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The Status of Women (#3444, 2012 BOR)
2012 General Conference
Christianity was born in a world of male preference and dominance. Practices, traditions, and attitudes in almost all societies viewed women as inferior to men, as having few talents and contributions to make to the general well-being of society aside from their biological roles. This was true of the Judaic society of which Jesus was a part.
But the life of Jesus, the Redeemer of human life, stood as a witness against such cultural patterns and prejudices. Consistently, he related to women as persons of intelligence and capabilities. He charged women as well as men to use their talents significantly in the cause of God’s kingdom. His acts of healing and ministry were extended without distinction to women and men.
The central theme of Jesus’ teaching is love for God and neighbor. Jesus embodied this message in his life, and, in the early church, women held prominent positions of leadership. Christian love as exemplified in the New Testament requires that we relate to others as persons of worth. To regard another as an inferior is to break the covenant of love; denying equality demeans, perpetuates injustice, and falls short of the example of Jesus and the early church.
The movement to improve the status of women is one of the most profoundly hopeful of our times. The United Methodist Church, recognizing that equality between women and men is a matter of social justice, in various ways has sought to support that movement.
Although change is taking place, in most societies women are still not accorded equal rights and responsibilities.
There is increasing awareness that we cannot solve world problems associated with globalization and unequal distribution of resources population growth, poverty, and war so long as the talents and potential of half the world’s people are disregarded and even repressed. There are strong interrelationships between all these problems and the status of women.
The International movement for the equality of women formally began in 1975, with the proclamation of International Women’s Year by the United Nations General Assembly. The United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985) which followed was a worldwide effort to examine the status and rights of women at all levels. For Christians, it was a time for repentance and for new dedication to Christ’s ideal of equality.
In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women succeeded in bringing about a new and international commitment to the goals of equality, development and peace for all women, and moved the global movement for the advancement of women into the twenty-first century. The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action constitute a powerful agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equality.
The Beijing Platform for Action defined a set of strategic objectives and spelled out actions to be taken by governments and civil society in the following twelve critical areas of concern: poverty, economy, power and decision-making, education, media, health, armed conflict, environment, violence, human rights, the girl child and the institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women.
Economics: As part of the Beijing Platform for Action, statisticians were called upon to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of all forms of work and employment. Often the productive labor of women is ignored in economic statistics, reinforcing the impression that work done by women is peripheral, of secondary importance, even dispensable. For that reason, few studies have actually evaluated the importance of contributions by women. As one example, when women grow food to feed their families, they are “just” tending kitchen gardens, but when men grow cash crops such as tobacco and coffee, they are engaged in agricultural and commercial enterprises. In more industrialized societies, the enormous amount of volunteer work done by women is not counted as adding to the nation’s wealth.
Although the gender gap in rates of economic activity is narrowing, the nature of women’s and men’s participation in the labor force continues to be very different. Women have always engaged in the less formal types of work, working as unpaid workers in a family business, in the informal sector or in various types of household economic activities. They also continue to receive less pay than men. In manufacturing, for example, in 27 of the 39 countries with data available, women’s wages were 20 to 50 per cent less than those of men.
Power and Decision-making. In 1945, only 31 countries allowed women to vote; today women have the right in more than 125 nations. Only eight countries exclude women entirely from political processes open to men. Still, many areas of legal discrimination remain. In some nations, women are still considered the chattels of their husbands, with few rights in family law, landholding, inheritance, and guardianship of children.
In the United States, some of the more glaring inequities are being corrected step by step. However, women are still under represented in all branches of the government. The 75 women sworn into the 108th Congress in January 2003, account for only 13.8% of the 540 members.
Education. The perception of women as inferior and dependent is perpetuated through many institutions in society—the media, school textbooks and curricula, political structures, and, often, religious organizations. Education is one of the principal ways of opening doors to wider participation in society. Thus, it is distressing that, while the percentage of literate women is at an all-time high, the absolute number of illiterate women is greater than at any time in the past. The fact that two thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are female is evidence of continuing disparity in importance given to the education of boys and girls.
Violence Against Women. Traditional perceptions of female qualities also are a factor in the widespread domestic violence against women, now coming to be recognized as a tragically widespread occurrence. Nearly one third of women in the world report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives (according to World Health Organization).
Human Rights in Fertility Decisions. Throughout the centuries, women have been little consulted or involved in the decisions regarding fertility-related laws or practices. For women, particularly, the ability to make choices concerning fertility is a liberating force, helping to safeguard their health and that of their children, to plan for the future, to assume wider roles and responsibilities in society.
The United Nations has declared that education and access to means for determining the number and spacing of children is a human right, yet this is an ideal far from realization.
Coercion is still common, sometimes aimed at increasing births, sometimes at limiting them. Evidence now clearly shows that many poor, particularly ethnic, women have been sterilized without their understanding of what was being done to them and without their informed consent. In many places, safe and legal abortion is denied, in some cases even to save the life of the pregnant woman. In other cases, women are threatened that welfare payments or aid programs will be cut if the pregnancy continues. Such inconsistency reflects lack of value-centered decision making, as well as insensitivity to the personhood of the woman involved.
While societal needs should be considered more and more in fertility matters, this should never be at the price of demeaning the individual or applying restrictive measures only to the poor. Women should be fully informed and fully involved in the decision making.
HIV/Aids and Women. According to 2004 Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS report, women now account for almost half of the 38 million adults currently living with HIV/AIDS and of the 20 million adults who have died from the disease since the epidemic began. In 1999, 52 per cent of the 2.1 million adults who died from AIDS worldwide were women. The majority of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. where women account for 57 per cent of those infected with HIV/AIDS. Women’s risk of becoming infected with HIV during unprotected sexual intercourse is also known to be two to four times higher than that of men.
The Beijing Platform for Action recognizes that social and cultural factors often increase women’s vulnerability to HIV and may determine the course that the infection takes in their lives. Women too often do not have the power to insist on safe and responsible sex practices and have little access to public health information and services, both of which have been found to be effective in preventing the disease and/or slowing its progress.
Women and Armed Conflict. Although the threat of global conflict has been reduced, wars of aggression, colonial or other forms of alien domination and foreign occupation, civil wars, and terrorism continue to plague the world. Grave violations of the human rights of women occur, particularly in times of armed conflict, and include murder, torture, systematic rape, forced pregnancy and forced abortion, in particular under policies of ethnic cleansing. Women and girls are among those most affected by the violence and economic instability associated with armed conflict Yet, when it comes to negotiating peace and facilitating the reconstruction of societies after war, women are grossly under represented. For example, no Bosnian women were present at the Dayton Peace negotiations in 1995. With Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, peace and security (2000), the United Nations has affirmed that women’s protection in armed conflict and the integration of women’s voices and experiences in the process of building peace are a primary concern of the international community.
Across the nations of the world, new movements are growing that address the serious handicaps and harsh realities of the lives of many women. In the context of this increasing momentum for a more just society, we call on local congregations and the agencies of the church:
to exert leadership in working, wherever possible, for legal recognition of equal rights for women. In the United States, this means a strengthened determination to secure passage for the Equal Rights Amendment,1 in line with the United Methodist Conference affirmations of 1972 and 1976. We need to recognize that this measure has become a symbol of the drive for equality. It has meaning far beyond the borders of one nation in the search for equal rights in other societies;
to urge governments to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which was adopted by the United Nations in December 1979;
to encourage support of studies by scientific and governmental bodies of the economic contributions made by women outside the formal economic sector, and to include this information in the gross national product of nations or compilations of national wealth;
to urge governments to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in June 1998, which specifically addresses gender-based crimes and crimes against humanity such as rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization;
to support the need to enact specific legislation and develop policies to strengthen women’s executive and professional abilities, in particular to allow them to manage their own businesses. To this end, governments should develop policies and projects that use local, national and international networks to facilitate information, technology, credit and training for women entrepreneurs, as well as programs that aim to enhance women’s education;
to examine governmental policies and practices, including development assistance, as to their impact on women’s lives; to work to ensure that policies upgrade the status of women and that women are included in decision-making regarding development goals and programs. The key roles of women as workers and consumers and as transmitters of culture must be given adequate weight in national development activities;
to examine the impact of transnational corporations on women’s lives, and to work to eradicate exploitative practices where identified. One such area is the promotion and selling of inappropriate products and technologies;
to encourage steps that promote legal literacy by publicizing and disseminating information on laws relating to the equal rights of men and women;
to encourage private charitable organizations, including churches, to initiate and support more programs of leadership education for women and other educational programs that upgrade the status of women; In many parts of the world, illiteracy remains high among adult women because of the lack of access to education in childhood. Strategies to combat female illiteracy must focus on ensuring girls’ equal access to, and completion of, basic education. In addition, there is a need to reach out to adult women through massive literacy campaigns using all modern means available;
to monitor printed and audio/visual media and other means of communication on their portrayals of the roles and nature of women and men, and to seek ways to eradicate narrow stereotypes that limit the possibilities of useful contributions by both sexes. The church should encourage study of the impact of Western—particularly US—television, radio, and other media on cultural patterns and national development around the world, and it should draw public attention to cases where such influence is destructive to other cultures;
to support programs providing knowledge of the access to resources in the area of family planning and contraception, including that which is Christian based, to encourage abstinence outside of marriage as a method of birth control, and to involve women in the preparation and distribution of these resources. Attention should particularly be given to ensuring access to safe, legal, and noncoercive contraception; well-informed choice regarding abortion and its alternatives (adoptions and so forth); informed consent for sterilization procedures; and safe women’s health-care facilities. We also oppose profit-making referral agencies, which charge fees for providing information freely available elsewhere; and
to examine the impact of judicial decisions at all levels upon the daily lives of women in such areas as child custody, employment, civil rights, racial and sexual discrimination, credit practices, estate settlements, reproduction and education, and socioeconomic status.
1. Proposed 27th Amendment: Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
AMENDED AND READOPTED 1996
AMENDED AND READOPTED 2004
resolution #191, 2004 Book of Resolutions
resolution #181, 2000 Book of Resolutions
See Social Principles, ¶ 162F.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission