In all our different cultures and societies it looks like we have a long way to go before our attitudes and behaviours organically demonstrate a truth that is writ large in a core tenet of our faith and yet so often set aside in the way we deal with one another – and that is our being made, equally, in the divine image.
Recent research by a US data scientist into questions typed into the Google search engine has shown that parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Whereas parents’ concerns regarding their daughters primarily relate to appearance. The question “Is my daughter overweight?” is asked twice as frequently as “Is my son overweight?”
This isn’t because sons are more often gifted and daughters are more often overweight, but surely it is indicative of a gendered system of applying and measuring worth and attributes. It’s a system that routinely discriminates, conferring privilege or smothering agency and potential. It can foster impunity on one hand and it can be death-dealing on the other. Women and men are complicit in this and, whether aware of it or not, serve to preserve a status quo which entraps us all.
So how do we move from here to where our gender is no advantage or disadvantage but simply a gift and a place of joy? Wherever unjust relationships exist between women and men, girls and boys, how will we dare to be different because we are people who in our baptism have put on Christ, in whom no person is categorised as lesser or greater because of their gender?
This need not be a lonely journey. ‘Side by Side’ is a rapidly emerging faith movement for gender justice. For over two years faith leaders and faith-based organisations in different parts of the world have been meeting together to share their experience and reflect on the realities of gender injustice in their particular contexts. They have looked at the barriers that prevent equal power relationships between women and men and, in particular, what prevents faith leaders from moving on from silence and inaction on this issue to being vocally and actively pro gender justice. And then, having reflected on how these barriers might be dismantled, they have begun to make plans for working and advocating side by side to better empower women and men to relate in ways that are just and mutually liberating.
Whilst Side by Side is an international movement, the transformative work has to happen locally. So the emergence of Side by Side ‘national chapters’ has been a truly hopeful development. Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Uganda and most recently South Sudan, have been taking the lead. Several of these national chapters are using existing structures such as national councils of churches. This is a great way of using existing, local networks. In this way the movement can reach grassroots and begin to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Faith leaders in more countries are taking first steps, side by side. Anglican bishops, priests, lay leaders, theologians and students are among those people of faith who have committed to work alongside each other in order to build up capacity and momentum for tackling gender inequality.
Find out how you can be part of the Side by Side faith movement for gender justice. Visit www.sidebysidegender.org. Like https://www.facebook.com/sidebysidegender. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revd Terrie Robinson is Director for Women in Church and Society at the Anglican Communion office.