French soccer referee Stéphanie Frappart, and her female crew, made history last week at the 2022 World Cup.

Frappart, Brazil’s Neuza Back, and Mexico’s Karen Díaz officiated the men’s match between Germany and Costa Rica. Frappart was the first female to officiate a men’s World Cup match.

The moment was even more significant because of the location of the match. The 2022 World Cup is being hosted by Qatar. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar’s record on women’s rights is appalling, or perhaps abysmal.

In 2021, HRW cited in its 94-page report that everything women have and do is tied to a male guardian.

According to the report, “Qatar’s laws require women to have a male guardian’s permission to marry, regardless of age or former marital status. Once married, she can be deemed ‘disobedient’ if she does not obtain her husband’s permission before working or traveling, leaves her home, or refuses to have sex with him without a ‘legitimate’ reason. Men can marry up to four women, at a time, without needing permission from a guardian or even from their current wife or wives.”

Qatar’s other human rights misdeeds are numerous, but I want to focus on women’s rights today. As I stated last week, when we point a finger (especially at other countries and people groups), there are always three more pointing back.

Therefore, let’s not forget our history. Christians have been oppressing women for centuries. Even though Jesus believed women to be his equal, it was not long after his departure that men again exerted their authority.

Jesus treated women with respect and honor, recruiting them as potential leaders and influencers of his movement.  From the church to the public square, however, patriarchy and misogyny replaced the belief and practices of Jesus.

Granted, the first 12 disciples were men, but Jesus quickly established that women were welcomed and affirmed in his movement. The two greatest examples of female leadership and affirmation are found in the stories of the two Marys.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the greatest influence in her son’s life. From birth to death, Mary’s constant presence reminds readers about the significance and honor women have within the Jewish tradition. If rabbis are seen as the authority for faith and practice, then women, especially mothers, are the authority for life.

Mary’s decision to give birth to a son of questionable parentage provided him with the best education and experiences a person of her stature could afford. She also supported his vocational calling — no matter how crazy it sounded to everyone else in Nazareth — demonstrating her wisdom and leadership.

If Mary, the mother of Jesus, symbolized the sacred wisdom of the feminine, then Mary Magdalene was the clearest evidence of Jesus’ attitude toward women’s leadership. At the most dramatic moment in all the Gospels, the Sunday morning after his death, it was Mary Magdalene — not the male disciples — to whom Jesus revealed his resurrected self. Jesus installed Mary Magdalene as the apostle to the apostles.

Therefore, it is discouraging to think about how the church and culture have subjugated women throughout history. Women have had to fight and claw for every right. The world’s patriarchal systems deny them equality and justice based on false claims of inferiority.

While the church and the United States are often quick to criticize and condemn other countries for their human rights violations, we must be reminded that our history and current circumstances are less than admirable.

Only a little over 100 years ago in the U.S., women were finally guaranteed the right to vote, a sacred act within a democracy. In addition, the progress of women’s rights has not come without criticism – primarily from men.

According to a 2020 Pew Research report, “About three-in-ten men say women’s gains have come at the expense of men.” Seriously?

What men actually mean is that they have lost their misplaced privileges within a society. Men’s rights have not been lessened due to women’s gains.

Sadly, even as the rights of women have increased, the pushback from men has intensified. For example, Stanford University researchers just released a study citing, “Reported cases of sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender discrimination on campus increased by 118% in the past year.”

Add to this the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on women’s reproductive health in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling sent abortion care back to the states, overturning Roe v. Wade. States with Republican-controlled legislatures then passed laws criminalizing abortion and those assisting in abortion care. These actions directly target women’s rights.

While we must continue to blow the whistle on other countries that violate women’s rights, we also need to call foul on ourselves. The church needs to call out actions and men who subjugate women.

As Human Rights Day is observed on December 10, let us all reflect on the significant women who influenced our lives. In addition, let’s consider how women’s rights are being denied today.

Then, stand up, speak out and step forward to demand equality and justice. It’s what Jesus would have done!

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week, calling attention to December 10 as Human Rights Day. The previous articles in the series are:

The Capability Approach and Human Rights: A New Perspective | Jack Boles

Why the World Needs People Willing to Change Their Religion | George E. Oliver

Why Citizenship Matters | Zach Dawes Jr

U.N. Anti-Discrimination Guide Highlights Two Sides of Religious Discrimination | Zach Dawes Jr

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