Intersection of maternal health, domestic violence

“Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.” — Proverbs 31:31:

The writer of Proverbs 31 writes of an ëschet-chayil, which depending on the particular biblical translation, can be read as a virtuous, noble, excellent or capable woman. But as I reflect on the ongoing global struggle for women’s dignity, I prefer another translation of ëschet-chayil: a woman of valor.

I prefer another translation of ëschet-chayil: a woman of valor.

The term valor is often associated with conflict and even war, and describes a person who approaches danger with bravery and courage.

What are the characteristics of a woman of valor according to Proverbs 31? She is trustworthy, hardworking, charitable and strong, and she is to be given an equitable share of the fruits of her labor.

The church’s role

As the global community honored International Women’s Day March 8, I have been wondering, what ought to be the role of the church in commemorating this day?

What ought to be the role of the church in commemorating this day?

The author of Proverbs 31 gives us some direction. First, we are to give thanks for the courage, bravery and diligence of women in our own communities and around the world. Second, we are to ensure that all women receive that which they have earned: honor, dignity and access to resources.

Many people are familiar with the statistic that while women do a majority of the world’s work, they own less than 1% of the world’s land. But that is only one aspect of the gender gap that contributes to women’s undervalued position in their homes, communities and countries.

We must continue to move away from a piecemeal approach to gender equality and begin to look intersectionally at the many injustices women face that impede their sacred worth as children of God.

As an advocate for maternal health and family planning, my challenge is to recognize that my lens on women’s empowerment is often myopic, and that I must reach out to partners both within and beyond The United Methodist Church who can help me better understand the complexities of not only ensuring women’s survival, but also enhancing their ability to thrive.

Difficult questions

I have asked myself difficult questions such as:

  • What good does it do to build a birth facility if the women of the surrounding communities have no way to get there?
  • Have we really achieved success if a woman has a healthy birth but only two months later dies of malaria?

These questions are challenging, and will require a concerted response from the global community, including the church.

On April 3 at 3 p.m. ET, I invite you to join Healthy Families, Healthy Planet and United Methodist Women in a conversation that will explore two equally serious but oftentimes siloed issues: domestic violence and maternal mortality.

Violence against women is a global pandemic that denies women their bodily integrity. When a pregnant woman suffers partner violence, she may suffer injury, miscarriage, or even death.

I hope you will journey with us as we explore ways for the church to respond to these issues in a collective, unified way.

Speakers Include Julie Taylor, UMW executive secretary for Children, Youth & Family Advocacy and me.

This educational event is open to the public. Please register for the webinar by April 2.

Editor's note: Katey Zeh is Project Director for Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.

  • Started in 2010, Healthy Families, Healthy Planet, an initiative of the General Board of Church & Society, works to mobilize U.S. United Methodists on the importance of maternal health and international family planning. Through grassroots education with targeted annual conferences and advocacy efforts with policy makers, the goal of the initiative is to achieve higher levels of foreign aid for international family planning through the U.S. government.
  • With approximately 800,000 members, United Methodist Women is the largest denominational faith organization for women. Its mission is fostering spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice.

Letter to the Editor