I had hoped that this week the United States would be celebrating an important milestone.
I, like many Americans, expected that on January 20th, we would swear in our first female president. When I agreed to write this article back in October, that’s what it was supposed to be about: what does it mean for the US to have finally elected a woman to lead our nation?
I had planned to write about how exciting it was, because, regardless of political party affiliation, I believe that the best version of the United States requires women and men working and leading together. Electing a woman to our highest office would be a major step toward equal partnership.
Even though that did not happen, I still believe that we need more women in government.
In Genesis 2, God says that it is not good for man to be alone. It seems that Adam could not do the work of stewarding the creation by himself. It required partnership. And so, God created a “helper suitable” for him.
When I hear the word “helper,” it calls to mind some sort of junior assistant, a person who can manage the simpler tasks, freeing the other person to focus on more important matters. But that is not the meaning of the word used in the Genesis text.
The word translated “a helper suitable” is the Hebrew word ezer. Far from the image of a junior assistant, this word conveys true and indispensable partnership. In fact, elsewhere in Scripture, it is used to describe the assistance of God himself, as in Psalm 54:4: “Surely God is my help (ezer); the Lord is the one who sustains me.”
If the word ezer can describe God, then clearly there is no hierarchy of skill implied here. On the contrary, Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen, in her book Gender and Grace, writes that the woman is billed as an equal partner, who “can walk beside him and work together with him because she is like him in every essential, God-imaging way.” Though it was not good for the man to be alone, the two of them, working together, were up to the task of ruling the creation.
When God’s female and male image-bearers partner together, we are at our most effective.
Yet in the United States today, we have nothing close to parity when it comes to representation in the upper echelons of government—to say nothing of the very few women in top positions in the business sector. As of the end of 2016, the US ranks a dismal 100th among the nations of the world in percentage of seats held by women. Only 21 of our 100 senators are women, and only 19% of the seats in the House of the Representatives are held by women.
Research shows that female politicians make more deals and pass more bills than their male counterparts. Women are better collaborators within their own parties, as well as across the aisle. Just as in Genesis 2, it seems that it is not good for the man to be alone. Our lived experience reflects the words of our Creator. Our government works better when women and men partner together.
Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives and former Speaker of the House, said, “It’s about equality, but it’s not just about equality. And the reason it’s necessary to have more voices is because that strengthens the debate and it strengthens the decisions. It isn’t that women coming in are better than men; they’re different from men. And I always say the beauty is in the mix. To have diversity of opinion in the debate strengthens the outcome and you get a better result.”
Women make up 51% of the population, and yet their voices have been largely absent from the rooms where decisions are made. Women bring a different perspective that is vital to the debate, and only when women and men truly partner together will we see real flourishing in our nation.
2017 will see the greatest number of women serving in the US Senate and the House of Representatives. However at this rate of growth, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that it will still be more than 100 years until we reach parity of representation. There are certainly things to celebrate; for example, the number of women of color in the Senate went from one to four on Election Day. But we must do more.
If we want to achieve real equality in government, we need to get to work. We need to highlight the achievements of female leaders so that we can clear a path for more girls and women to lead. Few of us are trailblazers; most of us need to see someone who looks like us succeeding at the type of thing we want to do. As Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
When girls and women see strong female leaders wielding power and authority, it opens doors in their own minds about what is possible for their own lives in leadership.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, says,
It starts young. Girls are discouraged from leading at an early age. The word ‘bossy’ is largely applied to girls, not boys. I think we need to expect and encourage our girls and women to lead and contribute. . . . It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem. We need more women leaders to show more women they can lead . . . and we need to show more women they can lead to get more women leaders. I think the first thing we need to do is decide that the status quo is not okay.
“The status quo is not okay.” I hear in Sandberg’s statement an echo from the Garden of Eden: It is not good for the man to be alone. We need more women in leadership.
In order to solve this problem, we all need to work together. Support the women who are already serving in government. Encourage the women in your spheres to lead. If you are a woman, consider running for public office at the local, state, or national level. Even if you don’t personally want to serve in government, you can support the work of groups like She Should Run, a national network changing culture to inspire more women and girls to run for office.
When half of God’s image-bearers are absent from leadership, all of us are impoverished. The best version of our government requires the contribution of the ezer: a true and indispensible partner.
-Katherine Sikma lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She serves as a Campus Ministry Specialist at the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), in partnership with Christ Community Church of the South Hills. Her work is focused on whole-life discipleship and empowering young women, and she is currently pursuing a master's degree in leadership.