Being made male or female should be a gift of God, not a weapon of oppression says a new paper by Christian Aid, Of the Same Flesh: exploring a theology of gender.
The paper examines how global poverty affects women more than men and explores how Christian theology can provide a positive vision of gender which can make it a blessing, not a curse.
Author the Rev Dr Susan Durber, Christian Aid’s Theology Advisor, said: "many Christian Aid partner organisations in developing countries are transforming the way in which gender is lived in their communities through engaging in theology and working with church leaders.
“Christians believe that our being made ‘male and female’ is a gift of God, and should be experienced as joy for humankind. It is a scandal then that our gender is so often experienced not as joy, but as a place of oppression.
“When it becomes a source of persecution and fear, this is a distortion of God’s intention for creation. From machismo cultures that skew masculinity, to the striking evidence of the poverty and exclusion of women, there is a sense that the world is not as it should be in relation to gender. This is the common tragedy of humankind, but it is also the particular pain of the most poor and vulnerable.”
The statistics on the plight of women are stark. Women comprise half of the world’s population but the majority of those living in absolute poverty today. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80 per cent of women work in vulnerable employment and globally, time spent on unpaid care work by women can be more than ten times that of men. Women are only 22 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians, though they as much as men are subject to the decisions that parliaments make. In addition, 35 per cent of women around the world will experience sexual violence or violence perpetrated by a partner.
The paper begins with what Christian Aid’s partner organisations say about how gender is experienced in the world and its connection with poverty, but then engages this experience with the Scriptures and the Christian tradition. Dr Durber highlights key scriptural texts which, though written into biblical cultures in which gender injustice was the norm, emphasise that men and women are both made in the image of God and are of the same flesh, both with dignity and value. She finds, again and again in the Christian tradition, a radical re-imagining of gender that confounds what usually happens in human cultures and communities.
She said: “Turning to the Scriptures to shape a theology is not a straightforward process and interpretation should never be simplistic and naive. We need to read with care and learn how to become interpreters who can find the blessing within, behind or even sometimes apparently against the grain of the text.”
With the Church of England celebrating women bishops legislation earlier this month and the recent Girls’ Summit in London discussing FGM and forced marriage, the issue of gender is increasingly on the global agenda.
Dr Durber said: “Theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world.
The Bible says that God made humankind in God’s image, male and female. This is not a generalised banality about an abstract ‘sameness’, but a radical celebration of a difference that should be strongly rooted in equality and justice.”
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