Methodist Church in Fiji Circuit Minister, Rev Uluilakeba Ligiraki, was one of 26 leaders who attended a workshop on Gender Equality Theology, run by the church in partnership with UnitingWorld.
He found the training confronting, challenging his whole perspective about gender and what the Bible has to say about positive human relationships.
“I used to have the perspective of male‑dominant rule in the family, and issues of gender were confronting to me, but after the workshop my perspective of seeing things changed,” said Rev Ligiraki.
“It drastically changed my thoughts and behaviour. Before, I used to see household chores as female work but now my wife is happy to see me helping her out in washing the dishes, ironing my children’s uniforms in the morning, cooking and other little tasks. My wife has spoken to me about the changes that she has seen in my life, and [that] she is happy about it. I really thank God for that.”
This change of perspective has also become a part of his preaching and work as a Circuit Minister.
“I now view violence against women as one of the most important issues to address especially in the church. I am doing it through preaching, teaching and talanoa sessions,” Rev Ligiraki said.
“Women in the church have now positively voiced out their opinions and men are willing to accept to hear from them in a respectable manner. That wasn’t the norm before in the circuit that I now serve.”
Photo: Methodist Church in Fiji Gender Equality Theology (GET) Minister, Rev Noa Turaganivalu presents Circuit Minister Rev Uluilakeba Ligiraki with his GET Advocate and Trainer certificate.
Thank you to everyone who has donated to our appeal to help our church partners end family violence through Gender Equality Theology. At time of writing, we’re just over two thirds of the way to reaching our $90,000 goal.
Our church partners in Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Solomon Islands are reaching out in faith to shift community norms and behaviours that allow or excuse family violence, to prevent it long before it has the chance to happen. They are doing it using the heart language of the Pacific, where upwards of 90% of people identify with a Christian faith.
Since 2012, we’ve been supporting our Pacific partners in a unique and powerful approach, addressing the root causes and breaking cycles of violence that go back generations, through gender equality theology.
The results are incredible. There’s exciting change happening in our partner churches: hearts moved, lives transformed away from violence, families and communities made safer. Read more
Here, some of our partners share about the impact of gender equality theology in their lives and communities.
And you can see it for yourself! Download our Gender Equality Theology Resource Pack here.
We need your support to continue this life-changing work.
This program was previously supported by the Australian Government, but the grant expired in 2021. Your support will help us continue this powerful and unique work to end family violence, led by our Pacific partners. We hope to raise $90,000 to keep it going strong.
Mereani Nawadra, Methodist Church in Fiji and Pacific Conference of Churches
“What does peace mean to me as a woman? Peace is gender equality. Peace is education. Peace is freedom from violence and oppression. Peace is being able to walk on the streets of Suva without the fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted.”
Pastor Lima Tura, United Church in the Solomon Islands (centre)
“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”
Pastor Nippy Aiong, Presbyterian Church Vanuatu
“Many people don’t believe until they study the Bible notes we make [on gender equality] and then they say, ‘Oh! There is something here for us!’ And they are accepting women as equals. I cannot tell you what a change this is for us.”
Rev Dr Cliff Bird, United Church in the Solomon Islands
“Statistics on violence against women and girls and children are shocking… they must lead [us] to actions that counter the evil head on. It is people who construct cultures, it is also people who can and must change cultures that dehumanise and deny certain groups of people their God-given humanity, dignity and equality.”
Bairenga Kirabuke, Kiribati Uniting Church
“Rates of violence are too high, and people need to choose a more peaceful way. It starts with small things: men being more helpful, sharing the load, considering others. That can be a good first step. I hope we can take the message of Gender Equality Theology to all the outer islands of Kiribati.”
Growing up, Rev Noa Turaganivalu had a typical life for a boy in Fiji.
He was raised in a rural village on a small, remote island, played a lot of rugby and went away to a boarding school (where he played more rugby). And as the only son in a family of six, he was always regarded as ‘first’ and ‘above’ his three sisters.
“It’s been a cultural and traditional norm for the male to come first and be at the top of everything we do. That’s how I was raised. … I was taught that being a man meant to be strong, and women were inferior to men,” says Rev Noa.
It is no secret that such norms can be a factor in the prevalence of violence against women everywhere. In the Pacific, where the vast majority of people identify as Christian, Pacific churches have a huge role to play in ending violence.
Today Rev Noa is an ordained minister and, supported by UnitingWorld, is a champion of gender equality for the Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF). But it’s been a long journey to where he is now, Rev Noa admits.
The patriarchal mentality he grew up with continued into his marriage.
“Back then I tried to take ownership of my wife. I was abusive and she can tell many stories of how I used to treat her,” Rev Noa says.
The journey to change for Rev Noa started at theological college but wasn’t fully developed until he was confronted by the theology of gender equality expressed by Solomon Islander theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Rev Siera Bird, and others.
Before embracing his post as Gender Equality Theology (GET) Minister for MCIF, Rev Noa spent an entire year grappling with the gender equality Bible studies and other resources, first reading and meditating on the ideas, and then starting to enact them in his life.
“As I looked deep into the theology, it was something that transformed me: The way I see the world, the way I see my wife and my children and the way I see others,” says Rev Noa.
“When we go out from the right interpretation of the Bible, that men and women were created in the image and likeness of God, that does not allow you to do any harm or abuse to anyone.”
Rev Noa says his life has changed in a way that makes him proud as a husband, father and grandfather.
“I can now respect my wife for who she is, her dignity and also my children and grandchildren. They can tell the story of my transformation in the way I speak and the way I act now.”
Supported by UnitingWorld, Rev Noa has been travelling throughout Fiji, preaching at churches and fellowship groups, running workshops, training ministers and lay leaders and changing hearts with his powerful testimony as he teaches the biblical basis for gender equality and anti-violence.
It’s busy, hard work. But Rev Noa says things are changing before his eyes.
“The ball is rolling. Slowly, because this work is countercultural and counter-traditional,” he says.
“Thank you all in the Uniting Church for your partnership. We need your prayers and support as we try to bring peace and stability to our nation and our world.”
We Need Your Help!
This program was previously supported by the Australian Government, but the grant expired in 2021.
Over the coming months, we will be sharing stories and fundraising to continue this powerful and unique work led by our Pacific partners. We hope to raise $90,000.
More than 70% of women in the Pacific experience violence at the hands of a man in their lifetimes.
With the vast majority of people across the Pacific self-identifying as Christian, Pacific churches have been taking responsibility to speak up for the rights of women and girls, and calling out violence and inequality as a sin. As part of their mission to support the welfare of communities, churches have been using biblical teaching to encourage men and boys to understand that gender justice sets people everywhere free to live life to the full.
While many countries in the Pacific escaped the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and economic slow-downs placed additional pressure on communities already at risk of gender-based violence. UnitingWorld supported partner churches to step up their efforts to protect women’s safety and autonomy during a season of extreme crisis.
Pastor Dorothy remembers being astonished by the idea that God’s vision for humanity included equality between women and men.
“I attended my first workshop in December 2018 with Rev James Bhagwan from Fiji, who opened the Bible to show how gender equality is part of God’s plan for us,” Pastor Dorothy remembers. “It was incredibly eye opening. I had never seen it before, and it had certainly never been taught in theological college.”
Pastor Dorothy is now the Gender Equality Theology Minister with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu in a part of the world where women are too often held back from reaching their full potential. Men are the traditional gatekeepers of power and authority, and women have often been regarded as possessions, to be disciplined in whatever way a man chooses.
“The work we do is critical and allows me to help all different groups of people–clergy, administrators, congregations and children–to understand how equality between men and women is part of the Biblical story,” Pastor Dorothy says. “We work together to make practical changes like stopping family violence and giving women opportunities to lead in our homes, families, churches, communities and nation.” The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is actively evangelistic, and has oversight of schools and colleges, as well as a theological college to equip its ministers.
Like many Pacific nations, Vanuatu is constantly threatened by natural disasters and their impacts on people’s livelihoods and the wider economy. Alongside the gender justice work, the Presbyterian Church also educates people about the need to be prepared for and actively work against climate-related disasters.
“As a church we draw inspiration from John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and life in abundance,” says Pastor Dorothy. “That means the gospel is relevant for every aspect of life. Jesus is a very practical saviour for humanity, a man of justice and compassion.”
UnitingWorld supports this Pacific-contextual biblical teaching, developed and led by respected Pacific theologians, to work in and through churches to address violence and advocate for gender equality. It challenges the patriarchal ideas of ‘male headship’ and ‘wifely submission’ that often justify gender-based violence, countering them with Bible-based theology of gender equality and respectful relationships.
Ultimately, this work shifts behaviours by changing beliefs: churches develop equality and protection policies, and preach and model equality in their communities.
Between January and June 2020, UnitingWorld’s partners delivered Bible-based messages supporting national government health and domestic violence advice to 49,675 people across fourcountries. This past financial year, 23,109 men and women engaged with our gender equality program.
In the middle of preparing COVID-19 lockdown measures, Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga over 1-11 April. Reaching up to Category 5, the cyclone forced people into evacuation centres where proper physical distancing became impossible.
Homes and food supplies were destroyed, resulting in what has been called a “double-disaster” for the people and communities affected. Below are some updates from our church partners.
TC Harold struck the Solomon Islands first as a Category 3 cyclone, damaging the food bowl region of Guadalcanal, damaging important crops and limiting the local food supply. As a member of the Solomon Islands Christian Association, the United Church in Solomon Islands has been part of an ecumenical response to address the short to medium-term shortage of food. This response has been funded through DFAT on the advice and request of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).
TC Harold intensified into a Category 5 as it made landfall in the northern Islands of Vanuatu. Espirito Santo, Pentecost, Malacula and surrounding Islands were hit worst. The Australian Government made funds available for a coordinated response between NGOs, local churches and the Vanuatu Government.
The ecumenical response is addressing the need for clean water and sanitation, non-food items and support to evacuation centres. Our partner the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu (PCV) has facilitated its own response by collecting food and non-food items from congregations in unaffected areas and directing these to communities that bore the brunt of the damage. They are working closely with the government on coordinating the distribution of the resources.
The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union has donated relief supplies towards the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to support the COVID-19 response. The requested supplies included soap, toiletries, clothes, candles, matches, food items and containers for storage.
One of the key lessons learned from Cyclone Pam in 2015 —and now being witnessed all over the world during COVID-19—is that the risk of violence towards vulnerable people increases during such crises. This includes violence against women, girls and children; domestic violence, violence against people with disabilities and the LGBTIQ community. The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union of PCV are increasing their efforts to address this violence, especially within cyclone-affected areas during their distribution of collected goods. If you would like to support this aspect of the response and help our partners keep people safe, click here to donate now.
After Vanuatu, TC Harold lowered to Category 4 and moved towards Fiji, striking Vitu Levu and the country’s eastern islands. At the time, Fiji had recorded a small number of COVID-19 cases so maintaining physical distancing was vitally important but almost impossible as people were forced into evacuations centres. Food supplies were damaged and road blockages hindered the response.
Our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji is responding to the needs of those in the most affected areas and have contacted UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) for support. We have responded through both a DFAT-funded ecumenical response as well as directly with our partners. After Cyclone Winston, MCIF in partnership with UnitingWorld and the UCA, established a Disaster Chaplaincy Network to help people work through the stress and trauma of disaster experiences. We will work with MCIF to refresh the training of this network in the light of this double-disaster and support the deployment of chaplains to support people work through the stress. If you would like to support this aspect of the response, please donate to our disaster fund here.
The Methodist Church of Fiji has donated relief supplies to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office to assist those affected from Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Before leaving the Pacific, TC Harold hit Tonga at Category 4. The tiny islands of ‘Eua and parts of Tongatapu were most affected. This comes after Cyclone Gita decimated these same islands just two years earlier.
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (WFCT) was able to utilise a building repairs storage facility constructed and stocked out of the Cyclone Gita response in partnership with UnitingWorld/UCA (see below pic). The building meant that they could begin the repairs to damaged buildings within the first days and weeks after the cyclone, rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from New Zealand.
FWCT has accessed a funding grant from the Australian Government to supply water tanks to vulnerable families affected by the cyclone and to support health and hygiene advice for COVID-19 prevention. They are also hoping this partnership will strengthen and they can expand the Disaster Chaplaincy Network to be ecumenical; reaching not just those communities affected by cyclones, but all the people struggling with the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19. If you wish to support FWCT in their response, please donate to our disaster fund here.
Across the Pacific, especially in the places affected by TC Harold and other disasters, people are asking important questions about where God is during these crises and what or who is to blame for them.
UnitingWorld is standing with all our partners as they grapple with these questions by collating Pacific-led theological resources and commentary for churches to lead their communities through these difficult questions and in responding with faithful action.
Her husband told her not to do it. Everyone in her community told her not to do it.
She did it anyway…
Mary went to college to begin training to become the first woman pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu.
It may seem like a small thing, but in a place where the dominant culture says that men are the leaders and women follow, you simply cannot imagine what a triumph this was, or how delighted I was to meet Mary recently and hear her story.
“I am one of seven children and all my life I wanted to serve God,” Mary proudly told me, as chickens scratched nearby. “In grade six, I passed all my exams – the only girl in my whole village. I went on to high school in Port Vila. I wanted to be a minister in the church.”
Top of her year right through to grade ten, Mary’s dream had been to go on to university and theological college. But she was set for heartbreak when her family chose her brother instead of Mary to be given the chance for higher education.
“I trained to be a schoolteacher, but I didn’t give up my hope of pastoral training,” Mary said. “And after a few years I went back to do a course through the theological college. My father told me not to continue. He said “People do not want this! They don’t want the women preaching and leading. It’s not our culture.” I told him ‘No Dad, this is my Christian faith. I need to do this. And if the young men can do it, why can’t I?”
Mary’s challenges will be familiar to you if you’ve read about our work in the Pacific before. It’s not just patriarchy that has held women back from opportunities and enabled high rates of domestic violence. Traditional readings of the Bible have also justified unequal power between men and women.
That’s why Mary’s determination to challenge the status quo, following her call into ministry despite the difficulties, is so significant.
“I finished my training and was sent to teach religious instruction at one of the high schools and also helped with theological instruction in a training centre, but I became very sick and had to return home,” Mary continued. “That’s when one of the local families suggested I marry, and introduced me to the man who would become my husband – they explained that I would have good support for my ministry and I was excited! We married and soon our first son was born.”
But the next few years continued to hold many challenges for the young family. Placements were hard to come by, and Mary was only offered remote areas in which to serve. Both men and women were uncomfortable with her leadership and it was considered taboo for her to speak in public or to be involved in decision making.
“As I studied more and more from the Bible, I began to ask questions of the village chiefs. ‘Why are women always treated so badly? Why should they suffer so much?’” Mary recalls.
“And as I took more leadership, my own husband began to spend more and more time away from home. Eventually he told me: ‘I have fallen in love with someone else. I have taken another wife.’ My heart was broken.”
Now on her own with three sons, there were few places Mary could turn to for support.
I’ve seen firsthand how difficult life can be for women and girls like Mary in the Pacific. Poverty and violence tighten like a noose on those without family networks because most women don’t work – they’re full-time mothers and wives. Vulnerable and often silenced, there simply haven’t been places for women to speak out or find support for their plight.
Stirred by their belief that equality between men and women is at the very heart of God, our church partners across the Pacific are taking action. In a culture where 90% of people identify as Christian, they recognise their influence to help end violence and create a future of dignity and equality for women and men.
The breakthrough – and with it, relief for women like Mary – really began with a meeting of leaders just a few years ago. Ministers, government leaders and lay people came together from across the Pacific.
Solomon Islander Reverend Dr Cliff Bird, alongside his wife Siera and using resources developed with the assistance of UnitingWorld, opened the Bible for the first time to this influential group to teach the richness of life available when we recognise the equality of both men and women.
Rev Dr Cliff and Siera Bird
The Birds taught partnership. They taught trust and cooperation.
They taught the truth found in Genesis that both man and woman are created in the image of the same God, with equal value and potential.
They taught the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus non-violently challenged the Pharisees and Scribes to prevent violence against the woman; “Where was the man who committed adultery?” they asked.
They taught Paul’s description to the Galatians about their unity and equal value in the eyes of God: “…there is no longer male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus.”
And they taught the freedom that can be found when men and women work together in partnership, unravelling how centuries of unquestioned male dominance was ruining the harmony God intended for us all.
Change is happening. For many, the teaching was a complete revelation. They’d simply never heard anything like it. Men openly wept. They recognised the way superiority feeds arrogance and seeds violence. And they asked for forgiveness. They were hungry for a new way to relate to one another and their community.
The men went back to their churches and communities. They began the slow and painstaking work of committing to address the systemic inequalities that characterised their lives, homes and institutions; making plans to live, teach and workshop their new knowledge.
In their own lives, they began to make small changes – listening to their wives, acknowledging their daughters, cleaning the house and taking a bigger role in their children’s lives. And they began to recognise acts of “family discipline” for what they were – often violent and abusive – within their communities and homes.
As we supported our partners to lead more workshops in their churches, we began to hear more of these stories, over months and years from across the Pacific. We realised that this was a way to address inequality and violence that cuts through at all levels.
A Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati, 2019
Incredibly, the work was recognised by the Australian Government. They saw that in many Pacific societies, one of the most effective ways to make change was by supporting churches to re-examine their theology, create advocates and communicate messages of equality through religious networks. They recognised the enormous potential that churches hold as agents of change in communities right across the Pacific. They’ve been a supporter of this work ever since, learning from our partners’ resources and experts.
We know this approach can make a difference to the lives of women and men in the Pacific; restoring equality, reducing violence and helping girls thrive. But we need your support. For centuries, the implicit and explicit teaching of church and culture has been that women are subordinate to men, with all the assumptions that go with it. Unravelling this mindset is long-term, difficult work. Click here to donate now.
In Vanuatu where Mary has struggled all these years, Pastor Nipi was one of many people to attend gender theology workshops for men and women we’ve facilitated with our partners over the past three years.
“I never knew what gender balance was or what it meant in relation to the Bible,” he told me. “At first I thought – what is this ‘gender balance’ they are talking about? We never believed men and women could be equal. But as I made my studies and we talked, I realised there is something there for me to learn! It has infected me! I like it!”
Once a sceptic, Pastor Nipi is now a colleague of Mary and one of many enthusiasts spreading the word about gender equality across the Pacific. He has now been tasked with preparing theological and practical resources for the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to lead the work with communities in remote and rural regions throughout the entire country. From unquestioningly assuming that only men had the power and skills to lead, he now believes that women have a vital and equal role to play.
“Working together, women and men can improve life for people in Vanuatu and the whole of the Pacific Islands,” Pastor Nipi says.
“We are using the radio, television and newspaper to talk about gender balance and what the Bible says and it has created such interest! Many people don’t believe until they study the Bible notes we make and then they say, ‘Oh! There is something here for us!’ And they are accepting women as equals. I cannot tell you what a change this is for us.”
Pastor Nipi says he’s had feedback from rural Vanuatu, high in the mountains and remote areas, that the material being produced is being read with astonishment. In plain language at the level people can understand, this teaching is a revolution in people’s lives.
Pastor Nipi, Vanuatu
In Vanuatu, we supported our partners to produce television commercials that call out violence against women as robbing men and women of the fullness of life that God offers. We’ll support more of our partners to do the same in their different contexts across the Pacific.
In Papua New Guinea, theological college students, both male and female, are excited to be attending our first workshops to learn exactly where and how Jesus valued the lives of women.
In Kiribati, we’re preparing plans to combat family breakdown and violence by teaching parenting skills that emphasise the equality and dignity of all people, as well as the rights and responsibilities of boys and girls.
In the Solomon Islands, our partners recently hosted their first gender equality theology workshops led by Solomon Islander theologians. As a result, church leaders took it to their national assembly and resolved that gender equality is a biblical imperative. We are now supporting them as they create contextually appropriate resources on gender equality and child protection and roll it out across their churches.
The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting
“Here is what I want women and girls to know,” Mary told me from the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting, where she was an eager participant.
“We can do this together. We can make this change. In the community, in our churches and in the government – we have an important role to play. And men? Do not criticise us. We can do this together. We can share the responsibility of leadership together.”
Mary continues to serve the church in Vanuatu, no longer on the edges but as a far more respected and integrated member of the community. Her challenges are far from over, but she has come further than she could ever have imagined. The Gender Equality Theology project has helped turn the tide and now many are following in Mary’s footsteps. Since the first workshops were held, a woman has been appointed as the first Presbytery Clerk (Lead Minister) and six more women have become pastors in the PCV.
Mary’s success shows that together we can turn tragedy into triumph.
Your gift today can provide our partners in the Pacific with the ability to facilitate workshops, train workshop leaders, produce training resources and create advocates for gender equality and anti-violence. We know it works. We just need the resources to make it happen.
In a world with far too much bad news, I pray you’ll join me in celebrating Mary’s achievements and supporting more women like her in the Pacific who are ready to overcome inequality and violence.
Mary’s triumph cost her dearly. But in a world full of tragedy, she’s absolutely determined to see more triumphs.
Dr Sureka Goringe
You can help our church partners change lives and end family violence with the biblical message of equality between women and men.
“90% of people in the
Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the
Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we
will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women
in our society.”
If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a
difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima
The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.
Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.
“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.
“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”
Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing
position as wonderfully inspiring.
“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.
“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”
The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.
“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”
In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible
study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church
circles. Lima will be among the attendees.
After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with
church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian
“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming
poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to
see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director
Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is
central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a
result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender
equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to
open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty
For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.
“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and
for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not
have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to
their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the
challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much
good here, but so many difficulties as well.”
THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.
The Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project has gone through two phases.
In the first phase of the project, we worked with RAK (Reitan Aine ki Kamatu – Women’s Fellowship of the Kiribati Uniting Church) to support the establishment of raised vegetable garden beds through resources and training.
Kiribati women identified this as important for three main reasons:
1. Food security With the increasing effects of climate change on their tiny islands growing food had become more and more difficult. With the rising sea levels, the fresh water table has become contaminated with salt water and is too brackish to grow most crops. Also, this sea-level rise has seen king tides and tropical depressions cause widespread regular flooding, damaging low level food crops.
2. Improved health As a result of the limited availability of fresh foods, people turn to the imported foods. These include a large diet of 2-minute noodles, excessively fatty cuts of meat (often deemed unsuitable for human consumption in Australia) and preserved sugary foods (as they last the long sea journeys to Kiribati). All this is resulting in national poor health and increased incidents of diabetes.
3. Increased usable income If the families and communities can grow more of their own food, they will need to spend less on the expensive, poorly nutritious imported food, thus releasing more income into the family budget for school and medical fees.
During the training activities on gardening, composting
and healthy cooking (developed and conducted locally), conversations about
healthy family and marriage relationships and the protection of women, girls
and children were facilitated. The learning from these conversations highlighted
specific community needs for families in Kiribati and our partners have been sharing
their insights with us.
Gender-based violence is a huge issue in Kiribati and young girls are particularly vulnerable. With Kiribati being so isolated, there is a steady flow of foreign ships into the port bringing supplies. Among communities with little income and high unemployment, young girls are vulnerable to trafficking.
We are currently in the early stages of the second phase of this project with RAK and Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC), which currently consists of 2 main aspects:
1. Theological training and resourcing of Pacific Gender Equality Theology for leaders across the church, women’s fellowship and youth groups. The aim is to shift the patriarchal paradigm and equip the church and its leaders to be able to engage effectively in conversations about gender, domestic violence, child abuse and exploitation with families within their communities. Our partners have identified this as an important part of building safe families in Kiribati.
2. Evaluation of the ‘healthy communities’ aspect of the project. We are working with our partners to identify the aspects of the garden phase that worked well and the reasons why it was less successful in some locations. We anticipate that after developing a better understanding of the factors that affect project impact, we can move to build on the foundations of food security and increasing people’s incomes, while recognising that it is both spiritual and physical needs.
As the theological training component of the project is the most active right now, the Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project is now part of the Pacific Partnering Women for Change project. We will post updates on both aspects of the project as we gather information and take the learning forward with our partners in Kiribati.
RAK Project Coordinator Bairenga wanted to say thank you for the prayers and donations of UnitingWorld supporters for enabling the work of our partners.
Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea
Salote and Jone have been married 11 years, members of a Christian church, and have two beautiful children. They love one another, but throughout their marriage they’ve had times of conflict and Jone has become angry, abusive and resorted to violence. Each time he pleads for forgiveness, vows to change and for a time makes good on his promise. Each time, violence returns. Salote wants to believe that everyone, with the love of God, can change, but she fears for her life and for the welfare of her children. She asks the advice of her Pastor.
This is the scenario a group of men and women are grappling with in a frostily air-conditioned room in the offices of the United Church of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, on a typically hot February day. They’ve come from all over the country – the Highlands, New Britain, Goroka – and they represent different denominations, universities and groups united by a common desire to see an end to violence against women. This week, their unexpected secret weapon is better theology.
“Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is a Christian, which completely underpins the culture,” explains University lecturer Theresa, who has come to be part of the Community of Practice meeting, seeking inspiration for her gender and social studies lectures.
“But most have only a shallow understanding of what the Bible really says about men and women. It’s enough for many men to believe their marriages are ordained by God, or that they are superior to women. In reality, there’s so much more to what the Scriptures say about the equality of men and women. Understanding this properly changes everything.”
Watching the group grapple with what advice a Pastor should give to the couple is an interesting experience. Earlier, a Bible study by Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll has unpacked a passage from Matthew about turning the other cheek – a concept that for decades has been part of the powerful brew holding faithful women captive in abusive marriages. Rev Dr Carroll, however, explains that in the culture of Jesus’ day, rather than passively accepting or inviting further violence, ‘turning the other cheek’ could quite literally have created a radically different dynamic between two people and restored a sense of equality and dignity.
The interpretation opens new possibilities in the room and creates a buzz that spills over into discussion and controversy around the case study. For some, the issue hits close to the heart. Women here have left abusive marriages of their own and are raising children while helping other women find safety from violence. This is no idle hypothetical. What’s certain is that for everyone in the room, this teaching of Jesus – fully explained, beautifully illustrated – has real authority and currency to change lives.
UnitingWorld is continuing to support the development of resources to teach Gender Equality Theology throughout the Pacific. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the Bible studies or helping provide invaluable financial support for the project, please get in touch. We’d love you to join us on this exciting journey with our partners!
UnitingWorld hosted its annual ﬁve-day workshop on Gender Equality Theology in early November.
Led by Pacific theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Siera Bird, ministers from partner churches across the Pacific met in Nadi, Fiji, to wrestle with biblical themes of equality and anti-violence. They discussed how principles from the Bible can be powerful forces for positive change in their communities, where violence against women continues to be a significant problem.
Participants expressed their appreciation for what they learned throughout the week and committed to taking the knowledge back to their home churches.
“The teaching tools have given me more clarification for deeper biblical analysis and identifying the root-causes of social issues,” said Rev Tomasi Tarabe, New Testament lecturer at the Davuilevu Theological College in Suva.
“I hope UnitingWorld continues to work with Pacific theologians on developing a methodology of reading and interpreting the Bible through our cultural lens.”
Participant Victoria Kavafolau, a theology student and newly appointed head of the Women’s Desk for the Tonga National Council of Churches, spoke about how her expectations for the event were turned around.
“Before I participated in the Gender Equality Theology workshop, I thought ‘oh, this is just another program advocating women’s rights.’ To be proven wrong was an understatement… Not only did it raise awareness about violence against women and children, but the workshop provided tools and resources for theologically interpreting and identifying gender equality within Scripture and how we can apply that to our relevant contexts,” said Victoria.
“This is an important area within our respective Oceania communities to be addressed and enriched. We are in a different era now with different worldviews and contexts. Our cultural values and customs often deter us from developing further perspectives on gender equality.
This program has impacted me at a personal level and has encouraged me to address this growing issue within my Tongan community. With the aid of UnitingWorld and the tools and resources they have provided me, hopefully change can be implemented according to the will of God. Praise be to God.”
The Partnering Women for Change project is supported by the Australian Government through the Paciﬁc Women Program.
Photo: Victoria Kavafolau (right) with UnitingWorld Program Manager Megan Calcaterra and Rev Lima Tura, a previous UnitingWorld scholarship recipient who is now a lecturer at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Megan Calcaterra.