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Statement on the International Women's Day

20 February 2009

International Women's Day, 8 March 2009

World Council of Churches
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE STATEMENT
Bossey, Switzerland
17-20 February 2009

Background

1.      The International Women's Day (IWD)[1] was born one hundred years ago from the National Women's Day (USA) as one response by women to their reality of oppression and inequality in economy and suffrage. As a vibrant movement for change, it has since spread to all the corners of the world.  A century later IWD remains an occasion in which women and men celebrate women's contributions and achievements while identifying the challenges women continue to face. Women in the churches have, in many parts of the world, joined in celebrations with other women's groups to mark this day. It has provided a time for Christian women to celebrate their gifts to the churches, to call on the churches to become even more inclusive and to recognize the significant role women play in many of their ministries.

2.      Since the inception of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948, the churches have together expressed in many ways their commitment to women and acknowledgement of the role and participation of women in the life of the churches. This position has been based on the affirmation by churches from different traditions that women have equal dignity with men as representations of the image of God, imago Dei (Genesis 1:27). With such an affirmation, therefore, women have participated as equal partakers in redemption, co-workers in God's creation and in the Church's mission.

3.      At the WCC's 9th Assembly in 2006, this commitment came to fruition when the WCC elected its main governing bodies, now composed of 40% women.  We are encouraged that this wind of change sweeps through many of the WCC's member churches too, and in many places women's leadership is now a given.

4.      "Unite to end violence against women" is the thematic focus for this year's IWD. According to UN reports[2], violence against women and children remains the main barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). During the 2004 International Affairs and Advocacy Week at the UN, the WCC called all its global member churches to take responsibility for mobilizing locally and advocating for the fulfillment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs[3]) at the national government level. Such advocacy must include initiatives to address violence against women and children. To this effect, therefore, the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) has presented an opportunity to address, among other conflict-related issues, all forms of violence against women and children.

The WCC Executive Committee, meeting at Bossey 17-20 February 2009:

A.     Invites its member churches to be outspoken against the continuing manifestations of violence against women and children in:

  • Gender disparities and imbalances expressed in women's struggle to attain adequate education and to access micro-finance loans.
  • The gross economic injustices women and children face in most societies; for example, poor and unequal working conditions for women.
  • The untold suffering and pain inflicted by political and economic turmoil often deliberately caused by national and international policies.
  • The feminization of poverty, HIV and AIDS
  • Rising numbers of women who lose their lives through maternal deaths, especially in the global south.[4]
  • Increasing numbers of women and girls forced by wars, economic crises and environmental destruction to seek better prospects outside their villages and countries.
  • Significant numbers of women and girls involved in and sometimes victims of illegal trafficking.
  • Young girls forced into early marriages and therefore made vulnerable to the risk of early pregnancies, some of which contribute to early maternal deaths.
  • Rising numbers of women and girls who are raped and sexually mutilated in war zones.
  • Female genital mutilation, which is still practiced in some areas, in the name of religion or related misconceptions concerning what marriage entails to women and girls.
  • Racism, xenophobia and sexism and their impact on women, particularly women of colour, whether free or imprisoned.[5]

B.      Welcomes the opportunity the IWD annual thematic focus accords to its member churches to strengthen their own efforts to contribute to ending all forms of violence against women and children.

C.     Affirms the different processes towards the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) that are undertaken by member churches, especially those which aim at addressing gender-based violence.

D.     Stands in solidarity with indigenous women, women farmers and fisher-folk that are at the forefront of efforts to mitigate and adapt to the climate change crisis and to protect God's creation.

E.      Calls on member churches to invest in the building of stable families as a sure source of positive socialization for gender equity and peace for both boys and girls. Church-based initiatives, such as developing Christian family life education for mutuality and faithfulness, should include education in human sexuality.

F.      Urges member churches to use their theological and ethical resources as a basis for the rejection of all forms of violence against women and children as a sin, especially as they prepare for the IEPC. It encourages churches to develop and adopt policies on sexual harassment.

G.     Welcomes initiatives encouraging the involvement of men to embark on a journey of what it means to be "a man" within a world of gender justice and peace. Calls on member churches to appropriate such initiatives for the promotion of "positive masculinities" so as to address gender-based violence that is directly connected to certain social constructs of the male gender.

H.     Encourages Regional Ecumenical Organizations (REOs) to join hands with the WCC in its initiatives in building a movement for peace based on principles of gender justice; to advocate for women and men to become "movers for peace" through awareness-raising and gender training from both female and male perspectives; to establish a network of eminent women in church, government and society, who will work as midwives for just peace, linking activism for just peace and policy making, in preparation for the IEPC and beyond.

I.        Invites its churches and the international community to advocate for a radical transformation of the global economic architecture so as to place justice and sustainability at the centre of the economy. This approach would include valuing vital contributions of unpaid care (i.e. household and community) and women's unpaid labour.

J.        Condemns regulatory lenience, compounded by unjust economic systems, in the provision of affordable and adequate health care services so as to protect women's reproductive health against unnecessary maternal deaths.

K.     Urges churches to mobilize their governments to sign on to the United Nations Resolution 63/155[6] (on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women); and Resolution 63/156[7] (on trafficking in women and girls).

L.      Challenges governments to ensure the participation of women - economists, ethicists and women involved in business entrepreneurship - in framing a new financial architecture that will be mutually beneficial to all, even to those on the margins of the world economy.

The Executive Committee invites Churches to celebrate this hundredth anniversary of the International Women's Day, March 8, 2009, with prayers and proposals for plans of action towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and children in church and society.


Footnotes:

[3] MDGs are used as basic guidelines for the achievement of development for ensuring a healthy society. One of the common criticisms of MDGs is that they are a "top down" process, which excludes Local Authority and other stakeholders; for example, they confuse the question of who really sets the agenda for fighting poverty, and whose poverty? According to Patrick Bond, aspirational targets like the MDGs are far less important than the actual social struggles underway across the world for basic needs and democracy. For further discussion, open www.choike.org/documentos/bond_mdgs_2005.pdf

[4] The reported pregnancy-related mortality rate has increased in some countries while decreasing in others. There is a big gap in maternal mortality rates between the developed and the developing countries in favour of the first. It is difficult to estimate maternal mortality, but important to know its extent in order to achieve improvement. In addition to estimating maternal deaths it is important to identify the risk factors that have adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes. For a more detailed discussion on Africa, open www.gfmer.ch/Endo/Course2003/Maternal_mortality.htm, and  www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/bpaper/maineng.htm; on the USA, open, findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20070825/ai_n19491054.

[5] For information on treatment of prisoners in the USA, open, www.sentencingproject.org/IssueAreaHome.aspx

[6] For full text of UN Resolution 63/155, open: daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/480/09/PDF/N0848009.pdf

[7] For full text of UN Resolution 63/156, open daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/480/15/PDF/N0848015.pdf