Last semester at Gordon College, I had the privilege of taking Dr. Ruth Melkonian-Hoover’s women and politics class. During this class, we discussed issues of contemporary politics, women’s suffrage in the United States, and learned of the history of women’s movements around the world. Further, we examined the intersection of religion and politics, and spent time diving into both Christianity and Islam to recognize how the understanding of women in religion shapes how women engage with politics and the world. Overall, the class was insightful and brought about intentional and formative conversations between me and my peers. The information and lessons learned translate well into celebrating Women’s History Month.
How can we empower the next generation of women? This question has lingered with me since taking that class. I believe this remains a timely conversation, especially on the heels of International Women’s Day. Women are the future, and we need to encourage our daughters, nieces, friends, family, to rise up and take on leadership and other kinds of engagement.
I sat down again with Dr. Melkonian last week to discuss some of the ways through which we can tackle this question. We established three categories of solutions:
- Socialization. In my class, we found that one of the biggest challenges to women’s involvement in politics and elsewhere results from lack of socialization. In order to empower the next generation of leaders, we must focus on socialization. Children should see both parents or adult figures in their life using their gifts and talents. Even if this looks like volunteering in church or as PTA (parent-teacher association) president, taking on these roles and exemplifying to children that women and men are equally capable, is essential. Moreover, removing gendered barriers to career paths aids in improving socialization. Next halloween, let girls dress up as presidents, firefighters, and doctors too!
- Resiliency. Encouraging young women to be resilient is necessary. Parents should encourage their children, equally, to take on leadership roles or get involved in activities. By running for student council or joining the soccer team, girls can be encouraged that they are strong and able to accomplish what they set their minds to. And, when disappointment inevitably comes, understanding that loss does not define a person will encourage kids to get back up and try again, fostering resiliency in our future leaders.
- Empowering Storytelling. A practical solution that I discussed with Dr. Melkonian is being international when telling stories to our children. This includes bible stories that are read in Sunday school. First, by highlighting strong women like Ruth, Esther, and Deborah, we can provide positive examples to our children. Second, these biblical stories must be told correctly. Ruth was a bold woman, but churches do not always highlight this attribute. By showing our children that women of the bible were bold and oftentimes prophetic agents of reform, we can provide a positive role model for our young women to strive to resemble.
Raising up the next generation of strong, independent, and empowered women will not be easy. However, by intentionally focusing on socialization, resiliency, and storytelling, perhaps a starting place can be found.