Towards a world without gender justice

(pic courtesy Diakonia)

Nearly 50 delegates gathered at the Koinonia Conference Centre from 3 to 5 November for a three-day residential conference on Gender Justice, whose aim was to encourage member churches to actively participate in the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence on Women Campaign.

There was a good mix of diversity - including race, age, gender and denomination.

Revd Phidian Matsepe, a Methodist Minister from KwaThema in Gauteng, led bible study sessions in which he concentrated on ‘hidden texts' or ‘texts of terror' in scripture, that is, those texts that people do not read during worship, for example, Judges 19 - the story of the rape of the Levite's concubine.

He used a method of decontextualisation and then creatively led the delegates as they endeavoured to recontextualise the same texts. By so doing, he was advocating for an alternative interpretation of the biblical text.

The keynote speaker, Dr Pregs Govender, led the delegates into silence and provided space for them to get in touch with their own dignity. Dr Govender shared that people cannot work for gender justice unless they have a sound understanding of their own worth. She also created space for reflection on the ‘woman who has loved you deeply' in your life.

A session on inclusive worship opened up a new way of thinking about worship for many of the delegates. In groups they discussed how Christians exclude other people from worship.

Examples of such exclusion include, among others, absence of wheelchair facilities for the physically challenged, use of languages that some do not understand, the music played often exclude young people, unmarried single parents are often excluded from Holy Communion, and mourning widows are often relegated to the back row of the church.

The issue of how Christians address God was also raised and delegates were asked to consider alternative titles for God, other than the commonly used patriarchal ‘Father' and ‘Lord'. Delegates were then involved in writing inclusive prayers, re-reading a passage from the bible or writing a verse or a song.

They had the chance to design their own messages on a square of calico, which formed a banner for this year's 16 Days of Activism campaign.

These messages embrace gender equality and make statements about ending rape and violence against women and children.

The banner was displayed at both Diakonia's services on 25 November and 10 December. It was also used to raise awareness at Mpanza Road Sport Ground in Lamontville, where Diakonia was sharing in a community event in the township on 4 December.

(Press Release by the Diakonia Council of Churches and used by permission.Visit them at www.diakonia.org.za.)