by Mark Russell
Years ago, when I first starting traveling through the poorest regions of the world, I was frequently shocked at how much of the work was being done by women.
One of my first exposures was deep in the sub-Amazon basin where I visited a very poor group of people. I met women who were 4.5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds, yet these women carried sacks of potatoes on their head that weighed nearly 100 pounds. My weight-lifting brother and I struggled to lift the bags, much less carry them for miles like these women were doing.
After years of international development and missions work and travel to more than 70 countries, I have seen this as a consistent pattern. Women do the bulk of the work, not only in the home but also in businesses. It reminds me of the passage in Proverbs 31:10, 13–18 (NIV):
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
Noble women like this can be seen all over the developing world. Yet, despite their ongoing and multifaceted contributions to society, often they are paradoxically denied opportunities and victimized. In many developing countries, girls are routinely denied educational and other opportunities afforded to their brothers.
On one research trip to an impoverished country, I observed women working very hard. As I interviewed male entrepreneurs and asked them what happened with the profits of their businesses, they pointed with pride to the fact their sons were now in school. I asked about their daughters and got short, curt responses. After my third interview, my translator kindly whispered in my ear, “Don’t ask about daughters again.”
As a husband to a wonderful woman and a father to an amazing daughter, I’m grieved that girls are still treated so poorly. (Of course, my wife still does the bulk of the work in our household but I don’t really want to admit that here.)
My research in 15 countries has demonstrated what numerous other organizations have argued, namely that when male entrepreneurs profit from a business, the profits are not poured back equitably into the development of the family but are frequently squandered or spent selfishly. Women around the world, however, have demonstrated that they are more likely to look out for their children and their families.
As a result, numerous microfinance, fair-trade, and other organizations specifically target women entrepreneurs, realizing their impact will more greatly benefit the society and particularly the most vulnerable in society: girls.
We are given numerous examples of women who worked and were admired in the Bible. Jesus, himself, spent significant time ministering to women and clearly valued them more than the surrounding culture did. Several women played an influential role in supporting His ministry (Luke 8:1–3).
As followers of Christ, we have a unique opportunity to look at the example of our Lord and the current reality of the poor around the world and become supporters (financially and in advocacy) of working women around the world. Through them, we are all bettered, and the poorest and most vulnerable have a chance to go from surviving to thriving.
Mark Russell, author of The Missional Entrepreneur, is a widely respected voice in the missional community. He has lived in Russia, Chile, and Germany, and has traveled to more than 70 countries to carry out a variety of business, educational, humanitarian, and religious projects. Contact Mark through www.russell-media.com; www.facebook.com/marklrussell; www.twitter.com/marklrussell.
Scripture quotation from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.