WCC Eighth Assembly

WOMENíS CHALLENGES: INTO THE 21st CENTURY

An agenda for action

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In 1988 the World Council of Churches launched the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women as a ten-year programme offered to the churches. It was to provide a time for the churches to look at their structures, their teachings and practices with a commitment to the full participation of women. It was an opportunity for the churches to reflect on the lives of women in society and to stand in courageous solidarity with all women. Ecumenical Team Visits or "Living Letters" were sent to the churches around the world at the mid-Decade point to affirm the achievements made and to challenge the churches to move forward in their commitments to women. The story the "living letters" brought back described with great enthusiasm the solidarity among women and the love and commitment of women to the churches. But it also pointed to the unfinished agenda - the many unresolved questions and concerns of women. This document records some of those challenges and calls on the churches for their continued solidarity beyond 1998.

...and in that dry land, endless as a desert, we rediscovered a source, pouring out fresh water. Gathered around the water we danced with joy; no more forgotten, invisible, suffocated, but blossoming and creating. Opening gates, raising our voices. Moving walls, building on ruins. And many more came from within the shadows. We celebrated our survival. We welcomed each other into visibility. But the water does not meet us only in the depth of the source; water is running down our cheeks. Tears caused by a violent hand. Silent tears. Tears caused by unjust systems and practices. Memories and experiences - all that has happened and all that still goes on... breaks out into anger. All this can no longer be! There has to be change! Therefore we speak again...

The Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women is grounded in the biblical truth of the common blessing of women and men in creation (Gen.1:27) and the common responsibility they share for nurturing and serving the church and the world. Our theologies are shaped by biblical words, historical traditions of the Church, our sacramental experiences and through the power of the Holy Spirit. In all of these, we affirm that equality between women and men is at the core. Throughout the scriptures, in spite of the very patriarchal times, womenís witness was strong, and through acts of faith and daring assertions, women broadened the mission and ministry of Jesus! The Bible records inspiring examples of womenís spirituality - and God blessed them! The first baptismal liturgies faithfully kept this vision when they affirmed that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

Christian history has marginalised or has, on occasion, even ignored this central teaching. So the affirmation of "the discipleship of equals" is regretfully still largely unrealised. In fact the Bible has been used to legitimise the marginalisation and exclusion of women from many spheres. The Decade has offered us a fresh opportunity to become a community of women and men. We long for a church where women are empowered to minister and serve as well as to live violence-free lives, unrestricted by traditional, often culturally imposed, gender role expectations and assumptions.

Today, we are called to recognise and welcome women and men as full partners on the journey towards a just world order where no one will be excluded. The Decade has provided an opportunity for women and men of faith - the Churches - to be in solidarity with all women in church and society, to overcome the years of oppression that millions of the women in our world daily experience. The church is called to conversion so as to stand in active solidarity with all women. This calls for a sometimes radical reordering of aspects of the life of the church, rooted in a reinterpretation and reconstruction of those practices and teachings that discriminate against women.

As we move beyond the Ecumenical Decade and into the 21st century, we bring to the churches the following challenges, which have been identified by women, for action:

We call on the churches and the ecumenical movement, particularly the World Council of Churches, to set in place implementing and monitoring instruments and programmes to ensure that the above concerns and recommendations are fulfilled.

... and the source is still there, refreshing water, confirming our being, recognising and welcoming. The water, it keeps flowing, opening new paths, cleansing, healing, connecting, nourishing the roots of our dreams ...it never runs dry.


The Decade Festival Office
Justice, Peace and Creation Unit
World Council of Churches
P.O. Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Tel: (+41 22) 791 6213
Fax: (+41 22) 791 6409
E-mail: Contact us"
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