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Sec. Gen. of the Anglican Communion speaks on women and girls

Sec. Gen. of the Anglican Communion speaks on women and girls

The Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said March 16 that Anglican and Episcopal women must continue – and redouble – their work to change the fate of women and girls in their communities, including by working with their national and local governments. He delivered his remarks and took question at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.


Idowu-Fearon acknowledged during his speech that in many contexts, including some parts of Africa, “religion can be a stumbling block to change.” Earlier that day, he said, he learned “to my horror” that the parliament in his home country of Nigeria had defeated gender equality legislation for the third time. Opponents claimed that the proposed law violated Nigerian cultural norms as well as both the Bible and the Quran.

He also recalled attending a meeting of the Nigerian provincial standing committee in 2003 after the Episcopal Church had agreed to ordain openly gay Episcopal priest Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire. During that meeting, the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, were being discussed. A senior bishop declared that the development goals are “ways of the West wanting to poison our minds and remove us from focusing on the gospel.” Idowu-Fearon said the bishop refused to back down when he challenged him.

“You see what ignorance does? That’s ignorance,” he said, “but, I thank God that even though Nigeria did not buy into it, other parts of the communion were fully into it.”

While people of faith can and should challenge cultural norms, Idowu-Fearon acknowledged “with a heavy heart” that “our churches are buried in the past and, in so many cases, still failing to recognize the equal God-given dignity and giftedness of women and men.” He noted that he comes from a province in which women cannot be ordained and are not given “full leadership roles in the church.” In addition, he said, work is needed to ensure that lay voices are heard “as an essential part of the Anglican dialogue.”

During a question-and-answer session, two women challenged Idowu-Fearon about the focus of the recent primates gathering on internal issues.

“Each time you meet as primates you have specific agendas and you seem to fight and there’s so much tension – so much conflict – and we hold our breath because we don’t know what is going to come out of your meetings. And yet, there is so much injustice happening in the world, so much that we could be working on,” said Ashella Ndhlovu Chama of Zambia.

Chama challenged Idowu-Fearon and the primates of the Anglican Communion to be seen participating in the White Ribbon Campaign of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.


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Cynthia Katsarelis

I’m currently a delegate at the UN Commission on the Status of Women and sitting in one meeting after another on these issues. The solutions are comprehensive, it isn’t merely about the victims speaking up! There are many brave survivors here speaking, we give moments of silence to human rights workers who have been killed. There needs to be a response at every level and amongst men as well as women. There needs to be adequate laws, law enforcement, support for the survivors, but most of all, we need to change the paradigm that under values women, economically, as well as our very lives. There is a “He for She” campaign, and the outcome document being worked on here includes “gender mainstreaming” and calls for education on gender equality for men and boys. The church can play multiple major roles. The church could work for equality in pay and opportunity within the church and preach respect for women. It can resource more engagement at the community level, where women are bravely on the job.

Have a look at the new Sustainable Development Goals. They are potentially transformative. They are universal, unlike the Millennium Development Goals that focused more on the developing world. Goal 5 is gender equality, but equality and human rights goals for women and others are woven into all 17 goals. We have work to do!

Paul Woodrum

Justice rarely comes from the top down. The powerful preserve their power as may be noted in this coming Sunday’s readings. Only when the victims of injustice speak up for themselves is there much likelihood of change.

Jay Croft

But the victims need the support of others. It is the victims who must tell their stories, yes, but support from others is essential.

Vicki Zust

I’m curious as to why the Archbishop doesn’t call on Anglican men to redouble their work to bring equality to women and girls.

It would seem to me that the people who hold the power should be the first to be called on to address injustice & inequality and power is most often held by men.

John Chilton

Reading the full ENS report I see that the Archbishop was quite critical of men, particularly Anglican church leaders in his own country of Nigeria.

Paul Woodrum

I keep wondering if we could stop treating LGBT issues as a distraction and include them as human rights issues along with, and frequently including, violence, poverty and inequality.

Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

Yes…especially in Nigeria, where Anglican bishops have teamed up with fundamentalist Muslims to deny women basic rights

Cynthia Katsarelis

In fairness to the Archbishop, he said that he was horrified by the vote against the women’s rights bill in Nigeria. He told us that it was the third time it was voted down (this week is during the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is perhaps why it made the news this time). He also described the religious leaders objections as a misinterpretation of Scripture. In a sermon yesterday, the reading was from Galatians “in Christ there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, slave nor free” and he declared all people as “spiritually equal before God.” He went on with more language about the equality of women.

I have been unrelenting in my criticism of him on LGBTQI issues and most of all, for letting those issues get in the way of the real Gospel work of addressing violence, poverty, inequality, etc. But I want to give him credit for support of women in principal. In particulars, he’s wanting, but I think there can be evolution on that.

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