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Challenging gender inequality

How faith communities can stand up against gender inequality and provide support for survivors of gender-based violence

Written by Vanessa Barbosa 2023

Two young women walk into a small, concrete church in rural Brazil

Young women enter a rural church in Fonseca, Brazil. Photo: Tom Price-Ecce Opus/Tearfund

In Burundi, a smiling man stands in the middle of a group of seated women who are dressed in colourful clothes

From: Peace and reconciliation - Footsteps 121

Actions we can take to help build peace and foster reconciliation in our homes and communities

After eight years working as a social worker in Brazil, I strongly believe in the potential of faith communities to help reduce inequalities that affect the lives of women. 

Many of these inequalities have been passed down to us through family and community culture, and we see them as normal. In churches, there is often little reflection on this, which is a mistake.

Global problem

Gender inequality means that women and girls are valued less than men and boys, and this can lead to abuse and violence. Globally, one in every three women will experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Many will then be stigmatised and blamed, making it difficult for them to live dignified and full lives in their families, workplaces and communities. 

During disasters or armed conflict, women and girls become even more vulnerable. At these times it can be easier for people in positions of authority to abuse their power, and sexual violence may be used as a weapon of war.

Places of refuge

In a crisis, churches and other places of worship often become places of refuge. It is therefore essential that faith leaders and members of congregations take the time to discuss and understand why women suffer from various forms of discrimination and violence, and the impact of these in their communities. 

Alongside this, leaders and congregations must identify, challenge and try to change any unhelpful patterns of behaviour or wrong attitudes in their own lives. They can then work out how best to provide people affected by sexual and gender-based violence with the welcome, care and support they need. 

A Brazilian husband and wife with their arms around each other smile and laugh

Pastor Armando Hernández Puac, seen here with his wife Concepción Mendoza Choché outside their home in Guatemala, is a Gender Champion in Tearfund’s Transforming Masculinities programme. Photo: Caroline Trutmann/Tearfund

Key ideas for faith communities to consider:

  • Train leaders in how to respond to gender inequality and incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, including how to welcome and support survivors. 
  • Speak openly about gender inequality, injustice and gender-based violence in sermons and meetings, using examples from scripture to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours.
  • Develop a series of regular activities that people in vulnerable situations can easily join in with, for example arts and crafts, sports, cooking, singing or drama. This will help people to feel welcomed, accepted and respected.
  • Create peer discussion groups where people can speak openly about their experiences in a safe place. 
  • Equip men to be champions for the rights of women and girls.
  • Develop a referral system with health professionals and public service providers who can offer specialist physical and emotional care when needed.

Transforming Masculinities

Tearfund’s Transforming Masculinities approach aims to end sexual and gender-based violence by changing harmful beliefs and attitudes that uphold gender inequality.

Using examples from scripture, faith leaders are trained in the approach and are supported through their own journey of transformation. They then speak out in their communities, sharing positive messages in sermons and modelling ways of being a man or a woman which value both sexes equally. 

These faith leaders select one man and one woman in their community to become Gender Champions, who are trained the same way. These champions facilitate discussion groups where men and women can reflect on their own beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, as well as those of their families and communities. 

Participants often talk about how the programme is helping their families to become stronger, how violence is stopping, and how women and men are thriving together. As they share their stories, this encourages more people to choose to adopt behaviours and attitudes that support equality.

Written by

Written by  Vanessa Barbosa

Vanessa Barbosa is a social worker and a member of the executive board of the Rede de Mulheres Negras Evangélicas (Network of Evangelical Black Women), working in the field of gender justice and anti-racism

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