Responsively Yours: Women and Children First
Perhaps it is merely a romanticized memory, but you have heard it used as a shorthand expression of evacuation priorities: “women and children first.”
Women and children with means and networks have been evacuated from areas threatened by war and “pestilence” throughout recorded history. Of course, then, as now, this meant the poorest and weakest women and children were left to make do as best they could. Still refugee camps and the term internally displaced people witness to the existence of such desperate situations around the world and to the desire of the community of nations to offer some assistance.
These impulses do not flow from some sort of outdated chivalry, nor do they merely cater to the “weak,” since we know desperate women and children have amazing strength and resilience. Instead, the impulse to consider the risks faced by women and children is a very sound principle that may represent an evolutionary preferred survival pattern. Women and children represent the future of the family, the community or even the survival of the civilization itself.
No less today than in earlier times, the future rests on our ability to organize around the needs of women and children. Experience from economic development work around the world shows that when women are healthy and have access to employment and education, they invest in children and the community.
What if we enlisted the wisdom and the commitment women around the world in work for peace, rather than in trying to escape the dreadful costs of war? What if we invested in maternal health — including access to family planning resources — quality day care, children’s nutrition and health care and early childhood education? What if we invested in quality care for our elders, whose care falls disproportionately ?on women around the world? What if our yardstick for policies was: What does our experience tell us about how similar policies have affected women and children in the past? Or, what is the likely cumulative impact of this policy on women and children?
Let’s help General Conference delegates, board members, legislators and corporations think about women and children first as policy is made, not only when fleeing its disastrous consequences.
The importance of this sort of analysis is something United Methodist Women members know deeply. Thanks be to God, we have many opportunities to express it in places that make a difference.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary