Both/And: Some thoughts on change making for gender justice from a Lutheran perspective

both and

This past week, I was honored to attend the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York, New York with a cohort of ELCA young adults who want to be part of change making and the church. The priority theme of the event is “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.” As I sit here at my desk this Monday morning after, I continue to be inspired and moved and challenged by the posts here.

The theme for my blog post will be “Both and.” In one of our cohort debriefing sessions, we were invited to consider what our personal mission statements would be, so here is my work in progress:

I believe that people deserve the right and opportunity to understand and participate in the systems that govern their lives.

Moreover, I believe this often leads to seemingly conflicting situations where our Lutheran faith and heritage lends the “power of paradox”—the ability and vocational calling to be “both/and”—sinner and saint, free and bound.

This has been a guiding plumb line in my life and fits to support the reflections I offer here. And, because I believe in participation and understanding, each section will have an invitation for participation.

Both women and men.

In the creation of this cohort, we intentionally built a group of young-er women and men. There always seems to be a cry for more men’s participation and for raising more boys as informed, gender-just partners, and we intend to answer that call. Our group was strengthened and enriched by our brothers’ voices at the tables—causing us hard conversation and pause in conversation when we talked about inclusive language for God in worship—and laughter when we stood guard for our male counterparts who ducked into men’s restrooms converted to women’s spaces for the event.

Participate: Check out the UN Women’s new campaign, “HeforShe” (http://www.heforshe.org/) and “MenEngage” (http://menengage.org/) for practical first steps.

Both women’s rights and human rights.

Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are women’s rights. For the post-2015 agenda, the global community will wrestle again with the question of a standalone goal for women and girls (as it was for the MDG’s, goal 3) or a mainstreamed agenda that would undergird each goal. As part of the Ecumenical Women cohort, we advocate that we need both a standalone goal and the cross-cutting theme and measurables for the SDGs.

“We cannot achieve a world of dignity for all until we end gender inequality in all its forms.”

-Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General in opening address to the 58th UNCSW

Participate: Continue to follow the draft and final agreed conclusions from the 58th session to see where we end up.

Both justice for women and girls and gender justice.

Conversation at the UNCSW is becoming increasingly politically polarized around two issues:

  • sexual reproductive health and rights
  • “women and girls” versus “gender” language

While I will leave the formal definitions of the difference between biological sex and gender to other sources (read here from the World Health Organization), every person concerned with women and girls empowerment and gender justice ought to know that there are major hurdles to be overcome. In the 56th session of the UN CSW, the topic was “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.” The group never managed to reach the final document called the “agreed conclusions” because of a battle over the use of the word “gender” versus the use of the the phrase “women and girls” in its place.

As the global community looks to develop the post-2015 agenda sustainable development goals, we must be able to talk effectively and thoughtfully about sexual reproductive health and rights in terms of both “justice for women and girls” and “gender justice.”

The ELCA’s 2009 social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” offers some starting points for this conversation.

  • “We recognize the complex and varied situations people have relative to human sexuality […]. In whatever the situation, all people are called to build trust in relationships and in the community.” (p 7-8)
  • “The church acknolwedges with regret the way in which the misuse of historical teachings concerning sexuality has harmed individuals, deepened suffering, or torn families apart. […] Hate crimes and violence against those who are regarded as sexually different sometimes have been perpetrated publicly in the name of Christ. Not only must such behaviors be denounced, but this church must work toward greater understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.” (p 23-24)

Participate: Read the ELCA’s 2009 social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.” How can we continue helpful conversation in the face of increasingly “hot button” issues?

Both ally and advocate.

Merriam Webster provides the following definitions:

  • Ally [noun]: someone associated with another to give assistance or moral support
  • Advocate [noun]: a person who actively supports or favors a cause

The gender justice movement and this church’s specific calling to it needs allies and advocates. Most of us are both, but always depending on the situation. There is a time to be supportive and to give assistance to someone you know is passionate about a cause, but it is entirely another matter to stand for and actively support it unto oneself. We must find the courage and wisdom to be and become both.

Participate: Sign up for the ELCA advocacy network to receive legislative updates and follow the ELCA Justice for Women program (@ELCAjfw) on Twitter.

Both global and local.

“I’m a believer in local communities and practical problem solving. But we need serious political will and resources.”

-2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee

The “challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls” have global and local aspects, because we live in a globalized world. Women and girls are unable to access quality primary education in the United States and in the Central African Republic. Women and girls are still unsafe walking from their bus to their homes in Chicago and Chanai. Women and girls will be part of the solution to ending poverty and hunger in Bemidji and Bavaria. Our churches can be part of the movement here and through combined global efforts like that of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Participate: Check out the LWF Gender Justice Policy for ways to take local action in your congregation and community with the global Communion of churches.

Both passion and financial resources.

According to UNDP, six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tiling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking. There are many ways to support and give to a cause. Some can give of time and passion and others can give of financial resources and expertise. We need both passion and financial resources to make a difference for women and girls toward human rights.

“Only 7 percent of philanthropic dollars go to support women and girls.”

-Women’s Funding Network side event

ELCA World Hunger is committed to participating in this change making event to help bring some people’s gifts of financial resources to bear through the gifts of other’s time and passion for the empowerment of women and girls and gender justice.

Participate: 

Both charity and justice.

“The feminization of poverty is not answerable by social charity.”

-UN NGO Forum panelist

One of the common conversations within the ELCA World Hunger network is what I’ll call “charity vs. justice.” But the more we talk about it, the more we realize there is a necessary place for both charity and justice.

In Matthew 25, people of the Christian tradition are shaped by Jesus’ parable to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned. These acts of charity are essential and part of Christian life. But as broken people living in a broken world, we know that God is consistently and constantly working to reconcile the world to God’s self, so that as it is said in Amos, “justice will roll down like the waters.” We are called to participate in both acts of charity and actions that point to and batter down systemic injustice.

Participate: Read Matthew 25: 31-40 and Amos 14-24. How can we as Christians and Lutherans find balance and purpose through acts of charity and justice? How can you engage your congregation in the conversation today? What other scripture passages are helpful to the conversation here?

Both strategy and culture.

“Culture trumps strategy all the time. So how do we create change?”

-UN NGO Forum Panelist

I opened this blog post by naming my belief that people deserve the right and opportunity to understand and participate in the systems that govern their lives. This line of thought often leads me to heavily favor strategy. After all, what is culture if not shaped and held up by strategy?

However, when the pervasive culture systematically and systemically works against over half the population—a change in strategy is necessary. Governments and civil society have a role to play. Family structures and gender norms have a role to play. CHURCHES have a role to play. We cannot continue to build good strategies and ignore our culture. Much less we cannot let our culture continue without righting of intentional strategy.

Participate: To learn more about the ways the ELCA strives to work through strategy and culture, check out the ELCA Justice for Women program.

Both ending and beginning.

The 58th UNCSW continues on this week and ends 21 March 2014. The ELCA Young Adult Cohort’s first experience has closed in one chapter and now begins in a new sense.

Look forward to more information about this collaboration between the four network of ELCA World Hunger, ELCA Young Adults, the ELCA Justice for Women program and the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission alumni network.

“We can and must do better because equality for women is progress for all! We must make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.”

-UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Mikka, ELCA World Hunger

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