If true equality is to be achieved for the world’s women – the international development agency has proposed in its new report – then faith leaders must recognise the part religions have played in putting forward patriarchal norms, and take tangible steps to get their own houses in order and commit to promoting and supporting gender equality and human rights through their communities.
The report – Equality at All Levels: Strengthening the role of faith-based actors in promoting the Beijing +25 agenda – was due to be launched at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) on 10 March, which has now been postponed due to the Coronavirus. CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the rights of women.
This year marks a key moment for gender equality. Twenty-five years ago, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a visionary agenda for gender equality and women’s rights – was adopted by 189 governments. A quarter of a century later, women are more likely than men to live below 50% of the median income; most countries only give women three-quarters of the rights given to men, and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence.
While progress has been made in gender equality in the 75 years in which Christian Aid has existed, recent trends have brought about setbacks including the lack of implementation of equality laws in countries which have deeply-entrenched discriminatory practices.
Further setbacks have arisen as a result of a wave of populist politics and extremism that has led to the election of governments hostile to gender equality, but also in changes in social behaviour of different parts of society, including churches.
Religion plays a key role in the lives of many around the world, with 84% of the world’s population associating with a faith. Christian Aid’s new report advocates for the positive role of religious actors in advancing gender justice, criticises the fact that human rights are being undermined, and calls for greater resources and strategic alliances with faith and secular actors.
Dr Marianna Leite, Christian Aid’s Global Lead on Gender and Inequality, said: “In the last decade, we have seen a fightback against so-called ‘gender ideology’. This has led to toxic narratives filled with hatred that incite violence and put forward a regressive portrayal of masculinity. This toxic masculinity includes the dangerous idea that men should have power over women.
“As a faith-based organisation motivated by our belief in the dignity of all and an understanding that each of us stands equal before God, we call on churches and other religious institutions to lead the way in promoting gender equality in every sphere of society, including our own faith communities and institutions.
“By working with women’s rights groups, faith-based actors have the potential to strengthen movements for gender justice and demonstrate that religious voices can, and must, uphold women’s rights.”
Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, said: “We believe that each of us stands equal before God. Over the past 75 years, Christian Aid has harnessed experience working with religious and secular actors towards gender justice. But we recognise that religious institutions have at times played a part in exacerbating gender inequality. We acknowledge that religious institutions, at times, have been shaped by patriarchal structures, and recognise that this has been a disservice to women and girls throughout history. This disservice also erodes the valuable contribution faith institutions have made over the years, including providing basic services such as education and health to many communities across the world.
“It is precisely because we recognise the failures of religious institutions and faith actors that we feel compelled to ensure that gender justice and equality are the basis on which we conduct our work. In this critical year for gender justice around the world, we call on our faith communities to join us in promoting gender norms that acknowledge, respect and safeguard the dignity, rights and well-being of women and girls, challenges harmful practices, amplifies the voices of minorities and addresses multiple inequalities.
“Those who believe in a God of justice must not remain silent when the roll-back on gender equality threatens the progress we have already made, and those achievements yet to be won. The role of religious leaders in combating these unjust systems of oppression has never been more important.”
The Equality at All Levels report invites faith actors to commit to specific actions to tackle gender inequality, including:
- Ensuring female leaders rise to positions of power and are able to sustain those positions
- Address unequal access to education and training within church structures
- Support and deliver action to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls within churches
- Promote and protect the human rights of women through sermons and theological interpretations
- Resource and/or implement intersectional approaches to development
- Encourage and accompany the creation and implementation of protocols for the prevention, detection and attention to sexual violence and gender-based violence inside churches and faith-based organisations
- Work on theological and faith understandings which are critical to deconstructing the gender stereotypes that limit women’s rights and agency
- Guarantee an increase in female faith leaders and feminist theologians who have power and connect with the lived experience of women and provide a more nuanced analysis of the role of religion on promoting gender equality