Celebrating Women in Leadership
Jamaica, the land of my birth, is a place whose people are proud of their country. Among the many reasons they cite are the following two minor ones: Jamaica is the first country outside of Europe to introduce a train system offering passenger service, and residents of the Jamaica north coast town named Falmouth had piped water available in their homes before the people of New York City did. Other sources of pride Jamaicans treasure include their influence in the world of music and sports, especially track and field athletics, and the contribution made by women to the development of their country.
According to an International Labor Organization (ILO) Report, Jamaica was, in 2013, the country with the highest percentage of women managers. The study, "Women in Business and Management: Growing Momentum" revealed that, in Jamaica, 59.3 percent of business managers were women. Jamaica was followed by Colombia with 53.1 percent; St. Lucia 52.35 percent; Philippines 47.65 percent; and Panama, 47.2 percent.
In Jamaica politics, women have served as Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. These achievements were not regarded as surprising developments. They were received as part of the taken-for-granted reality of life.
Perhaps, it is because Jamaican people are accustomed to women fulfilling leadership roles that they are not surprised when they enter into a religious arena where women occupy multiple positions of leadership. What they find surprising is the need for women to fight fiercely to secure their organizations from any type of male involvement owing to their fear that men will usurp their leadership responsibilities. Also surprising is how some men appear anxious to keep women under control because of some supposed danger of men being displaced from leadership positions.
How refreshing it is to read the sacred Scriptures of the church and to take delight in the fact that all human beings – female and male – are made in the image of God. And how wonderful it is to know that the Scriptures declare the woman as a “help meet” to the man, and to know that the term really means that the woman corresponds to the man. She is man’s companion or counterpart.
Whatever one makes of the controversial arguments about the biblical-theological basis for the ordination of women, that the Holy Spirit gives to women the gift of leadership is hardly a matter attracting any debate.
In an essay published in a recent issue of the Scandinavian Journal of History, Baptist scholar Thomas G. Oey offers searching insights into the work of Minnie Johnson Hanson, a Swedish-American Baptist among the Kachins of Burma (Myanmar). Hanson fulfilled the roles of wife, mother, linguist, educator and preacher. However, it was her husband alone who received honors for the biblical translations that both he and his wife undertook.
Oey illustrates how Mrs. Hanson:
made significant contributions to the understanding of Kachin Christian indigenous identity through literary work and Bible translation. … She was able to contribute to adult literacy and the education of children and develop Kachin women’s identity and medical work; she also contributed greatly towards a “people’s movement” of the Kachins to Christianity, thereby helping the Kachins to adjust to 20th century modernization and the post-missionary period of the last 50 years.
Oey admits that “Hanson and her mission to the Kachins represents multiple layers of marginalization.” We are grateful that he has rescued her memory from undeserved obscurity.
How many other names can easily be added to the list of women leaders in the church whose lives and contribution – if they were well known – would compel us to celebrate?