CHIANG MAI: The participants in a regional Consultation affirmed that instilling hope and positive attitude for gender equality is a way to build a just society as well as to empower women and men.
A two-day online Consultation on ‘Ensure Gender Equality; Empower Women and Lift Up Humanity’ organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) asked for stronger commitments from every corner of society to promote the empowerment of women through “attentive solidarity and radical inclusion”.
“We must unite and stand with the disenfranchised women who are undergoing multiple forms of oppression during the COVID-19 pandemic,” was the message collectively expressed by the participants.
The participants of the consultation further noted that the involvement and increase of women’s participation in decision-making within churches was the best strategy for churches and church-related organisations to address gender equality and prevent other forms of discrimination.
The participants, both women and men, representing a wide cross-section of organisations across Asia, opined that special efforts were to be supplemented with the nurturing of women cadres among church leaders, re-interpreting certain texts of the Bible, and transforming cultural traditions or social norms that prevent women from being able to exercise their leadership to the fullest of their potentials and capacities.
The online Consultation, which was held on 8 and 9 July 2021, was attended by over 70 participants.
Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the General Secretary of the CCA, in his opening address stated that, “Gender equality is a fundamental human right, which is an imperative for strengthening and empowering women; and lifting up humanity for a just and peaceful world. Ending all forms of violence, discrimination, and injustices against women and girls is a multiplier on all development issues in the world.”
Describing the focus of the consultation outlined in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which represents a unified commitment by the world community, the CCA General Secretary told the participants that the CCA will aim at deliberating on the importance of investing in gender equality and promoting women’s role to accelerate the effective implementation of the UN SDG-2030 Agenda as well as to look at the contributions the faith communities, especially churches in Asia, can make.
Dr Sarasu Esther Thomas, a Professor of National Law School University in India (NLSUI) who heads the Centre for Women and Law at the NLSUI, delivered the keynote address on the theme of the Consultation, ‘Achieve Gender Equality; Empower Women to Lift Up Humanity’.
Dr Sarasu Thomas analysed the term “empowerment” and its true connotations, elaborating upon the relations between right–duty and power–liability.
“We cannot expect women to be resilient and fight back or reclaim power themselves; there is no question of empowerment of women or sharing of power without reducing the power concentrated in other hands. We need to consider the varied layers of intersectionality that may prevent women from standing up for themselves,” said Dr Sarasu Thomas.
Koh Miyaoi, Gender Advisor at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Asia Regional Hub, and Hanbeet Rhee, Coordinator of Gender Equality programme of YWCA in South Korea spoke at a panel discussion session on ‘Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Goals: Eliminate Violence Against Women’.
Ms Miyaoi, an experienced expert on gender equality and women’s rights issues, stated that along with the health crisis, women were facing a care crisis, an economic crisis, and a shadow pandemic.
The UNDP official further analysed the neglect of women’s challenges in designing pandemic recovery and stimulus packages and highlighted the dismal participation of women as leaders in COVID-19 taskforces across Asian countries.
“If we do not see women in decision-making bodies determining what stimulus packages are given and when, deciding what services are essential and how we must re-open, then issues faced more by women than men are not going to be addressed or countered,” said Ms Miyaoi.
Ms Rhee, who works on gender equality and climate change issues, outlined recommendations and best practices in the work of NGOs for the empowerment of women amidst the reality of the pandemic; these included gender governance, monitoring, material assistance, education programmes, and exerting influence and advocacy at the national level.
Rev. Dr Jeaneth Faller, the Dean of the Divinity School at Siliman University in the Philippines, who led a biblical-theological reflection on ‘Towards Violence-Free Lives for Women’ shared the suffering and despair of Rizpah of the Old Testament as a synonym for the common struggle of Asian women today.
Rizpah represents the abusive subordination that so many women in Asia suffer in our cultures, which have failed to undo the economic and social disparities among our peoples. However, her story ends in redemption not just for one woman but for all—as she looked up from despair and found the courage to use the small and limited spaces available to act rather than to conform, to rise up rather than remain bent down, explained Dr Faller.
Senela Jayasuriya, the CEO of Women Empowered Global from Sri Lanka, in her presentation on ‘Achieving Gender Equality through Economic Justice’ shared the necessity for developing and promoting aspirational narratives that challenged poverty mind-sets, and shattering the ‘inner glass ceiling’ of women.
Ms Jayasuriya, an award-winning leadership coach and public speaker, further added, “We need to build an equitable space that recognises the value and dignity of a woman that respects her freedom to fulfil her potential. To do this, we need to address the narratives of what it means to truly advance women in our societies. How can we make an equitable and unbiased environment for her to feel safe, and ready to develop her potential? Let us break down barriers and create more inclusive opportunities in our community, our workplaces, our supply chains and distribution.”
A session on ‘Ensuring Gender Equality through Developing Capacities and Providing Opportunities for Leadership’ was led by Rev. Sylvana Maria Apituley, the Vice President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and Carol Tabassum Nauman from the Pakistan Mission Society.
Rev. Apituley, who was the Chief of Staff for the Executive Office of the President of Indonesia, focused her presentation on feminist leadership and substantive gender equality.
“The challenges of a patriarchal culture in all areas of life, the intersection of gender discrimination with other aspects, and a lack of political will on the part of our leaders have been proven to have hampered the achievement of substantive gender equality and gender justice. The opening of opportunities for women to be elected as leaders at the national/synodal level is not a result of the church’s systematic or strategic work but are fruits of individual struggles,” she added.
Ms Nauman spoke of the importance and value of cementing notions of the equality of the sexes from childhood itself through education and schooling. She shared different strategies for building the capacity of women as leaders, such as through mentoring and counselling, skills and resilience development, scholarships and other opportunities, and small business loans or microfinancing.
The consultation organised by the CCA was part of its Ecumenical Women’s Action against Violence (EWAAV) programme and was an opportunity to deliberate upon and emphasise the varied challenges that continue to prevent the full achievement of gender equality.