31 October 2013 | by Dionne Gravesande
As Christian Aid prepares for its three-day Corporate Gender Strategy workshop in Roehampton, UK, I thought it might be useful to share some reflections from the World Council of Churches' (WCC) two-day pre-assembly programme, looking at the issue of gender justice.
Around 700 people from the church, faith-based organisations and institutions joined the meeting. Eighty per cent of them were women. Many in the room saw this as a reflection of who carries the gender injustice burden.
Monday’s meeting opened with both a statement and series of questions from WCC General Secretary, Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
Referring to the assembly theme ‘God of life, lead us to justice and peace’, Dr Olav reminded us the task is a huge unfinished agenda.
An opportunity to reflect
The two days gave us an opportunity to think, share, reflect and, in some cases, weep together, both as a collective and as individuals struggling in our own spaces.
I was struck by many stories - in particular, that of a young woman living in Beirut, working with WCSF. She described her daily struggle living in a city defined by violence, conflict and fear.
Yet despite such personal danger, she is driven by a vision of freedom and liberty that stretches beyond herself and into the next generation.
When faced with the shocking truth of gender violence, our hearts cry out no! Such wrongdoing must be dismantled, named and eradicated.
Of course, change does not happen unless we have the courage to tackle the things that are most difficult.
History (sprinkled with faith) has taught us it is possible to take on the difficult issues and transform attitudes and behaviour, leading to a better future for all.
No easy answers
The questions came thick and fast. How do men and women of faith work together on gender justice? What does it mean to work for peace as women?
Perhaps some answers will come out of the assembly dialogue. There's one thing I am sure of: it's not just for women to come up with these answers. Men should, and need to be, part of the journey.
Gender justice seen through a faith lens has biblical and theological roots. Both men and women are created in the image of God, both have dignity and worth.
Too often the church is judged by media sound bites, which can present a distorted picture.
No doubt the church needs to get its own house in order, but equally, we cannot wait for the entire church to be perfect before speaking out against unbalanced power relations between women and men. In the full gospel reading, equality is not optional - it’s the expected norm.
So what can the WCC actively do? There is an emerging gender focus in its advocacy work, ie the UN Status of Women and Post 2015 agenda, which Christian Aid is supporting.
Equally, raising awareness of gender injustice and giving our partners the opportunity to raise their voices is an important piece of work with our sponsoring churches........................................................................................................................................
Our staff are in Busan, South Korea attending the World Council of Churches assembly. The theme of the assembly, 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace', provides a focus for theological reflection, worship and meditation, as well as for planning programmatic activities before, during and after the assembly.