by Kathleen Wilson
I am a woman, a Christian, and a feminist – three identities that have blended together to form my core definition of self. In the United States, I know that statistically I am at a disadvantage because of my gender. Women only hold 20 percent of the seats in the Senate and 19.3 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. According to the American Association of University Women, women are only paid 78 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. This pay gap exists across career fields, whether one compares the earnings of women to men in teaching, in STEM fields, or in the entertainment industry. In the film industry, only 30 percent of speaking characters are women. In business, women only hold 4.6 percent of CEO positions at S&P companies.
Yet, I know my position as a woman living in the U.S. grants me many opportunities that are denied to women worldwide. My policy research on Afghan women’s literacy initiatives has reinforced the harsh reality that millions of women are denied access to education simply because of their gender. Working at the Feminist Majority Foundation last summer, I researched the immense shortage of birth control methods worldwide. From the streets of India to the current conflict in Iraq and Syria, women and girls are raped, kidnapped, and forced into marriages or unfavorable social situations.
Having grown up as a Christian in the South, my religious beliefs were rarely criticized. However, through my work with Peace by Piece UGA and IFYC’s Better Together Campaign, an organization that aims to build interfaith community, I recognize the gravity of religious intolerance in many communities. At school, my Muslim friends dodge both hateful slurs and thrown rocks. Worldwide, I know these religious intolerances are even more extreme, as people are beaten, imprisoned, and killed for not holding a certain religious belief. As an intern in the Office of International Religious Freedom, I monitor infringements on people’s freedom to express their religion or no religion at all and am filled with sadness at the suffering caused by religious divisions.
It is abhorrent that people around the world are barred from education, health services, safety, and political and economic participation simply due to their gender or religious identity. As a feminist and a Christian, I believe in the equality of rights for everyone regardless not only of gender but also of race, sexuality, religion, and other identities. I am compelled me to find ways to create environments that lift up oppressed minorities and allow them the space to participate fully in society, free of oppression. Some days, this means hosting interfaith discussion hours on campus where people from different religious and philosophical backgrounds can gather to build relationships in spite of their differences. Other days, this means attending the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women to advocate for the full inclusion of all women in all societies.
In the Episcopal Church, in preparation for the Eucharist, our priest always says, “This is the Lord’s table, not our own. All are welcome here.” Fundamental to my faith is this concept of radical inclusion – of finding ways to build connections with people, across cultural, religious, racial, and gender divisions. My identities as a feminist and a Christian are not incompatible; they are daily woven together in my pursuit of interfaith relationships and social justice.
Kathleen Wilson studies economics, international affairs, and Arabic at the University of Georgia. Through various NGO and government internships, including work at the U.S. Department of State and the Feminist Majority Foundation, Kathleen has developed a passion for gender equity, women’s empowerment, and interfaith work. On campus, Kathleen founded WORC, the Women’s Outreach and Resource Coalition, and has advocated her university for the establishment of a women’s center. She has served as president of Peace by Piece UGA, a campus interfaith organization, and as a national Better Together Coach with the Interfaith Youth Core. Kathleen hopes to pursue a career with the Department of State where she can formulate policies that help protect the rights of women and religious minorities globally.