[ACNS] A review of faith-based organisations’ work on gender justice in Southern Africa has resulted in a commitment by fifty church leaders from ten countries to work together to overcome barriers that is limiting the churches’ response. The commitment was made at a Gender and Faith Symposium organised by Christian Aid and Sonke Gender Justice as part of the growing international Side by Side Movement.
“We really need to believe in the miracle of change”, Bishop Margaret Vertue of False Bay in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said. “We are trapped in the realities of gender inequality and gender-based violence. We look the other way or pay lip service but we need to live out the change we want to see.
“The problem is not the problem! It’s our attitude to the problem that gets in the way.”
In a keynote address, the President of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Bishop Ishmael Mukuwanda of Central Zambia, emphasised the role of church leaders in addressing unjust relationships between men and women.
“We have a role in ensuring that those with privileged positions in our churches use them wisely, taking into account that the Church and its leadership are not completely innocent”, he told the delegates. “The church needs to rediscover the Jesus of Gender Justice.”
Bishop Mukuwanda encouraged women and men to work together and urged faith leaders to challenge teachings, beliefs and actions that cause women and girls to be treated with less respect and afforded fewer opportunities than men and boys.
“Each one of us is of inviolable value to God the creator. Church leaders are sometimes tempted to produce blueprints and think for others, believing that all we have to do is lecture and all will be well. But we must include the voices of those who suffer gender injustice. We need to sit down with our people so that we can understand what must change.”
In the context of a closing act of worship, two candles were lit reflecting the logo of the Side by Side international movement for gender justice and participants signed a final communiqué acknowledging some key areas of gender inequality in the Southern Africa region. In it, they set out a series of commitments including an increase in regional and national coordination of efforts to address gender inequality, and building greater awareness among people of faith, faith leaders and faith-based organisations of the moral and theological imperative for gender justice - and supporting them to demand this of themselves, their partners, communities and leaders.
“The international Side by Side Movement for Gender Justice gives churches, ecumenical councils and faith-based organisations, as well as individual people of faith, an opportunity to draw alongside others working for gender equality and share experience, tools and resources, and encourage and inspire one another”, the director for women in church and society at the Anglican Communion Office, the Revd Terrie Robinson, said. “There is no need for anyone to feel alone in this work which is vital for the empowerment and flourishing of all women and men.”