CHIANG MAI: The highly relevant theme of ‘Transformational Leadership of Women in a Post-COVID-19 World’ was discussed at a virtual seminar organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).
“The need to empower women’s leadership has never been more evident and important as now. It is critical to promote women’s transformational leadership that builds capacity and resilience and brings people together. Women must be recognised as co-partners and co-workers with God to bring peace, freedom, and justice in church and society,” observed the panellists.
The virtual event, facilitated by the CCA in conjunction with International Women’s Day–2021 on 8 March, was led by panellists representing UN Women, Asian churches, and women’s organisations who echoed the message, “Instead of seeking to ‘get back to normal’, we need to ‘build back better’, by recognising women’s leadership and promoting the empowerment of women in all sectors of society”.
The panellists also affirmed the need for women to ensure transformational leadership which should be valued at every level of society.
“We must create an enabling environment for the next generation of women leaders, promote and expand on women’s networks that are already in place, and work through multi-sector approaches,” affirmed the panel, constituted by renowned women faith leaders and women’s rights advocates.
While extending greetings to the participants on the occasion, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the General Secretary of the CCA, said, “We reiterate the CCA’s commitments and policies to encourage member churches and councils to put in place practices and systems that enable women to demonstrate their leadership.”
Nancy Lin of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan who moderated the session said that transformational leadership was characterised by four commonly-agreed upon factors, namely “idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration”.
Ms Lin, a former President of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC) said that women demonstrated all four of the aforementioned factors in their work, which was marked by collaboration, teamwork, communication, and cooperation.
Fanny Arendt, an analyst for Governance, Peace, and Security from UN Women, spoke about how the leadership of women was evident and transformational in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia. She said that despite the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and their wellbeing, women were often first responders to the crisis, leading and helping their communities from behind the scenes.
“Across Asia, women quickly adapted to the context of the pandemic by mobilising support to people in need, forming online and offline networks to protect marginalised groups, and communicating evidence-based messages about the pandemic to those with limited access to information,” stated Ms Arendt.
The UN Women official further opined that society as a whole benefitted when women were meaningfully included in all types of decision-making. Although insufficiently documented and recognised, the COVID-19 pandemic had demonstrated that when women lead, strategies to strengthen community ties and build peaceful societies were often transparent and inclusive across economic, religious, political, and gender identities.
Ms Arendt affirmed, “As women are close to their community members, they feel the vibrations of what is going on and what needs to be done. This crisis keeps showing that women are thinking ahead, finding innovative and collaborative solutions to protect their communities from threats posed by the pandemic. Seeing the pandemic as not only a health risk but also a threat to peace and social cohesion, women have applied holistic approaches to take their communities through this crisis by establishing innovative partnerships with diverse people from all sectors of society and with different religious and ethnic affiliations.”
Bishop Genieve Blackwell, who heads the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, spoke about the impacts of the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence in Australia. “The pandemic has aggravated already existing inequalities between men and women in society. The unequal treatment of women as compared to men in our society has been identified as the key driver for violence against women. In other words, violence is driven by a culture which condones it,” Bishop Blackwell explained.
The first woman to be ordained as a Bishop in New South Wales in Australia, Bishop Blackwell further shared the ‘Ten National Principles’ on preventative actions, training among the clergy, and care of those experiencing domestic abuse that were to be adopted by the Anglican Dioceses in the country. These Principles were backed by evidence and research.
“Preventing violence against women is about men and women coming together to achieve equal access to opportunities, and about living without fear of violence in whatever form. In other words, it is a very real opportunity for the church to model what it means to believe that women and men are both made in the image of God,” stated Bishop Blackwell.
Bishop Blackwell, who works extensively for the prevention of violence against women, shared advocacy and collaboration strategies which included training clergy and lay leaders in the church, encouraging advocacy at local levels (appointing ‘Family Safety Champions’), as well as peer learning, securing funding, and putting in place policies, procedures, and guidelines to support such work. “Education and employment are key for women and men to contribute positively to our societies in the post-COVID-19 era,” concluded Bishop Blackwell.
Rev. Romella Robinson, an ordained minister from the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, spoke about how women of faith had provided leadership in Pakistan, steered the response and recovery to fight the pandemic in her country, and shared concrete and practical examples of the work women of faith were doing at the grassroots level in Pakistan.
“Increasing their own risk of being infected by exposure, women provide help and ensure the implementation of hygiene and sanitation to combat the pandemic. As social activists, women in Pakistan have been openly wrestling with the government and private organisations for not acting fast enough, for not offering financial support to those who lost their employment, and for not ensuring basic levels of dignity and respect for those affected by the virus. Women have formed support groups and have shared food resources by mobilising church people and motivating organisations to serve pandemic victims and their families irrespective of caste, religion, or status in society,” said the young pastor from Pakistan.
Rev. Robinson, one of the youngest Christian clerics in majority Islamic Pakistan, also laid out strategies and principles for different stakeholders. She said, “Church leaders must learn to share scarce resources, particularly with women who are bringing about change. The mission of churches must be ‘Together towards next steps’, where men and women work alongside each other for planning, implementation, and evaluation. Empowered women empower women, and so intergenerational action is required to train and uplift newer generations of women leaders.”
Rev. Irene Umbu Lolo, a pastor from the Christian Church of Sumba in Indonesia, shared the Indonesian perspective on women’s transformational leadership in overcoming difficult situations. She spoke of the work of the Association of Theologically Educated Women in Indonesia (ATEWI), whose members included pastors, lecturers, researchers, and activists across the country. Collaboratively, these women of faith were leading through advocacy and campaigning for gender equality and human rights especially during the pandemic, through workshops, webinars, trainings, protest marches, vigils, and other actions.
Rev. Lolo, who is also a lecturer at the Sumba theological seminary, also shared the experiences of Christian women leaders in Sumba and their struggles to stop sexual violence against women. Through advocacy, capacity-building, and networking, the women of Sumba were mobilising local, regional, and national support groups to work with the government, police, and church leaders to prevent such atrocities from occurring.
“The common strategies adopted by women leaders are networking, collaboration, and coordination. As an Indonesian adage explains, “united we stand, divided we fall”, which is relevant especially for the strategies of women leaders in Indonesia. These women have demonstrated the efficiency of collective leadership—sharing power and using power to empower others,” added Rev. Lolo.
Rev. Hazel Joyce Salatan from the United Methodist Church in the Philippines shared the experiences of three fierce women leaders in the Philippines who fought the ‘War on Hunger’, the ‘War on the Poor’, and the ‘War on Drugs’. These women were Nanay Miriam, a leader of organised peasant farmers; Katkat, a teenager from Lumad who was a spokesperson for indigenous people; and Deaconess Norma, who has been at the forefront of relief operations for the most vulnerable in Filipino society.
The young pastor who currently serves at the Union Theological Seminary said, “Asian women make up one-fourth of the world’s population. In other words, we, all the Asian women in this forum, represent 25 percent of the world’s peoples. We need to own this fact. We need to remind the rest of the world of this fact. One of the best ways to do this is to share our stories—let us not forget, Paul was a theologian, and Jesus was a storyteller. It is the storyteller who is the better teacher.”
Rev. Salatan also added, “Women have always been leaders. Women have always been strong. Women have always been what we imagine them to be. It is not women who need transformation. What needs transformation are systems, structures, and cultures that perceive women as objects, as second-class, as weak, as sinners, and as property.”
Hanbeet Rhee, a member of the Commission on Youth for the World Council of Churches (WCC), shared the innovative and creative leadership practices of Korean women in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Women ministers in the Korean Church were considered the least important and were the first to be fired when the pandemic struck. In the face of this reality, Korean women leaders were the first to start thinking creatively with an inclusive attitude. We continued to create collectives of women’s solidarity (such as through organising virtual feminist worship services and operating small women-owned businesses) and established new networks in this era of disconnect and distancing,” she said.
Ms Rhee, who is currently working with YWCA Korea, further observed, “Our transformational women’s leadership continues to question the existing hierarchical and authoritarian leadership and decision-making methods. We pursue a more equal and communicative decision-making approach. Although this process may be a little slow, everyone’s opinions are valued and respected. The leadership required in the post-COVID-19 era is such leadership—it connects in the period of disconnect and embraces in the period of exclusion.”
Ms Rhee further shared the challenges posed specifically to the leadership of young women, and said that young women were held to higher standards than men, with greater repercussions when they faced failure. She affirmed the need to prevent the restrictions on women’s experiences and advocated for opening as many spaces as possible for women to stand as leaders. “Through diverse, repetitive, and several experiences as leaders of all forms, we can strengthen women’s leadership and nurture a new generation of young women leaders in Asia,” observed Rhee, the young ecumenist.
“Let us be more generous, patient, and happy in anticipation of the growth of Asian women’s leadership, especially that of young women, by providing as many trials as possible and educating with useful leadership training,” concluded the women’s rights advocate from Korea.
The comments made by participants placed emphasis on increasing the political participation of women, best practices to enhance women’s leadership in churches, theological reflections on the resilience of women, and the establishment of leadership and networks in the absence of technological connectivity. The panellists collectively responded to the questions and said that normative change was needed to challenge the perception of the role of women in society.
The perspectives and experiences shared in the webinar on ‘Transformational Leadership of Women in a Post-COVID-19 World’ will continue to supplement and inform the CCA’s ongoing work on gender justice and the prevention of violence against women, as well as the CCA’s advocacy and action for the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next in the series of the CCA’s webinars will be held on 22 March 2021 and will focus on the theme “Decreased Access to Safe Water in Asia: Challenges to Human Security”. The Background Information and the registration link will be circulated shortly.
To read the CCA’s statement on International Women’s Day, please click here.
The reports and videos of the CCA’s previous webinars on COVID-19 issues can be found below: