[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] An international network of faith-based organisations committed to working together to fight for gender justice is continuing to expand. When it launched in July last year, Side-by-Side involved 17 churches and Christian organisations, including the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Alliance. Since then a number of regional consultations have taken place in Latin America and the Caribbean, east Africa and southern Africa, and the number of member organisations now total 35. That could increase this week as a regional seminar and conference takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Kenyan lawyer Maina Kiai, will address the gathering of Nordic faith community representatives. The Danish foreign minister Christian Jensen is also expected to participate.
This week’s gathering is one of a number of ecumenical – and in some cases inter-faith – gatherings being held to take the Side-by-Side movement forward in a number of countries.
The movement is working internationally for “a world where everybody, women and men, boy and girls are valued equally; are able to share equitably in the distribution of power, knowledge and resources; and are free from cultural and interpersonal systems of privilege and oppression, and from violence and repression, based on gender.”
The Anglican Communion’s director for women in church and society, the Revd Terrie Robinson, is the co-chair of Side-by-Side’s inception group. She said: “To date, faith interventions for gender justice have not been enough. But the potential is there, and we will achieve far more for just relationships between everyone, for women and men, girls and boys, if we work together - faith leaders, faith institutions and faith-based organisations.
“Closer partnership will more quickly build on existing efforts and lead to more widespread and sustainable transformation. As people of faith we share in the vision of human flourishing for each person, irrespective of our sex. Together we can raise awareness of harmful gendered norms and build up commitment and capacity to address these and witness to healthier and more just and creative ways of relating to one another.”
Side-by-Side’s current membership is made up entirely of Christian churches and organisations, including agencies like Cafod, Christian Aid, Progressio and Restored; denominations like the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil), and the Church of Sweden; and ecumenical groups such as the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches, and the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Organisers hope that the network will eventually expand to include “other faith groups that are equally wanting to see gender justice in our communities.”
Side-by-Side encourages faith leaders, organisations and institutions to “promote and model gender equitable social norms”. Its members will provide practical guidance and support to communities on how to prevent and respond to gender justice issues such as gender-based violence and women’s political, social and economic disempowerment.
Organisers hope that this week’s event in Denmark will raise awareness of the Side-by-Side movement amongst Nordic faith-based organisations and encourage more to join. “Working more collaboratively will lead to a more focused, coordinated and widespread response to gender injustice,” Terrie Robinson said.