Implementing gender justice in Asian contexts

Pastors and evangelists at a crisis drop-in center, run by the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS) in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province. All photos: LWF/P. Hitchen

Women meet in Indonesia ahead of regional church leadership conference

(LWI) - Lutheran women from across the Asian region meet together on 3 October in the Indonesian town of Pematang Siantar to discuss ways of overcoming violence and promoting gender justice within their specific cultural contexts.

The one-day meeting provides an opportunity for women leaders to learn more about The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Gender Justice Policy, which was unanimously approved by its Council in 2013 and has since been translated into over 20 languages.

The gathering comes ahead of the 2019 Asia Church Leadership Conference, which brings together some 200  pastors, lay people and representatives of church-related organizations in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province from 2 to 8 October. Together they will be discussing the theme ‘Pursuing peace through interfaith relations in Asia’.

In the context of the women’s pre-meeting, LWF Program Executive for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment Rev. Judith VanOsdol, visited several local women’s projects in Pematang Siantar, together with Ms Desri Sumbayak, Vice-President of the Asia region. They underlined the importance of engaging church leaders to strengthen the struggle against violence and injustice by using theological and biblical lenses.

LWF Program Executive for Gender Justice, Rev. Judith VanOsdol (left) with Ms Desri Sumbayak, Vice-President of LWF’s Asia region (center) and Rev. Julindah Sipayung, coordinator of a crisis drop-in center for women, run by the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS) in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province.

Speaking to female and male pastors at a drop-in crisis center for survivors of rape, harassment, child abuse or domestic violence, VanOsdol, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), highlighted the way Jesus lifted up and defended those with the least power and influence in his society – including women and children. “Pastors and other church leaders need to do power analysis” in their own church context, she said, and to understand how Scripture has been used to justify oppression, violence and discrimination against women. 

Noting that the LWF has had a decades-long commitment to gender justice work, she stressed that combating inequality is “not just a women’s issue” but requires coordinated efforts by all to tackle patriarchal prejudices and cultural stereotyping that begins in the earliest years of childhood. VanOsdol praised the work of the center, run by the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS) and coordinated by Rev. Julindah Sipayung, for what she called “the holy, Spirit-filled task of uplifting women who have been told they are worthless and have had their voices silenced.”

Ms Riong Silaban (right), head of the Indonesian Christian Church (HKI) national women’s committee and Rev. Rama Yanti (second right), coordinator of the Rumah Eco (Eco House) project supported by the LWF in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province.

The LWF officials also met with male and female activists for gender justice at a new project called Rumah Eco (Eco-House) run by The Indonesian Christian Church (HKI) and supported by the LWF. The attractive wooden building was inaugurated last June as a coffee shop and gallery selling local hand-made crafts and traditional clothing. 

Project coordinator Rev. Rama Yanti explained that the center, which began by offering sewing courses for low-income women, now provides training for pastors in gender justice, eco-theology and basic business skills. With the money raised from the sale of handicrafts, she said, the center aims to become financially self-sustaining by the end of 2020. 

Traditional hand-made clothes and other crafts on display at the Rumah Eco (Eco House) project run by the Indonesian Christian Church (HKI) and supported by the LWF in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province.

Encouraging the work of the Indonesian activists, LWF Council member Ms Ranjita Borgoari, who serves as the women’s desk secretary for the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI), spoke of the painstaking work of introducing a gender justice policy in her country. At the beginning, she said, some church leaders said: “‘This is foreign policy – it’s not for our church’.” But “thanks be to God,” she added, through the patient work of prophetic women and men, “a dialogue has started and the UELCI, alongside one of India’s 12 LWF member churches (Christ Lutheran Church) has officially adopted its own gender justice policy.”