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Faith connections an important tool in combating gender inequality

Melbourne Anglican reflects on 65th UN Commission on Status of Women

By Chris Shearer

Faith communities are an important part of the conversation about gender equality around the world because of the way faith shapes people’s “norms, practices and structures”.

This was one of the key messages shared by Melbourne’s Robyn Andréo-Boosey, Manager of the diocesan Prevention of Violence Against Women (PVAW) program, during the 65th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) that was held online from 15-26 March. 

Ms Andréo-Boosey, who was selected to represent the Australian Province of the Anglican Church as part of the eight-woman Anglican delegation to the UNCSW, spoke as part of an event held in conjunction with the UNCSW organised by the Anglican Communion and Mothers Union entitled ‘What’s faith got to do with it?’.

What was important to understand, she told TMA, is that faith plays a role in the lives of the majority of people around the world, and therefore needed to be part of the wider conversation about gender inequality. 

 “Faith communities shape people’s norms and practices and structures,” she told TMA. “We have influence in that way. So for example, people go to church to learn, to reflect and to prayerfully consider ‘How can I live my faith more and better?’, so it’s a space where we can be positive agents of change for our own faith communities. 

“Also we’re often quite involved with our local communities, and so we can also be a positive agent of change in spaces like our play groups and youth groups, marriage courses, food banks and those activities where we are engaged in the community. 

“We can have a really positive impact, so we need be included and part of that solution.”

Ms Andréo-Boosey said it was the partly the role of the Anglican delegates to remind secular organisations dealing with gender inequality that they were working towards the same thing, and that forming partnerships together would help achieve their shared goals.

“That’s important because there has been a historic distrust between some secular organisations working for gender equality and the Church, because the Church hasn’t always treated women fairly or respectfully,” she said. “So part of our role is to rebuild that trust and build partnerships.” 

“God’s intention for us … [is to] care deeply [about] injustice, so it’s important for the Church to take part and be part of the positive movement for change. This is all relevant to the Anglican Communion because it’s part of the fourth mark of mission: to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and pursue peace and reconciliation.”

The 65th UNCSW coincided with increasingly public conversation about women and respect in Australia, after the Federal Government was rocked by several high profile allegations of sexual misconduct. In mid-February former Liberal party  staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office in 2019, and soon after Attorney-General Christian Porter revealed himself as the Cabinet minister accused of rape in 1988 in a letter sent to several prominent politicians, including the Prime Minister. Then in mid-March, a Coalition staffer was sacked after an alleged lewd act in a female MP’s office. 

The incidents have raised questions about the culture in Parliament, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week vowing to make changes and welcoming a focus on “the rubbish” that women have endured. 

Ms Andréo-Boosey said the public discourse in the weeks following Ms Higgins’ allegations had been “quite revealing”.

“Even though Australia has been one of the first countries in the world to have a national preventing violence against women framework, and there is a lot of good trailblazing work happening here, when you see those conversations happening you do realise there is a lot more work to do,” she said. 

“I think the public outcry and the number of women sharing their stories in a kind of ‘Me Too’ type way, it’s shown how prevalent and urgent this issue still is, and it’s really important for the Church to be equipped to be positive agents of change in this space. I think it shows women across the nation are exhausted and are really desperate to be heard and are really desperate for change, and that we’re just carrying that heavy weight and that we really need our brothers to listen and come and find a solution with us.

“I think what we need to be doing is listening to women, believe them, and amplify their voices and calls to change by adding our voices. The Church needs to be a part of that conversation.”

 

The PVAW program is holding a ‘Preventing Violence Against Women’ forum on Saturday 15 May. Click here to book a seat