[Europe.justus] The Status of Women in the Church and Society by One of Our Own...

bishop bishop at tec-europe.org
Fri Feb 17 11:27:17 GMT 2012


The Status of Women in the Church and Society

Written by Helen Mbele-Mbong	 February 13, 2012

Helen Mbele-Mbong

A Report from the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women

Girls are being sexualized at an inappropriate young age (for example, see Vogue Paris, January 2011 issue). Violence towards women and girls is emphasized in movies, music, and print media. (2012)

Throughout the triennium we have heard the distress of girls and young women trying to counter discrimination and harassment in their schools where sexual harassment and sexual assault remain pervasive in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. (2000)

Across the country, violence against women seems to be increasing as familiar social and family patterns change. (1991)

There was a low appreciation for the power of language in promoting stereotypes, or, conversely, in liberating men and women because of the general lack of prior engagement with the subject. (2006)

Obtaining sex-specific baseline data is prerequisite to any kind of effective monitoring of ordained women's numbers, deployment, and compensation. (1997)

Differences in compensation are also worrisome. (1991)

In the last decade, women have made remarkable strides in our church. ... The Called to Serve survey ... provides extensive data on the vocational realities of clergy women and men. Inequalities in compensation, career outcomes and opportunities have changed little since the 1990s. (2012)

These quotes, from Blue Book reports of the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women (ECCSW, here after the Committee), show the pervasiveness of inequalities concerning women. While some progress has been made, it is very difficult to overcome entrenched attitudes and behaviors in both our church and our society. The quotes are also indicative of the breadth of the Committee's concerns regarding the status of women, in our church structures, in our church in general, and in our society as a whole.

This breadth is one reason I have been glad to serve on the Committee. We cannot concern ourselves with the status of, say, clergy who are women, and not be concerned with the status of all the women around us. We cannot fight for the rights and care of women who suffer from violence and not be concerned with the language of our own church. We cannot speak out about the ingrained inequalities women face in the wider society without looking at the inequalities women, both clergy and lay, face within the church.

The Committee was established by Resolution A077 of the 1988 General Convention. Its responsibilities include: supporting and advising the Presiding Bishop on matters affecting the participation of women in the Church, including assisting in the identification of women for appointment to various Church bodies; serving as advisory body to the Office of Women in Mission and Ministry; maintaining advocacy for women's ministries, and for the justice issues which particularly affect women; and continuing the monitoring and analysis of patterns of women's participation in the Church.

Over the years, the Committee has taken up issues of violence, sexual harassment, and trafficking, producing materials for use throughout the church (Now that the silence is broken, the next step; STOP the violence against women); looked into the effects of HIV/AIDS, welfare policy, statelessness and fundamentalism on women; met with focus groups to discuss views on women's leadership in the church; worked with SCLM and others to advocate the use of inclusive language for people and expansive language for God; consistently spoken out for more equal participation of women at all levels of our church and equal treatment and compensation of women, both clergy and lay; pushed for a comparative study on careers, compensation and pensions for clergy women and men; applauded programs and progress made through efforts from the smallest community to the Anglican Communion and beyond. This triennium it continued to monitor activities in all of the above areas, particularly concentrated on tools and policies that can help overcome the persistent disadvantages faced by ordained women following the recently published results of the Called to Serve survey. The resolutions put before GC 2012 reflect the continuing broadness of the range of concerns.

Progress made to date has been achieved through persistent hard work on the part of the Committee, in close collaboration with the Office of Women's Ministry (or equivalent) at the Episcopal Church Office and the many Episcopal Women's Organizations, as well as liaison with the International Anglican Women's Network. The Committee's work was made harder this triennium when a women's desk at the ECC and funding for programs were discontinued. It is important to note that:

No other committee within the structures of the General Convention has as its mandate to watch, listen and act for the wellbeing of women and their full inclusion in all aspects of church leadership and ministry. (2009)

The women and men who have served on the Committee have been extraordinarily dedicated, often passionate. In the two triennia I have been on the Committee its members have included clergy who have been in the forefront of fighting for women's rights in the church and beyond; lay and clergy who have worked with various women's programs both within the church and within the community; lobbyists for women's rights; clergy deeply involved in studying the position of women within the church and society; clergy and lay who have thought long and hard about how our words and actions play out in the church; men who strongly feel the responsibility of men and the general attitudes of society for the continued mistreatment of women. They have been active at local, national and international levels. Some approach the problems in programmatic terms, some in legal terms, others provide more theological insight or are more spiritual in their approach. Both triennia the committee quickly coalesced into a strong and congenial working group, with members supportive of one another not only in our committee work, but in our lives and well-being.

I became a member of the Committee from an international angle. I have lived my adult life first in Cameroon and Burundi, then in Switzerland and France and have always been interested in problems of development, and in how the Church can and should interact with peoples from different traditions. Prior to being named to the ECCSW, I served for two triennia on the Standing Commission for World Mission (SCWM) and represented The Episcopal Church at the gathering of Anglican women in New York attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where, in 2006, I was elected to the Steering Group of the International Anglican Women's Network (IAWN).

In the four years I attended this gathering of Anglican women from throughout our Communion two things stand out. One is, sadly, that the problems women face are universal. As we told our stories, women from other parts of the Communion were amazed to hear of the very real difficulties immigrant women face and their lack of rights, of the extent of violence within the family and the difficulties of finding support and safety, as well as the lack of access to health care in the United States, all the more amazing as to some, at least, the United States was expected to be a place of comfort and freedom. All of us were stunned by the stories of rape and violence in war-torn countries. And through all the stories, it was clear that women and girls everywhere had to struggle to gain access to education, health care, reproductive rights, legal equality, ... What was the church doing about it? In some cases, a lot. In some cases, not nearly enough.

The other thing was that, with all our differences – in theology, in church practice, in culture – we were united as church women, women of faith, living out our faith for the betterment of women and children everywhere. As the Anglican delegates declared in 2007, there is nothing that can divide us in our common mission.

Through my experience on these committees I have learned and come to savor the value of meeting together, not just for effective accomplishment of the task at hand, but for the web of friendship and collaboration that is constantly woven. When we gather together we are doing more than attending a "business" meeting; we are furthering the network of God's people. In facing problems and recognizing successes, sharing stories of joy and sorrow, we are challenged to deepen our own understanding of our faith and we all leave more empowered to carry on the work. "Where two or three are gathered together, there will I be." Christ is incarnate through all of us as we gather and work together to fulfill the mission He has given us. And there is still work to be done.

Women's advances are never the product of a single convention or even generation but are built upon the efforts and witness of those who have gone before. (2006)

Helena Mbele-Mbong and her family joined Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Geneva, Switzerland, (Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe) when they first arrived there in 1984. Recruited into the choir before finding the sanctuary, over the years she has served on the Vestry and Outreach, many committees of the Convocation (receiving the Bishop's Award in 2001) and as Deputy to General Convention, the Standing Commission on World Mission, and the Steering Group of the International Anglican Women's Network as well as the ECCSW. Now retired from the World Health Organization she and her husband live in France just outside Geneva, with their 12-year-old grandson.

Pierre Whalon

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