Last week, the steering group for the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) met in London to discuss the many issues facing women throughout the world. Hailing from around the Anglican Communion, these women used theological and biblical perspectives to discuss far reaching issues such as gender-based violence, human trafficking, and sustainable economic empowerment.
IAWN’s purpose is to be “a bold and prophetic voice for all women throughout the Anglican Communion working to uphold the God-given dignity of women and girls, to eradicate gender-based inequality and violence, and to promote just relationships among all people.”
In her report to the 2016 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Lusaka, the Revd Terrie Robinson, director for women in church and society, explained what is demanded to ensure this kind of empowerment. “It means revisiting Scripture and interpreting it through the eyes of girls who are valued by their families and communities as less than boys; through the eyes of women whose voices and contribution and needs have been marginalised, and the billion women who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence.”
The IAWN steering group revisited and refreshed its priorities. The group is in regular contact online but strives to meet in person once during each three year cycle. Terrie Robinson describes this as a “unique opportunity”, saying that the face to face environment allows them to plan strategically for the years leading up to the next ACC meeting. The steering group chair, Pumla Titus from South Africa stresses the importance of this meeting in order to prioritise its efforts for the next two years: “we need to know the things that we would like to take forward and that is more difficult without us having met face to face and knowing one and another and our strengths, than when we have met together and we know the strengths of each of our members.”
The Archdeacon of the Northern Region in Auckland, New Zealand, Carole Hughes, explained that the meeting was critical for the women’s relationship with each other. “We laughed a lot together and there’s something about gathering and laughing and working and hearing about each other other’s place and out of that come our priorities, which come out of relationships and community,” she said.
The Revd Margaret Dempster from the Anglican Church of Canada said: “it is so important that the members of steering group can come together face to face to bond and to share stories. We revisit and update our visions and our mandates and see from one steering group to the next what needs to be carried on or advanced.”
Pumla Titus explained that the diversity of the group’s membership helps to bring regional priorities to the meeting, whether it is human trafficking or the empowerment of women in rural areas. “In sharing the stories of women around the Communion [we] see how other women have done things,” she said.
For the members of the IAWN steering group, last week’s meeting had the potential for wide reaching impact, particularly when the stories and strategies are communicated in provinces: “Whenever we make a statement or when the reports go out, or even our newsletter, the women read it; and our primates and our bishops – they read it,” Moumita Biswas from the Church of North India and the National Council of Churches in India said.
“And not only within the Communion but we also do networking with other organisations like the World Council of Churches, the Asian Church Women’s Conference, the Christian Conference of Asia – so there is wider ecumenism that [this] Anglican network has an impact on,” she said.
During their meeting, the steering group agreed to facilitate the design of a theological curriculum and signpost resources on gender-justice, to respond to gender-based violence, and to work with the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) to promote aspects of climate justice in areas which have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, such as water justice.
They will also promote the ACC’s resolution 16.02, agreed last year in Lusaka, which called on the provinces of the Communion to work at “empowering girls and boys, women and men to live and work in relationships that reflect Christian values of love, dignity and justice.” They will particularly focus on how liturgies and contextual Bible study, and preparation for baptism, confirmation and marriage, “can serve in the promotion of right relationship and intergenerational teaching about the God-given dignity and status of all persons.”
The meeting itself was hopeful and forward looking. Each of the women of the steering group is eager to return to their home communities and to share their experiences. The Revd Immaculée Nyiransengimana from Rwanda said “When I’m back, I will try to strengthen this network in my country and involve other women, and improve my way of communication, sharing stories about what is happening in Rwanda, and in my neighbour countries in Africa.”
Carole Hughes added: “This sharing across cultures means that I’m going back home feeling more empowered to be bold and brave as an ordained woman in my context.”