By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children …. She took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband …. Hagar said: “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai”…. The angel of the Lord found Hagar and Hagar said:“I have now seen the One who sees me.”Genesis 16:1-11
In 1963, Mahalia Jackson, the great American gospel songstress of African descent, sang these words in the song “Somebody Bigger Than You and I”:
(God) He lights the way
When the road is long
He keeps you company
With His love to guide you
He walks beside you
Just like He walks with me
This song is a testimony of African women and women of African Descent who have not only survived but thrived despite gender and racial discrimination. In 2015, Bread for the World’s Annual Hunger Report pointed to the continuing inequity that women face:
“Discrimination against women is a major cause of persistent hunger. Discrimination is reprehensible and makes the effort to end global hunger so much more difficult. In developing countries, most women work in subsistence farming, the backbone of local food security. Discrimination is why women farmers labor with fewer productive resources than their male counterparts, why women in all sectors of the economy earn less than men, and why girls are pulled out of school to work or to marry.”
Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the resilience, resistance, and resolve of women like Hagar, who was an African woman enslaved by Sarai and Abram. During her enslavement, Sarai demanded that Hagar become pregnant by Abram—without Hagar’s consent. This demand was also normative for Black women in the United States and the Caribbean during the enslavement and sharecropping periods.
But despite the sexual assaults by their enslavers—who did not see the humanity and dignity of Hagar and other Black women—these women were often courageous and found opportunities to exercise their agency. Hagar left her enslavers and lived in the wilderness. Women of African descent like Harriet Tubman did the same. But oral traditions and the Bible tell us the angel of the Lord still found them! Like Hagar, many could and do say: “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
So, who are the angels today? Do we see the women described in the Hunger Report? Do we see pregnant women of Africa and African Descent who have some of the highest mortality rates today? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says Black women consistently have the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States. In 2020, the rate rose from 44 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 to 55.3, the second biggest increase of any racial or ethnic group, behind Hispanic women.
Bread for the World does see women of Africa and of African Descent.Our lens of nutrition, equity, and sustainability promotes life with and for Black Women. One mechanism for achieving this is through the farm bill, which is up for reauthorization this year. Please visit Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters web page to learn more about advocating for the farm bill.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.