faces of women and men

WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri acknowledged the years of thoughtful work that have gone into forming the principles, and added that the momentum increased during and after the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan. "Challenged by our experiences in Busan, we call all people – young and old, women and men, differently abled, people of different faiths – to engage their God-given gifts in transforming actions, together,” she said. We call first of all on the member churches and partners to walk together in a common quest, renewing our vocation of the church through collaborative engagement with the most important issues of justice and peace, healing a world filled with conflict, injustice and pain.”

The Gender Justice Principles are indeed the fruits of many years of work, agreed Harriett Jane Olson, general secretary and CEO of United Methodist Women, who led the WCC Gender Advisory Group.

We started with a review of the WCCs commitments to gender justice, expressed in the many statements, reports and engagements that the World Council of Churches has issued since the days leading up to its formation,” said Olson. We concluded that what was needed was not another document, even though each document builds on this rich history, but a practice-oriented approach.”

Because gender justice is positioned as a transversal within the WCC, the advisory group proposed—and the central committee approved—a scheme of supporting the commissions, governing bodies and reference groups of the WCC as they incorporate gender justice in four critical areas: Women (and men) in the WCC; Women in international affairs; Combatting sexual and gender-based violence; and Working with women and mens auxiliary groups and theological schools.

Representatives of the Gender Advisory Group participated in various meetings, were granted time on the agenda in some groups, and saw some good results,” explained Olson. However, it appeared that the work on gender justice was viewed as the assignment of our group, rather than a shared assignment influencing the whole work of the WCC.”

Olson further noted that, while many of us understand that we operate within gender-biased cultures, including within our theological traditions, few of us have the tools or the experience to consistently look at the gender implications of how we gather, and how we analyse the impact of the issues we address.

Reviewing these experiences led us to developing the recently adopted principles,” she said. They are stated in brief and focused language with the intention this would make them more accessible than a longer exposition.”

How will the principles be used?

WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca said that he believes the Gender Justice Principles will serve as valuable guidance for WCC staff and for member churches as they try to curb systemic injustice. The principles are more than a document—they are a guided call to us within the WCC to heighten awareness, correct historic inequalities, and protect our own teams from gender discrimination,” he said. These principles give voice to years of work behind the scenes that we can now carry forth in our daily endeavors.”

The principles include a section on Implementation that outlines some implications for WCCs Human Resources, including in orienting and training staff. It also calls for intentional use of the principles in organizing the work of the WCC and its reference groups, commissions and governing bodies, from the training of leadership to the facilitation of discussion,” said Olson. Of course, it also has implications for how programs are organized, how questions and terms of reference are framed and recognition of differential impact of issues in the church and in the world on women and men.”

The Gender Advisory Group, in its report, calls for review and evaluation of the implementation of the principles as part of the agenda of the WCC executive committee. We also made recommendations for the strengthening of gender justice as a transversal, to the end that every commission and reference group will understand this to be a component of their work as well as establishing a reference group for the Just Community of Women and Men to support this work following the WCC 11th Assembly,” said Olson.

A brief glance at two principles

All the principles are important but, as examples, Olson explained how two principles are not just words but tools for creative visioning and moving forward.

Principle # 7 Perspective – To ensure and promote gender justice perspectives in the staffing,

commissions, reference groups and governing bodies of the WCC. Gender perspectives recognise the socially constructed roles attributed to women and men which have sometimes been mistaken to be God-ordained” or natural.

Olson explained how this principle calls us to see differently, "to recognize when womens gifts and experiences are marginalized, and the activities and experiences of men are confined to narrow gender understandings.” This calls us to see that both women and men are made in the image of God.

Principle # 5 Praxis – To ensure that the devotional life, theological work, theoretical research and workplace ethics reflect a praxis of equity and equality within the staffing, programmes, commissions, reference groups and governing bodies of the WCC.

Olson said that, because we see differently, this principle calls us to act differently, to see where our patterns and habits reflect our cultures rather than Gods vision and to decide, individually and collectively to change.”

This is why the training and ongoing evaluation are so important, she added, because gender injustice is so normalized in our cultures, this is a process that takes time and reinforcement.”

Olson concluded that she is grateful to the WCC for its commitment to engage in this work. I also want to express my gratitude to the women and men of deep faith and commitment who have been part of the Gender Advisory Group,” she said. Each one brought insight, experience and wisdom to the effort.”

Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men, said that she celebrates the acceptance of the Gender Justice Principles while acknowledging the work of implementation that lies ahead. The WCC has long promoted gender justice within its programmes and statements,” she said. Now it is time to bring these principles home to ensure that we are proactively reaching for gender justice in our own house—in every space, every department.”

Gender Justice Principles with Code of Conduct