The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom’s inaugural cohort of Fellows recently celebrated the close of their nine month journey with the Girl Child. In this interview, three of our Fellows, including our two youth Fellows, share their perspectives on the reading journey, their roles as faith-inspired change agents, and how the Girl Child Long Walk project has shaped their lives and can inspire others.
Katie Gienapp is a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies (Sociology, Biblical and Theological Studies). Previously a leader in various faith-based and justice-oriented organizations, Katie currently resides in a multi-racial living and learning community and works as a missiological research assistant.
Amal Sarah is based in Lahore, Pakistan. She is pursuing a postgraduate degree in Environmental Sciences from Forman Christian College. She is a member at the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands and works for the Women’s Desk of the Diocese of Raiwind – Church of Pakistan.
Whitney Thomas is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and is a sophomore at Dartmouth College where she is studying biology. She enjoys looking at the intersection of her faith and science as a writer for the Dartmouth Apologia and working as a research assistant in Dartmouth’s octopus cognition lab.
Why would a young person participate in the reading journey? What can she or he hope to gain?
Amal: The world that we are living in has now become a center of hatred, war, pandemics, violence, and much more. In such narrow-laned pathways, where the predetermined set standards of society suffocate us, this reading journey provides a space to vent out that negativity. The chapters opened ways to talk about taboo subjects. The Reading Journey is a navigator that gives us direction in which to go to work for the Girl Child. It is like armor, helping us in fighting the patriarchal norms of society. This reading journey gives clear direction about what should be done to eradicate violence and hatred from the lives of women and girls. The reading journey participants are given an amazing opportunity to interact with a wider group. It gives us a chance to know about other initiatives and projects that minimize the frequency of injustice and violence in all its forms. In this community, we get new ideas and learn ways through which we can also play a positive role and contribute to our own communities.
Whitney: The reading journey provides a historical context of how faith systems have been used as systems of oppression. It explores how we can use our faith to promote justice and gender equality today. The reading journey also offers an unparalleled opportunity to engage with women and men around the world and gain a spiritually-based perspective on gender inequality. The members I worked with taught me so much. The reading journey allowed me to extend my passion for both my faith and gender equality beyond my college campus into a dialogue with individuals internationally. I learned about gender inequality in other people’s countries, and how individuals’ faith inspires them to fight for a more just society. Reading group members’ personal experiences combined with reading materials provided enriching conservations that inspired and encouraged me to consider areas where I can improve my community using my faith as my guide.
Katie: Fighting for gender equality is important in every context. That said, it is dangerous to advocate for justice as an individual. We need community to encourage, comfort, and inspire us. No one can make things better by herself, but together, we can start to change the world for the better. This is exactly what happens through the Girl Child reading journeys and fellowship. I am privileged to have been part of this community.
How does the reading journey provide context for understanding the unique needs of the Girl Child?
Amal: The third chapter in the reading journey revealed the simple but groundbreaking truth that we are created equally in the image of God as men and women. This truth and a deep dive into the chapters triggered many questions in me about my own reality in Pakistan. We were able to trace the historical reason men and women are not seen as equals and what damage that has done to the human family.
How did the reading journey support your spiritual exploration/growth/curiosity?
Amal: The Reading Journey reminds us of the time when the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians, and this relates to the condition women and girls are facing in this present world. There is depression, violence, inequalities, and no voice for them. Moses and Aaron went to the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go but he denied them every time. They had to take a “leap of faith” which we need to remember and practice. Today, we must become like Moses and Aaron to bring our young girls and women out of the miseries they are facing, through love, manifesting Galatians 5:6 which states, “What matters above all else is putting faith to work through love.” This verse was the center of the entire reading journey. God calls us today to have this spirit, to fight back against the “Patriarchal Pharaohs” and bring the oppressed souls out of Egypt.
Katie: As a young adult, it’s easy to forget that the world is big. But being a Girl Child Student Fellow expanded my world. I met people from many different countries during my virtual fellows and reading journey meetings. I learned about activists from a variety of contexts and learned more about patriarchy in countries around the world. Soon, I knew with painful clarity a reality I had previously only suspected: religion often encourages society to devalue women, and this makes women vulnerable.
This reality is present in my country, and it is harmful. It is also present in other countries, where women have far fewer freedoms than I do. Learning about these women’s sufferings did not negate my own struggles, but it did help me see the injustice that I had far too easily ignored.
I want to advocate for women in ministry, and I believe female leadership is imperative if we want to build systems with enough accountability to prevent #MeToo and #ChurchToo scandals. However, I also find myself frustrated with the reality around me – women are rarely pastors, and the glass ceiling remains largely intact – and I get angry with myself for not doing more. But then I remember that I am not alone, for we all face the same problems. I remember that it is not only up to me, that so many extraordinary women are working to bring more equity to our world.
When you look back over the past months, what is one specific thing that you did or said that was inspired by the reading journey or fellowship?
Amal: I have experienced a different kind of fellowship while walking with all the fellows and the reading journey team. I shared things about my menstrual hygiene management project which I did during this reading journey. This is a topic I cannot speak so easily about in Pakistan because of some cultural constraints. However, the GCLW team really pushed me forward to implement this project. The fellows of this reading journey appreciated what I said and did, which gave me a pure feeling of acceptance. This forum allowed me to truly express my feelings. I explored myself in a unique way. I know that if I had not been on this journey, my thinking capacity would not be as polished as it is now. I am a new person, thinking of new ways to explore life and work in a different manner to support the Girl Child in my community.
Whitney: Specifically, some of the most meaningful memories I will carry with me from this experience are my many conversations with Esther, my reading journey partner from Kenya. I always left our conversations inspired and with a better perspective. Though our backgrounds and experiences with sexism were not the same, we both shared a passion for women’s issues and a desire to better our respective communities. Her courage to be a changemaker in her community inspired me to strive to be one in mine.