal level, you could buy your goddaughter, niece, or [insert other little girl in your life] a construction set, an experiment kit, or the story of an inspiring female scientist like Marie Curie or Ada Lovelace. In doing so, you’ll be helping bust the myth that ‘science is for boys’. It’s a small action, but it will nevertheless contribute to growing a culture where the mathematical and scientific talents of men and women are equally valued.  
  • Promote the creative and artistic talent of women and girls – next time you’re buying some birthday cards, look for some designed by an independent female designer. By supporting their businesses, you’re celebrating their good work and championing their creativity which, ultimately, reflects the beauty and artistry of the Lord God. 
  • Elevate the participation and achievement of women and girls in sport – if you’re part of a sports club (be that hockey, rugby, cricket, netball, or athletics), you could volunteer to coach or referee matches for a team of younger girls. In doing so, you’ll help them play with excellence and use their bodies to bring glory to God. 
  • Support the advancement of women and girls – if you’re in a position of influence or power, take a moment to think about how you can do this in your field or sector. That might look like mentoring a younger colleague, helping girls at school dream big through work experience placements, or simply ensuring your hiring policies and job adverts reach and ensure equal opportunity for women. Plus, at home or at work, by telling and sharing the stories of inspirational women who’ve excelled in their fields, you’re joining in God’s work to create a kingdom-like culture where men and women are equally valued and respected. Because there are already glimmers of this in our society which we want to celebrate!   

 Five inspirational women  

To that end, here are a few of our favourite stories – biblical, historical, and contemporary. Get ready to be inspired. 

 Huldah | A principled prophet 

If you were to list women in the Bible, Huldah probably wouldn’t be the first person to spring to mind. For those who aren’t familiar with her story, she was the wife of Hallum, named as keeper of the wardrobe in 2 Kings 22:14. When Hilkiah the priest found a copy of the Law – which we can infer had been lost for years, if not generations – he was sent by the king to glean her wisdom and insights (2 Chronicles 34:22–28)  

There aren’t many details in the narrative, but it’s clear that Huldah was widely known as a prophet who was used to advising high priests and royal officials. And, in this passage, she faithfully turned to God’s word for guidance. What’s more, she wasn’t afraid to speak up for what was right to save her people, even though her message of disaster and destruction would have been hard to hear. Her faithful interpretation led to King Josiah instituting a purge of idols from every part of Judah’s territory, meaning that all those living in Judah were saved from imminent destruction. 

We don’t hear of Huldah again, but her faithful prophecy saved many people. She’s a shining example of the importance of speaking truth, however high the stakes are and even if the message is unpalatable. Ultimately, as we speak truth we’re pointing to Jesus, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). 

Lydia | A bold businesswoman 

With just three verses to her name, it would be easy to skim over the ‘dealer of purple cloth’ mentioned in Acts 16:14. But there’s lots to celebrate about the inclusion of this disciple in the Bible. Lydia lived in Thyatira, a town known for its guilds of craftsmen who sold fine cloth – and she was one of them. She would have spent her days managing employees, liaising with wealthy customers, and trading with dealers. We can infer from the description of her that she was successful and well-respected – ‘career women’ do exist in the Bible!  

Lydia isn’t described with reference to a husband or another male relative. But whatever her marital status, following her conversion she used her home and her wealth to support the nascent church in Asia Minor by hosting Paul and those travelling with him to facilitate their ministry. To our modern eyes, this might not sound like a big deal. But having men who weren’t from her natal or marital family staying in her house could have caused a scandal.  

Later, she used her house to hold gatherings of fellow believers and was not afraid to associate with Paul and Silas, even after their imprisonment. And she also shared her new-found faith with her family – her entire household was baptised. All in all, there really is lots to learn from Lydia: she was a courageous, generous woman who was willing to defy cultural expectations and sacrifice her own reputation for the sake of the gospel. 

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (née Yardley) DBE FRS, 1903 –71 | A successful scientist 

From a young age, and against the odds, Kathleen Lonsdale excelled in mathematics and science. She attended Ilford County High School, but since physics, chemistry, and higher mathematics were not taught there, she attended classes at the boys’ school. Her brilliant mind was recognised by Bedford College for Women (which, at that time, was part of the University of London) where she matriculated at the unusually young age of 16. Having achieved the best mark in her cohort, and indeed any cohort from that decade, Sir William Bragg, founder of X-ray crystallography, recruited her to join his research team at University College London.  

Having married and moved to work at the University of Leeds, Kathleen determined the structure of hexachlorobenzene using x-ray diffraction, proving that carbon atoms in the benzene nucleus are hexagonal and flat. This was a milestone moment in organic chemistry. Later in her career, her work on crystal structures was subsequently applied to the treatment of endemic kidney and bladder stones, improving the lives of many patients. 

She later returned to UCL, where she was awarded a doctorate, and was the first female professor of Chemistry. She headed up the Department of Crystallography from 1949 until 1968 and was also one of the first female fellows of the Royal Society. Kathleen can be counted amongst the women who pioneered the inclusion of women working in STEM – to this day, women are underrepresented in these fields, making up just 26% of the STEM workforce.  

Kathleen continued with her scientific research when she started a family. In doing so, she defied the middle-class social expectation that women would give up work upon marriage. And she was passionate about encouraging and supporting other women to do the same. As you’ll likely know, the disparity between working mothers and working fathers remains today – according to recent research, 27.6% of women were not working because of family commitments, compared to 7.4% of their male counterparts.  

In addition to her research projects, Kathleen was also devoted to the cause of international peace and interested in the intersection between ethics and science, especially pertaining to the applications and potential dangers of nuclear physics. She was president of the British section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, participated in the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs which campaigned to see all nuclear arms destroyed, and, in response to the extensive nuclear testing being undertaken by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, penned Is Peace Possible? (1956), a book which argued that pacifism was more than merely refusing to participate in conflict, and that war wasn’t a Christlike way to deal with oppression or aggression.  

By bringing the intricacies of chemical structures into the light, Kathleen pointed to the Lord God who created all things – invisible, visible, and not yet visible to the human eye (1 Corinthians 1:16). And by writing and campaigning for peace, she was reflecting the Prince of Peace and joining with him as he ushers in his everlasting kingdom where peace will reign (Isaiah 9:6). 

Martha Ratcliff | An incredible illustrator 

Martha’s appreciation for art began at a young age, leading her to study Art and Design at the University of Leeds. Whilst studying, she started her illustration business on the side, primarily designing cards for friends and family in her signature, playful style. 

After graduating, Martha worked for several large greetings card companies before going freelance and starting up Martha Ratcliff Illustration in 2021. Since then, her portfolio has expanded to include children’s books, personalised portraits, branding projects, stationary, and socks – no two days look the same. Her clients have included some pretty big brands including Sainsbury’s, Paperchase, Waitrose, Card Factory, Scribbler, and Hallmark Cards, to name just a few examples. Chances are, you may well have bought one of her cards at some point! 

Martha seeks to connect with people through her relatable and emotive designs and creates illustration tutorial videos and loves mentoring others in the industry. Through both these things, she celebrates the relational nature of humankind – God is relational and so, as those created in his image, we’re inherently relational, too (Genesis 1:26–27). And, what’s more, through her beautiful designs she reflects the creativity of the Lord God. 

Jumoké Fashola | A visionary voice 

In the world of communications, Jumoké Fashola could be described as jack of all trades – and a master of many! Her career to date has been varied, successful, and multifaceted so it’s difficult to know where to begin… 

Back in 2016, Time Out Magazine described her as a ‘head-spinningly versatile singer’. And no wonder – she’s sung everything from Handel to Gershwin, Bernstein, and Paco Pena at prestigious concert venues including the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, and the London Arena. Her love for music spills into other aspects of her work, too. She’s the creator and curator of the monthly Jazz Verse Jukebox – think jazz improvisation interspersed with open mic and spoken word pieces.  

Being on the stage really is second nature for Jumoké: she’s also an accomplished stage and television actress and voiceover artist – you might have seen or heard her on Bolu Babalola’s Big Age, a pilot comedy for Channel 4, the animated children’s TV series Mimi’s World, or playing various roles at the Bush Theatre or Hackney Showroom.  

Jumoké also presents regular radio shows and feature programmes on BBC Radio London, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 2, Jazz FM, to name just a few examples. Her shows focus on personal development, youth issues, gospel and jazz music, spirituality, philosophy, and how Britain’s Black African communities are shaping British politics, faith, business, and culture today. Put simply, she uses her voice to champion equality and diversity and to open up conversations about faith and everyday life. 

She’s also a journalist, writing columns and content for magazines and newspapers, and is passionate about using her broad experiences and expertise to inspire, mentor, and equip a new generation of communicators. She’s a well-established media trainer and is also on the board for Pan Intercultural Arts, a London-based company that uses intercultural performance work to help facilitate self-expression and promote a deeper understanding of our changing cultural identities.  

Through her broad portfolio of communications experience, Jumoké uses her voice to champion young people and women, as well as racial and gender equality. She’s a mouthpiece for truth and justice, joining in God’s work, right where she is, to make the places and spaces where she works more live heaven.  

~ 

So, as we close, I invite you to pause and reflect on these five stories, to think about the ways in which these women joined in God’s work to bring his kingdom to their everyday places and relationships. And then to think about how you, whether male or female, will do the same. That might look like speaking truth into situations like Huldah, working with excellence like Lydia and Kathleen, reflecting God’s creativity like Martha, or championing racial and gender equality like Jumoké. Or it might look like something totally different – may God bless you as you work with him to restore and recreate this world and point others to Jesus.  

Sophie Sanders 

Marketing & Communications Lead 

 

P.S. If you’d like to read more musings on inclusion and International Women’s Day, check out this Connecting with Culture article.

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