Advocating for Gender Equality

By Joan Parker

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (emphasis supplied).

As March winds down, let us reflect on Women’s History Month and what it means for the advancement of equal rights for women. Although not as widely celebrated in the US as in other countries (especially Eastern Europe), International Women’s Day has been held annually on March 8 for more than a century and celebrates the achievements of women while also calling for gender parity around the world.

Although unlikely the first women inspired demonstration in history, in 1909, there was a day to recognize women’s rights in New York following a demonstration by over 15,000 garment workers protesting for better pay, short working hours, as well as the right to vote. March 3, 1913, thousands of women marched on Washington, D.C. advocating for women’s rights, especially the right to vote. Marches and demonstrations were held in England, Germany, and other countries thereafter. In 1917, the Russian women’s march is considered by many to be the first “international” day for women (although reportedly the revolutionaries “urged” the women to wait until May for the annual worker’s protests on May 1, and were upset that the women didn’t comply). Finally, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

There are so many topics encompassed by women’s rights that this article cannot begin to address them all. Instead, it will focus primarily on violence against women. Did you know that when US women marched in 1913 that they were jostled, tripped, and violently attacked, while police on the parade route stood idly by? Did you know that on March 4, 2018, riot police fired tear gas to break up a women’s rights march in Ankara, Turkey and approximately 15 protesters were reportedly detained?

Although violence against women knows no boundaries, this article will further focus on the plight of women and girls who are victims of Human Trafficking, especially those who have first been victims of domestic violence. According to the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence, “Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse (using money and financial tools to exert control).”

Polaris, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating trafficking, offers this definition on its hotline’s website: “Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.” Last visited on March 5, 2018.

There are times when perpetrators of domestic violence also traffic in the people they purport to love: intimate partners or family members.

With an estimated 20.9 million victims worldwide, human trafficking is considered “one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.”…[S]ometimes the trafficker is a person the victim loved and trusted.

It is important to recognize that human trafficking and domestic violence don’t occur in silos – rather, there is a marked overlap in the pattern of behaviors that both abusers and traffickers use to exert power and control over a victim. Intimate partner trafficking occurs when an abuser “[compels] their partner to engage in commercial sex, forced labor, or involuntary servitude.” Alternatively, trafficked individuals sometimes live with their trafficker and are subjected to the physical violence, emotional manipulation, and overbearing control that are hallmarks of domestic violence. (dated November 10, 2017). Last visited on March 5, 2018.

Human trafficking doesn’t just occur in other countries. It is prevalent in the US and even in West Virginia. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, between 2007 and 2014, there have been 133 reported incidents in West Virginia. In the grand scheme of thing, that may not seem like a large number, but it is important for two reasons: 1) not one person should be a victim of trafficking; and 2) those numbers have increased each year since 2012, according to the Center. Notably, perpetrators take advantage, not only of their power over victims, but also the fact that they will be too ashamed or scared to speak out.

On January 9th, YWCA Charleston hosted a Human Trafficking Awareness Event. Survivor-Advocate Angie Conn, Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer and US Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Brian Morris discussed the scourge of human trafficking in West Virginia. Following the panel discussion, local women lead us through a candlelight vigil to music by Amanda Bridgette from her play “Sins of a Savior.” Officer Morris noted that, in human trafficking, unlike drug trafficking, the bad guys are able to sell the same product –human beings– over and over again. Delegate Fleischauer talked about successes in the passage of favorable legislation but the need for more and better legislation as well as resources in the form of support services for survivors.

Angie Conn, a native West Virginian, is a survivor of human trafficking. She told part of her powerful story and how she now speaks to groups to help them recognize and prevent trafficking. Much of her work revolves around building self-esteem and self-confidence for young women and alerting them to the dangers that lurk much closer than anyone wants to think, especially for the most vulnerable. Along with other members of the West Virginia Human Trafficking Taskforce, she works to educate and raise awareness in schools and the community about Human Trafficking and Internet Safety.

Amanda Bridgette, another native West Virginian, has written and produced a play about human trafficking, based on her extensive research. She has discovered that this crime has been going on in West Virginia for longer than most people realize, and presents in a variety of settings. “These hills hide a lot of shame,” she recently noted. She remains optimistic, however, given the strong presence of the State Taskforce as well as increased community awareness and interest in eradicating human trafficking.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has an abundance of resources including one entitled “Human Trafficking in Your Community” found at

In West Virginia, efforts are lagging to provide necessary services such as assisting survivors to gain access to public benefits, therapy, safe housing, and any medical care they may need to rebuild their lives. Other necessary services include: information and referral, community orientation, social services referrals, mental health referrals, medical referrals, educational enrollment assistance and support, and culturally competent and sensitive services.

The Church is called to help the oppressed. The first step is to recognize and acknowledge the existence of human trafficking, which predominantly affects women and girls. Like domestic violence—which our society tolerated as a private family dispute for far too long—human trafficking is a form of violence against women.

Violence against women, a global, epidemic reality, has both structural and ideological bases. Feminist theologians have named this structural violence in connection with the patriarchal violence that occurs in many professions and workplaces. At all levels of the evangelical regional churches, there is the responsibility to overcome violence.

The “Ecumenical Decade: Church in Solidarity with Women (1988–1998),” has a strong concern for violence against women, and especially for establishing a legitimate theological grounding for resisting violence. Violence is virulent. It reaches even into parsonages and rectories and is exercised as part of a “daily Christian ethic.”

Plonz, Sabine, “Feminist Theology and Overcoming Violence”, Ecumenical Observations 2 (2006):171–82.

There will be a follow up event on April 24, 2018 at First Presbyterian Church, Charleston.  Together let us ensure that Paul’s admonition to practice gender equality is alive and well among West Virginia’s United Methodists.

Joan Parker is a member of the West Virginia Conference Justice and Advocacy Committee.  Joan serves on the General Board of Church and Society Social Principles commission. She may be reached at

To learn more about what the United Methodist Church believes teaches about Gender Equality visit: or