A forum to open the way for secular and faith-based agencies and Churches to work collaboratively toward gender equality and the reduction of violence against women in the Pacific is being hosted by UnitingWorld in Suva from 12 to 13 May. The “Bridging the Gap Forum” is part of UnitingWorld’s Pacific-wide Partnering Women for Change Program, co-funded by the Australian government through the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.
According to UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser, “There are many agencies doing fantastic work in addressing gender inequality and violence against women across the Pacific. However at times there is a disconnect between the work of secular agencies and Churches. In a context such as the Pacific, this can hold back progress.” Secular human rights agencies such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and FemLINK will attend the Forum alongside faith-based organisations and Churches.
Rev Dr Cliff Bird, a prominent Pacific Theologian from the Solomon Islands and UnitingWorld’s Pacific Regional Coordinator, will deliver the Keynote Address. He highlights the need to bring together the different approaches of agencies working for human rights, noting in a context where up to 95% of people are Christian (with Fiji being at significantly lower percentage), there is not a strong understanding of human rights concepts, especially for the 60 to 80% of the population that live in isolated and rural parts of the Pacific.
“On the one hand human rights are seen by many ordinary Oceanic peoples as foreign, making claims that are seen as overtly individualistic, unbiblical and unchristian,” says Rev Dr Cliff. “On the other hand, some human rights organisations and agencies see churches and religions in general in negative ways: harbouring church members who perpetrate violence against women and children; condoning, perhaps even justifying violations of human rights within the family, community and church settings, through acts of ‘forgive and forget’ for instance.” The Forum will make space to bring these viewpoints together while allowing women’s voices to be heard and to shape responses.
Ms Sheona McKenna, from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will open the forum on behalf of Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twomey. Ms McKenna noted ‘exploring the theology of gender is important because theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world. Theology is a key sphere where gender is explored and the voices of church leaders across the world are powerful in shaping social norms and practices.’
Ms Colleen Geyer, the first female General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia will also address the Forum. “Our understanding of all people as made in the image of God also recognises the importance of women in leadership, just as God’s grace is for all people. When we share in ministry and leadership, our shared gifts and skills contribute to a more whole community” says Ms Geyer.
UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program works with partner Churches and ecumenical networks to review traditional patriarchal views of the bible in favour of an inclusive and equality biblical framework, as well as working closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.
Dated: 9th May 2016
Contact: Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756