Two weeks ago, I had the wonderful experience of joining the Micah Women Leaders Delegation to Canberra. I was one of 40 women church leaders, representing over 35 churches and organisations, who had 45 meetings with politicians on our day in Parliament.
We were there to advocate for women and children in the Pacific where nearly 87 percent of children, and one in four adolescent girls across eight countries, experience physical violence regularly, while one in 10 experience sexual violence, according to a recent report from Australia’s leading aid and development NGOs.
It was an opportunity to urge the Australian government to focus on development that empowers these women and children and reinforces the existing partnerships between the Australian and Pacific church.
And it was exciting to hear about the progress the churches have already made to confront these issues.
Back in 2012 in Papua New Guinea, two leading Pacific theologians addressed the issue of gender equality at a Church Leaders Council as part of an Australia Aid funded program. The presentation challenged a patriarchal interpretation of the Bible that men are to exercise ‘headship’ and women are to be submissive, views used to justify violence against women and children.
At that gathering the male church leaders were deeply moved, and they committed to lead change within their churches. Since then they have worked with Helen Vavia, from the United Church in PNG, and Uniting World, the overseas development arm of the Uniting Church, to develop a PNG contextual Gender Equality Theology. Despite their doctrinal and structural differences, this theological approach has now been fully endorsed by all seven mainline denominations.
As we met with politicians two weeks ago, PNG theologians were meeting with church leaders from around the Pacific in Fiji to write Gender Equality Curriculum to be registered and made available for teaching in theological colleges and schools, across denominations, regionwide.
It was wonderful to be able to celebrate and champion the work of these churches that is making an incredible difference to the lives of women and children in our region.