Fair living and working conditions for women

Participants in the WICAS western Europe meeting discussed the gender equality and the MeToo movement. Photo: Photo: LWF/A.Weyermüller

Women in Central Western Europe discuss the gender gap and “MeToo”

(LWI) – Better conditions for women in church leadership positions, participation in decision-making bodies of the church, fair living and working conditions for women and the MeToo movement were among the main topics discussed at the annual regional network meeting of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Women in Church and Society (WICAS) in Hanover, Germany.

Following the Reformation anniversary in 2017 and Twelfth Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia, the agenda included reviewing and evaluating these events. However, the focus of the WICAS regional network meeting in Hanover from 14 to 16 February was to plan for the coming years.

“In the last few years we have managed to get almost all churches in our region – big or small – to appoint a delegate, and we are proud of that,” reported Rev. Ulrike Hansen, who has been regional coordinator of WICAS since 2011 (https://wicas.lutheranworld.org/).

“The diversity and difference of the women and their churches is a source of great enrichment for our network.”

For that reason the annual WICAS regional meetings have taken place in a different church over the last few years. “Visiting each other helps us to take note of our differing situations and ways of working. In addition, church leaders from the host church take special note of WICAS and its concerns,” Hansen says.

This time the agenda included talks with Ralf Meister, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Norbert Denecke, executive secretary of the LWF’s German National Committee.

Listening to the voice of the women

The women said the preliminary work that took place ahead of the Twelfth Assembly was particularly successful, as was the "strong voice of women" that resounded in Assembly decisions.

“And yet much still remains to be done,” Hansen says, “simply to implement the 40:40:20 LWF quotas in our local churches – 40 percent of women, 40 percent of men and 20 percent of young people under 30.”

The LWF gender justice policy guides the work of the LWF.

It should not be taken for granted that the woman works part-time or that leadership positions are incompatible with family duties – here we still need to raise a lot of awareness
WICAS meeting participants

Gender justice is a cross-cutting concern, not just a “women’s issue” and calls for active participation and rethinking on the part of everyone, the participants stated. For example, women’s interests need to be given greater consideration in the planning of positions and defining job requirements.

“It should not be taken for granted that the woman works part-time or that leadership positions are incompatible with family duties – here we still need to raise a lot of awareness,” the women agreed.

Taking responsibility in church and society

Some 82 percent of the 145 LWF member churches ordain women. While the Lutheran churches in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Austria do not yet have a woman bishop between them, in Iceland  two of the three Lutheran bishops are women.

In order to encourage women to take on such leadership roles, the WICAS network in western Europe intends to initiate coaching programs called “Woman to Woman”, through which women with leadership experience can pass on their knowledge to younger women. Theological work on gender justice is also to be given more attention.

Linking up with “Human beings – not for sale”, one of the three Assembly sub-themes, a further priority for the next few years is to promote fair living and working conditions for women. In many fields it is hard or impossible for women to earn an adequate and decent living, such as homemaking and caretaking of relatives. Churches have the potential to bring different societal actors together to tackle these questions, the WICAS delegates believe.

Creating a space for the “MeToo” movement

The women also discussed the "MeToo" movement about sexism and sexual violence. "Women now have the courage to speak up,” said Kathrin Wallrabe, gender equality officer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony. Women were thereby ensuring that offenders felt ashamed of their wrongdoing, she added, and that the victims should bear no guilt .

“The silence has to be broken,” said Hella Mahler, gender equality officer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover. In the churches there were now a number of safeguarding policies and assistance programs, she added.

As pastor, Mahler is also the contact point for the prevention of sexual violence in her church. But victims still suffer from feelings of guilt, she noted. "It is such a deeply rooted issue that we will need years to learn how to handle it."

As Hansen’s period of office concluded with this meeting, a new WICAS regional coordinator for Central Western Europe was elected. Kathrin Wallrabe will carry out this office for the next three years. “I am looking forward to cooperation in this international network and to meeting up with sisters from other LWF member churches,“ Wallrabe said.


By LWF Communications, with contributions by epd.