Gender Equality

When Jesus walked on the earth, he stepped into a world where Roman and Jewish gender stereotypes were deeply embedded. Cultural attitudes and behaviours exploited and controlled women. In this context, where leadership was seen as an exercising of authority over another, Jesus claimed that he ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Mark 10:42-45). His kingdom values upheld the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers, while issuing severe warnings to the power-hungry, the rich, and the unmerciful. He subverted the popular concepts of the kingdom by announcing that, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”[1] We see in Jesus’ everyday encounters with women, that he disregarded ingrained discrimination, protocols and damaging cultural norms and gently welcomed women’s discipleship (Luke 10:38-42), their conversation (John 4:1-26), their healing (Matthew 9:20-26), their company (Luke 7:36-50) and their witness (Luke 24:1-12). During his earthly ministry, Jesus simply upheld the designed equality of men and women, whom God entrusted as his image bearers at creation.

So God created mankind in his own image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves along the ground.”
(Genesis 1:26-27)

The radical nature of Jesus’ message and example 2000 years ago are still counter-cultural today. Being female today invites obstacles and challenges. For some, their birth may never come, because they have been selectively aborted;[2] for others, they may only live a few hours due to female infanticide. Others will face exploitation, subordination, and violence. Many, because of their gender, will have their talents unrecognised, will be forced out of work, will struggle financially, will suffer mental illness and will face an insecure future into their senior years. These injustices may be at the hands of an individual, a societal attitude, an economic structure or a political whim. Both the broader society and the church have at times restricted the participation, leadership and qualification of women in work and ministry. Such attitudes that subvert the call of God on women need to be brought under the servant-leadership authority of Jesus.

Our innate desire for hierarchy, for control and for greatness are served a mighty blow in Jesus’ response to his disciples who hungered for status. “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:44). While control and status demand the slave-hood of others, Jesus longs for us to see the inherent value and image of God in each other to the point where we willingly put the other first. And we are reminded that our unhelpful distinctions, which seek to elevate ourselves, have no place in his kingdom.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

Despite at times Paul’s writings being used to quash the participation of women in leadership and ministry, it should be noted that Paul ‘affirmed women leading in prayer and proclamation in church (1 Cor 11:5); commended Nymphia who lead a house church (Col 4:15), and greets Junia a woman apostle (Rom 16:7). In 1 Corinthians 12:28, he says, apostles are “first in the church”. Paul … was seeking to subvert patriarchy, not endorse it.'[3] ‘That the Holy Spirit gives to women the gift of leadership is hardly a matter attracting any debate.'[4]

God’s kingdom is a place of salvation, safety and participation for all. Where God’s gifts are given full expression, the community flourishes.

Gender Equality in Australian society has always had its place in political and social spheres, where great gains have been made in welcoming the participation of women. The suffragette movement in Australia, which resulted in non-indigenous women gaining the vote in 1902, captured the attention of the US. Since 1990, a flurry of political and social milestones have been reached. Despite the progress, cultural discrimination still thrives today, and we find a greater need and a greater appetite in Australian society to elevate the rights of women in the workplace, in political arenas and in the home.

Australian milestones in gender equality
1902 White women won the right to vote.
1962 Both Aboriginal men and women won the right to vote.
1978 The first ‘Reclaim the Night’ Rally, “with protesters marching to speak out against the violence experienced by women who walked alone at night.” It has since become and annual tradition in Australia.[4]
1983 “Australia signs the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), described by the United Nations as the “first international treaty to address the fundamental rights of women in politics, health care, education, economics, employment, law, property and marriage and family relations”.”[5]
1984 Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act is passed.
1990 Our first female state premier.
1990 Our first female director of a national institution.
2007 Our first female Governor General.
2008 Our first female Prime Minister.
2011 Our first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.[6]
2012 The launching of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.[7]

In 2017, Australia was ranked 35th on a global index measuring gender equality, slipping from a high point of 15th in 2006. While Australia scores very highly in the area of educational attainment, there is still a lot of progress to be made in the areas of economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment.[8]

Today, 82.7% of organisational leadership roles are held by men, despite data showing higher levels of educational engagement and achievement among women than men; including 34.2% of women aged 18-24 enrolled in a bachelor degree or above, compared with 25% of men.[9]

Australia enshrines equality between men and women while Victorians live under both the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act of 2010. These two acts make attempts to stamp out inequalities based on gender, however, discrimination and sexual harassment are still pervasive in workplaces and broader society. Economic policies and structures harmfully contributing to inequality still exist.

The Australian Human Rights Commission found that in 2018 a woman in Australia earns a full time wage that is 15.3% less than a man, and will have a superannuation balance that is just 58% of that of a man. “Women spend almost twice as many hours performing unpaid care work compared to men.”[10] Aside from policy, there are insidious social behaviours, attitudes and stereotypes that reinforce gender inequality, and contribute to one in two women experiencing sexual harassment during their lifetime, and one in three women experiencing physical or sexual violence from the age of 15.[11]

There are far-reaching affects of this inequality in our society:

  • It has been estimated that, on average, one woman every week in Australia is murdered by a current or former partner.[12] (Click here for more on Family Violence)
  • Couch surfing among older women has almost doubled [from 2013-2017] and there has been a similar rise in the number of older women sleeping in cars.[13] (Click here for more on Affordable Housing)
  • It is estimated that 80% of human trafficking victims are female and the majority are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation.[14] (Click here for more on Human Trafficking)
  • “A recent United States investigation … found women whose income was lower than their male counterparts had a nearly 2.5 times higher risk of depression and their likelihood of anxiety was four times higher than that of male counterparts.”[15] (Click here for more on Mental Health)
  • It is believed that 75% of elder abuse victims are female.[16] Studies show that, because of gender inequity, older women experience elder abuse and workplace discrimination more than men … Women tend to be viewed as less valuable as they age because they have different traits than those considered desirable in a woman: reproductive ability and conventional ‘attractiveness’.[17] (Click here for more on Ageing and Elder Abuse)

Internationally, the issue of gender equality has been recognised as of utmost importance, through the launching of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. ‘A defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern. Even 20 years later, it remains a powerful source of guidance and inspiration.’[18] The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon states: “This pivotal document continues to guide the global struggle against constraints and obstacles to the empowerment of women around the world”.[19]

More recently, gender equality has been included as a stand-alone goal in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”[20] As of 2014, 143 countries have guaranteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions but 52 have yet to take this step.[21]

Since 2013, Baptists, both internationally and nationally, have been vocal on the issue of gender equality, holding a strong focus on gender-based violence for their advocacy and practical support. In 2017, Baptist leaders from all around Australia met with federal parliamentarians advocating for a safer and more inclusive world for women,[22] and the need for reform in the family law system to protect family violence survivors and their children.[23] Later that year, the National Council of Australian Baptist Ministries released a Statement on Domestic and Family Violence, acknowledging the church’s historical failure to recognise violence, and to protect those who have suffered. The statement also serves as an apology to those who have had their pain and suffering ignored. It makes a commitment to increase the church’s awareness of domestic and family violence, to change culture within the church, and to provide greater support services and to maintain advocacy around the issue. For the full statement, please click here.

In 2013, the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance adopted a resolution on Gender Equality and Gender-based Violence, resolving amongst other things to ‘pursue initiatives leading to the achievement of gender equality in societies worldwide’ and ‘contribute to the empowerment of women and the protection of their human rights in all spheres of human endeavor.’[24] For a full reading of the statement, please click here.

A Just Cause (www.ajustcause.com.au)
“Our mission is to resource churches to exercise a prophetic voice calling for justice for those on the margins of our society.”

Common Grace (www.commongrace.org.au)
“Join the movement of Australian Christians seeking to live, speak and act more graciously, more compassionately, more like Jesus in today’s world.”

CBE International (www.cbeinternational.org)
“CBE International is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups.”

Our Watch (www.ourwatch.org.au)
Campaign to “End Violence against Women and their children”

No place for Violence here (A Just Cause) (https://ajustcause.com.au/no-place-for-violence/)
Australian Churches Responding to Domestic Violence
Campaign Objectives:
1. Internal Transformation: Equipping church leaders and church attendees to respond to domestic violence and shaping church cultures that mitigate against violence.
2. Graceful Presence: Churches sharing the grace and love of God in their communities in acts of care for women and children fleeing domestic violence
3. Prophetic Voice: Churches standing alongside people experiencing domestic violence, calling on governments to provide the community resources that are needed.

Common Grace (https://www.commongrace.org.au/16_days_of_prayer_details)
Common Grace has put together 16 Days of educational resources for the church community to use for educating itself and praying regarding domestic and family violence.

Common Grace (https://www.commongrace.org.au/churches_addressing_domestic_family_violence)
Common Grace has guiding prayers for individuals and communities highlighting the issues of domestic and family violence.

Common Grace (www.saferresource.org.au)
SAFER is an online resource produced to help churches support and prioritise victims of domestic and family violence, and know how to deal with perpetrators.

International Women’s Day, 8 March annually
International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October annually
White Ribbon Day, 25 November annually

Bibliography

[1] A Faith Reflection on Gender and Power, (Geneva, The Lutheran World Federation – A Communion of Churches, 2010), 31.
[2] “Could gender selective abortions be happening in Australia?” SBS News, last updated August 28, 2015, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/could-gender-selective-abortions-be-happening-in-australia.
[3] Giles Lynley, ‘Women in Australian Society and the Church’, Baptist Union of Victoria, 1 June 2017, https://www.buv.com.au/news/women-in-australian-society-and-the-church.
[4] Neville Callum, ‘Celebrating Women in Leadership’, Baptist World Alliance, 1 January 2017, https://www.bwanet.org/dialogue/entry/celebrating-women-in-leadership.
[5] “Milestones for Australian women since 1975,” ABC News, last accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-24/beijing+20:-milestones-for-australian-women-since-1975/6792126.
[6] “Milestones for Australian women since 1975,” ABC News, last accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-24/beijing+20:-milestones-for-australian-women-since-1975/6792126.
[7] ‘Ambassador for Women and Girls’, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, accessed 22 April 2018, http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/our-people/homs/Pages/ambassador-for-women-and-girls.aspx.
[8] Prime Minister and Cabinet, ‘Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012–2018’, 30 March 2016, https://www.pmc.gov.au/office-women/international-forums/australian-national-action-plan-women-peace-and-security-2012-2018.
[9] “Face the Facts,” Australian Human Rights Commission, last accessed April 22, 2018, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/education/face-facts/face-facts-gender-equality-2018.
[10] ‘Women highly educated but missing from leadership roles’, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 25 August 2015, https://www.wgea.gov.au/media-releases/women-highly-educated-missing-leadership-roles.
[11] Australian Human Rights Commission.
[12] Australian Human Rights Commission.
[13] Samantha Bricknell Willow Bryant, ‘Homicide in Australia 2012–13 to 2013–14: National Homicide Monitoring Program Report’, Australian Institute of Criminology, 3 November 2017, https://aic.gov.au/publications/sr/sr002.
[14] “Homelessness: Older women couch surfing, sleeping in cars due to unaffordable housing,” ABC News, updated August 8, 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-07/older-women-become-hidden-face-of-homelessness/8782816.
[15] “Human Trafficking to Australia: a research challenge,” Judy Putt, Australian Institute of Criminology, last accessed 22 April, 2018, https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi338.
[16] “The gender pay gap is harming women’s health,” The Conversation, December 14, 2016, https://theconversation.com/the-gender-pay-gap-is-harming-womens-health-68919.
[17] “Spotlight on gender and elder abuse,” Linda Belardi, Ageing Agenda, June 5, 2013, https://www.australianageingagenda.com.au/2013/06/05/spotlight-on-gender-and-elder-abuse/.
[18] “Women, ageism and elder abuse,” The Power to Persuade, November 8, 2016, http://www.powertopersuade.org.au/blog/women-ageism-and-elder-abuse/8/11/2016
[19] “The Beijing Platform for Action: inspiration then and now,” UN Women, last accessed April 22, 2018, http://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/about.
[20] “Milestones for Australian women since 1975,” ABC News, last accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-24/beijing+20:-milestones-for-australian-women-since-1975/6792126.
[21] “Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” United Nations, last accessed April 22, 2018, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/.
[22] “Gender Equality: Why it matters,” United Nations, last accessed April 22, 2018, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/5_Why-it-Matters_GenderEquality_2p.pdf.
[23] ‘Baptist Leaders Call for Greater Action on Violence against Women’, ABM (blog), 27 March 2017, https://www.baptist.org.au/greater-action-on-voilence-against-women/.
[24] Marcia Balzer, ‘Baptist Care Australia – Messengers and Messages – Reflections on Converge 2017’, accessed 22 April 2018, http://www.baptistcareaustralia.org.au/.
[25] ‘Resolutions Adopted by the BWA General Council, Ocho Rios, Jamaica’, 1-6 July 2013, https://www.bwanet.org/images/pdf/Resolutions/2013Resolutions.pdf.

Last updated: May 2018

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