Sharing stories, reforming structures

Women leaders from Eastern, Central and Western Europe participated in a Worship Service at Warsaw’s Holy Trinity Lutheran church during a regional consultation on ‘Faith, Gender Justice and Women’s Human Rights’. Photo: LWF/Agnieszka Godfrejów-Tarnagórska

Women from European churches meet to discuss ways of overcoming injustice, discrimination and violence 

(LWI) - Women leaders from Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches across Western, Central and Eastern Europe have been meeting in Warsaw, Poland, this week for a consultation on ‘Faith, Gender Justice and Women’s Human Rights.’ 

The goals of the three-day encounter were to strengthen networks of women working in different contexts across the continent, to empower and equip them with resources to challenge injustice in their churches and societies, and to deepen their understanding of women’s equal dignity through scriptural study. 

Participants from some 15 countries discussed ways of applying the LWF’s Gender Justice Policy to their specific church contexts. They also learned how they can work with international instruments, such as the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) or the Istanbul Convention, signed by all EU member states, to protect victims of gender-based and domestic violence. 

Developing practical resources 

Delegates from some countries in Western Europe noted that their churches have been working for many years to develop resources to promote women in leadership and to overcome sexual violence. But they also highlighted the way in which women still struggle to fully participate in decision-making processes and be recognized as leaders in their churches. Gaps in terms of income, benefits and unpaid work between women and men are visible symptoms of this. 

Participants from other countries Central and Eastern Europe where women cannot yet be ordained or be in charge of a parish, spoke about their struggles for equal representation and the protection of women in the home, as well as in public life. Delegates from across this region agreed upon the need to pursue partnerships with different stakeholders, as well as to develop codes of conduct and other mechanisms in their churches to protect the dignity and rights of women, building on the networking opportunities offered by the Warsaw meeting. 

Testimonies of violence and abuse 

During the sessions, interaction with biblical texts enabled lay and ordained women to share personal stories of sexual abuse and discrimination, as well as experiences of structural and institutional violence in their churches. At a worship service in Warsaw’s main Lutheran church of the Holy Trinity, pastors read aloud written testimonies of women who were raped or abused, praying for healing for survivors and a greater awareness of the need to denounce a culture of silence which shields the perpetrators of such violence. 

At the conclusion of the consultation on 13 November, participants drew up an agenda of priorities for women in these regions, looking at short and longer-term ways of overcoming injustice and supporting colleagues in ministry. In the churches of Eastern and Central Europe, delegates stressed the need to translate resources into local languages and develop new understanding of biblical texts as a key to supporting the gender justice work. 

Participants from Western Europe underlined the need to include male colleagues in their work and to normalize equal leadership at all levels of church life. They highlighted the importance of mentoring younger women, of evaluating the results of their work and of supporting sister churches with fewer resources. 

Rev. Dr Judith VanOsdol, LWF’s program executive for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment, urged participants to be creative in sharing resources and reaching out beyond the women’s networks to influence decision-making in all areas of church life. “We are called into this vital ministry together,” she said, “and the LWF is committed to supporting and empowering you in that task.” 

Organizers of the Warsaw meeting also looked ahead towards the next LWF Assembly to be held in the Polish city of Krakow in June 2023, noting that it will mark a decade since the Council’s approval of its Gender Justice Policy. They encouraged delegates to take part in global efforts such as the Thursdays in Black campaign and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.