God and one woman
make a majority. ~ Josephine Butler* [1828-1906]
God of Women and Men and our Children, God of Earth and God of Heaven, God of all that is, Seen and Unseen,
Your Servant Josephine led the way in her own time to courageously and relentlessly advocate on behalf of women as fully human persons. From campaigning for higher education, pushing legislation to increase the age of sexual consent, and to succeed in having laws repealed that diminished and exploited women, especially those engaging in prostitution, Mrs. Butler was a force beyond our comprehension for her time. Help us realize that we must continue her valiant efforts. Let us not avert our eyes to the very real, very prevalent issues of sexual violence in our own times ~ in the worst parts of the world, and in the nicest parts of our comfortable lives. Rape as a political weapon, human trafficking for greed and lust, domestic violence, child pornography and prostitution ~ all are symptoms of a dissolving social ethic that only benefits the few who have power, and all thrive when we, good people, look away. Help us, Lord, to do the work You have given us to do and actively see to it that all Your children are safe and loved. amen.
*A feminist from an early age, Josephine Butler became more involved in serious social issues about women after being devastated by the death of her young daughter. Early on she was co-founder of the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women and, although a dedicated and committed Christian married to a Church of England clergyman, she also became a resolute advocate for the welfare of prostitutes. She believed that the double standard of sexual morality led to the exploitation of women with no consequences for men. Josephine was tireless in her efforts to have the Contagious Disease Acts repealed. They were intended to thwart the spread of venereal diseases yet only women were being victimized by the requirements which often led to their imprisonment if infected, but men were not. In a public meeting she referred to some of the practices authorized by the Acts as "surgical rape" ~ a shocking remark that resulted in her desired outcome, the Acts were repealed in England, Ireland, and British Raj India. Josephine also successfully undertook to have the age of sexual consent raised from 13 to 16 to reduce child prostitution.
At a time when women didn't have the vote, Mrs. Butler's efforts were compelling and considerable. Honored on the Church of England Calendar of Lesser Festivals, she is also portrayed in a window in the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool with Queen Victoria and other notable women of the time. A College at the University of Durham is named for her and she has been remembered and honored in many other ways and places in England. It is past time for her to be known much farther afield as her influence continues to this day.
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