Side by Side founding symposium

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In March 2015, representatives from seventeen international faith-based organisations, ecumenical networks and faith institutions met in London to discuss the case for strengthening the global faith movement for gender justice. It was agreed that the moral and theological rationale for gender justice needs to be clearly articulated and that our gender should be seen as a gift and source of life.

The overwhelming majority of the world’s poor are women. We live in gender inequitable societies which have stunted human social, political, economic and spiritual development – not just for women and girls, but for men and boys too.

With 70% of the world’s population claiming to adhere to a faith, the participants agreed that faith leaders and faith-based organisations have a crucial role to play in ending gender inequality.


However, while many faith leaders are playing a positive role in support of gender justice, there is inconsistency, both geographically and socially.


The Workshop identified relational, organisational and societal factors which impede faith leaders from addressing gender justice. Whilst gender champions do exist within faith institutions, they often fear negative sanctions from their peers, institutions or societies. They are often in a minority and feel isolated, lack incentives to prioritise gender justice and have no safe space to discuss the issue with peers.

Most faith leaders have not been sensitised to gender injustice and remain unaware both of the moral and theological imperative of gender justice and of their great potential to challenge and change harmful gendered social norms.

Faith-based organisations and donors have also been slow to acknowledge the potential of faith leaders to address gender injustice. This, in part, is due to a lack of evidence of the positive role that faith leaders and faith-based approaches can play in building gender justice across a full range of sectors. The Workshop also highlighted the reluctance of many governments and women’s rights organisations to work with religious organisations.

The Workshop concluded that faith-based NGOs are uniquely placed to bridge the gap between stakeholders, and help all parties to understand what their relative roles could and should be in mobilising a faith-based response to gender justice.

It also acknowledged that faith-based NGOs have not always been models of gender equality, and that they too need to demonstrate a commitment to gender justice before asking others to do the same.


The Workshop recognised the need to encourage faith leaders to both want to address gender justice, but also to see it as a vital issue they must address. This will require a combination of pressure from below and from above, i.e. campaigning for gender justice by people of faith to their own faith leaders, and pressure from senior faith leaders to other ministers.

Practical measures may include instituting codes of conduct for all clergy, commissioning gender audits and developing national faith-based action plans for gender justice. Faith-based organisations can play a significant role in convening and encouraging faith leaders to do more for social, political and economic justice through the entry point of gender.


What is the way forward?

The Workshop concluded that there is much more that can be done to strengthen the global faith movement for gender justice, to deepen and broaden its contribution towards achieving just and equitable relationships between women and men.

However the task – of mobilising faith leaders to take affirmative action on gender justice at scale and depth is huge. In practical terms this will mean faith leaders, faith institutions and faith based organisations working more cooperatively and collaboratively to enhance a common understanding of the significant contribution that faith leaders can make to gender justice, and to build their capacity to take action. This in turn will require a scaling up of human, financial and technical resources dedicated towards the task. No single agency currently has this task or capability.

The Workshop concluded that a new framework should be established to strengthen and help coordinate the current global faith movement for gender justice. This will include shared values, principles, aims and objectives and a common vision of gender justice for all. To this end, a multi-agency inception group has been formed to begin to formulate what this might look like, and how it might come about.

Participating Organisations

Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy; Anglican Communion, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Church of Ireland’s Bishops’ Appeal (rep), Church of Scotland (rep), Church of Sweden (rep), Dan Church Aid, Finn Church Aid, International Anglican Women’s Network (rep), Islamic Relief, Norwegian Church Aid, Progressio, Restored, SEND Foundation (rep), Sonke Gender Justice, Lutheran World Federation

Read the symposium communiqué

Read the full symposium report

Posted by: Side By Side | Thursday, November 5th, 2015
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