I meet empowered and empowering women every day. Women who are learning and teaching the skills to improve their own lives, the lives of their families and the lives of people all around them.
Women who find themselves by standing up for others. Women who offer leadership at work, at church and in government institutions. I meet empowered and empowering women every day because my job as a leader of United Methodist Women is to help our members grow in faith and put our faith into action.
As a result I also get to work with women of many different faiths. Many of us have similar experiences of delving into our scriptures and seeing the stories of women with new eyes, coming to know that God has always called women into mission, and expressing our faith by working in the world and in our faith communities for gender justice. Bringing the real stories of women into conversation with our holy texts leads to insights into who God is, who we are called to be and what God desires for the world that makes our faith a powerful change agent in our own lives.
I think of several soft-spoken young women who gave a Ted-talk style presentation to a large group of other young people and brought the house down by telling the story and demonstrating how God was at work in them and in the work of United Methodist Women in the world. I think of a woman who is a leader at the national level in her church in Africa who was touched and equipped by a seminar on financial literacy that enable her to change her family’s future. I think of a group of women equipped to stand up to a team of people denying the existence of sexual slavery perpetuated by governments at war in Asia, by citing the real experience of real women who they know and support.
Sometimes the work of empowered women standing for gender justice requires individual acts of risk and courage, but often it is accomplished by women working together, challenging and encouraging one another, and resolving to act. Some of this collective work involves investing ourselves in relationships and organizations that work with one women, one family at a time to undergird others on a path to their own flourishing. Some of this work involves advocacy addressing systems that impede and restrict women, wherever they are found, including in our own churches and faith communities.
The life of faith is leading the women who I have met, and me, and so many others, to invest ourselves in work to change the world. Coming to know God in this way, seeing ourselves and others differently and taking up a role in working for a world that is more loving and just—this is the work of women’s empowerment in communities of faith.
Harriett Jane Olson is the chief executive officer of United Methodist Women, the women’s mission organization of The United Methodist Church. The nearly 800,000-member organization supports programs improving life for women, children and youth in more than 100 countries, including the United States. United Methodist Women will mark 150 years of putting faith, hope and love into action in 2019.