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 four countries. This past financial year, 23,109 men and women engaged with our gender equality program.
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