Monday, 26 November 2018

Article: Theological Reflections On Gender Justice

By Pastor Otive Igbuzor, PhD

(Being presentation at the launch of Side By Side movement In Abuja from 27th to 28th November 2018)

It has been established that the development of any society requires the participation of both men and women. Unfortunately, women have been historically marginalized in all areas including spiritual, social, economic and political spheres.  Luckily, there is a growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women’s leadership. From 1999-2009, the rate of women’s representation in national parliaments globally has grown from 13.1 percent at the end of 1999 to 18.6 percent at the end of 2009. Africa has particularly seen some dramatic increase in the number of women in parliament from 10.9 percent in 1999 to 17.6 percent in 2009.

Clearly, women can act as agents of national development to bring about spiritual, social, economic and political development of society. Indeed, as one scholar put it, nothing is more important today in development than adequate recognition of the political, economic and social participation and leadership of women. However, there is a huge challenge in Nigeria. Unlike the global trend, there has not been significant improvement in women representation in national parliament from 1999 till date.

The status of women across the world today is precarious. About 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty are women. In developing countries, women own less that 2 percent of all land. At least 60 million girls are “missing” due to female infanticide or sex selective abortion and an estimated 5,000 women murdered each year in “honour” killings. There is unequal distribution of food and health care. 93 million children who are not enrolled in school are girls.

It has been documented that in Nigeria, women and girls suffer systematic disadvantage and discrimination that is magnified for those in the poorest states and sectors of society. Nigeria’s 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies. In Nigeria, 60-79 percent of the rural work force is women but men are five times more likely to own land. Women with dependants pay more tax than men. Women in formal employment are paid less than men. Nearly five times as many judges and permanent secretaries are men rather than women. Only 4 percent of local government councilors are women. Up to one third of Nigerian women have been subjected to violence.

As people of faith, we believe that everything is first settled spiritually before we see the physical manifestation. The relationship between men and women across the world is characterized by inequality and discrimination necessitating the need for gender justice. In this paper we reflect on what the word of God says about gender justice. But first, we explicate the terms theology, gender and gender justice.

Conceptual Clarification of Theology:
Theology can simply be defined as the study of God and religious beliefs. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos meaning God and logos meaning the study of. The purpose is to understand God as He has revealed himself in the scriptures (revealed to his prophets/servants). Some scholars have pointed out that no theology will ever fully explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. But God wants us to know him hence it is necessary to study his world to discover what he has revealed about Himself.

The concept of gender is better understood when analysed with the concept of sex, gender relations and patriarchy. All human beings are normally born male or female. Young males are called boys while adult males are called men. Young females are called girls while adult females are called women. Women all over the world are marginalized. Even in the so-called advanced democracies, women are still marginalized. For instance in the United Kingdom and the United States, women representation in parliament was 9.1 and 9.0 percent respectively as at 1994. The UNDP’s 1995 Human Development Report estimated that women’s unpaid work is equivalent to some $11 trillion annually. Although women constitute over 50 percent of the population of the world, they are relegated to the background in every facet of life. It is important to note that there is difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences between male and female. For instance, the adult female has breast that can secrete milk to feed a baby but the adult male does not have. Gender is the socially and culturally constructed roles for men and women. For instance, gender roles of men as owners of property, decision makers and heads of household are socially, historically and culturally constructed and have nothing to do with biological differences. Gender roles differ from place to place and change with time. But sex roles are naturally fixed.

Gender relations are part of social relations, referring to the ways in which the social categories of men and women, male and female, relate over the whole range of social organization, not just to interactions between individual men and women in the sphere of personal relationships, or in terms of biological reproduction. In all aspects of social activity, including access to resources for production, rewards or remuneration for work, distribution of consumption, income or goods, exercise of authority and power, and participation in cultural, political and religious activity, gender is important in establishing people’s behaviour and the outcome of any social interaction. As well as institutions between individual men and women, gender relations describe the social meaning of being male and female, and thus what is considered appropriate behaviour or activity for men and women.

Patriarchy according to Hartman is a set of social relations which has a material base and in which there are hierarchical relations between men and solidarity among them which enable them in turn to dominate women. The material base of patriarchy is men’s control over women labour power. That control is maintained by excluding women from access to necessary economically productive resources and by restricting women’s sexuality. Men exercise their control in receiving personal service work from women, in not having to do housework or rear children, in having access to women’s bodies for sex, and in feeling powerful and being powerful. The crucial elements of patriarchy as we currently experience them are in marriage, female child rearing and house work, women’s economic dependence on men reinforced by arrangements in the labour market), the state, the numerous institutions based on social relations among men-clubs, sports, unions, professions, universities, churches, corporations and armies.

Gender Justice:
Gender justice is about tackling the inequalities and discrimination between men and women. The UN Women identifies four ways to do this:Expanding women friendly public spaces Guaranteeing land and jobs for women. Applying special measures to increase women’s voice in decision making Ending Violence against women and girls.

Theological Reflection On Gender Justice:
In theological reflections on Gender justice, we need to think deeply about what the word of God says on gender relations and gender justice.

The Position Of The Bible On Gender Relations
The scripture is very clear on the relationship between man and woman. It is a relationship that does not tolerate inequality or discrimination. 
At creation, God created males and females:

Gen 1: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (KJV).
God created man first and then created woman fit for him, suitable for him and comparable for him.

Gen 2: 18  And the Lord said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him (KJV)

Gen 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (NIV)

Gen 2:18 God said, it is not good that the Man be alone; I will make him a helper , a companion.”

The bible gives an indication of the relationship between man and woman and especially between the husband and wife:

1 Cor 11: 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God (NIV)

In the verse above, we see that the head of Christ is God. But Christ and God are not struggling for equality and superiority. In fact, Jesus Christ clearly stated: I and my father, we are one (John 10:30).

Similarly, the bible clearly states that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh (Gen 2: 24; Eph 5:31).

Christ is the head of the church and he demonstrated it by dying for the church.

The bible is very clear that there should be no discrimination based on sex, ethnic group or class.

Gal 2: 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (NIV).
Col 3 :11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all (NIV)

The Position Of The Qur'an On Gender Relations
According to Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, gender inequality is genetically ascribed to religion whereas its causes are purely non-religious and originates from political, economic, social and cultural factors.

“O mankind, Fear your Lord Who (initiated) your creation from a single soul, then from it created its mate, and from these two spread (the creation of) countless men and women.” (al-Qur’an, 4:1)

“And according to usage, women too have rights over men similar to the rights of men over women.” (al-Qur’an, 2:228)

“Men will have a share of what they earn, and women will have a share of what they earn.” (al-Qur’an, 4:32)

Misconceptions On Gender Justice
From the above scriptures, the holy books are very clear about gender relations without inequality and discrimination. But the question is why is there so much misconception despite the clear biblical and Qur’anic passages concerning the relationship between men and women?
In our view, these misconceptions are not scriptural but are influenced by ignorance or patriarchy.

Why The Misconceptions
There are many reasons why there is widespread misconception on the position of women and the relationship between men and women despite the clear provisions in the scripture. We shall illustrate three of them from Christian perspective.

Patriarchal interpretation: The society is dominated by patriarchy which affects the way people see things. They use patriarchal lens to interpret the scriptures. Indeed, there are many instances where preachers input into their messages interpretations that are not in the scriptures. A clear example is the training of children. The bible enjoins that children should be trained in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6). But there is a clear instruction given to fathers (not mothers) in the bible:

Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (NIV). Similarly, the most common sermon in any marriage ceremony is taken from Eph 5: 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.(NIV). But the verse before that provides for mutual submission. Eph 5:21- Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ(NIV).

Selfishness, greed and power: The history of the church indicates that there are times when people who are not called into ministry find themselves acting as Priests to the people. The bible calls them hirelings. John 10:13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.  The history of the church indicates that in the first three centuries, church growth was accelerated by the persecution of the church. In the fourth century, Christianity became the official Roman religion. In the seventh century, Islam was founded. By the tenth century, 50 percent of former Christian areas were under Islam. By the 14th century, John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and emphasized the sole authority of the scriptures and the priesthood of all believers. In the 16th century, the years of reformation promoted by Martin Luther King and others emphasized justification by faith and priesthood of all believers. The protestant reformation was anchored on the sole authority of the scriptures, justification by faith and priesthood of all believers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the emphasis was on revival, missions and holiness. In the 20th century, the emphasis was on Pentecostalism- Holy Ghost baptism and empowerment. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers have been downplayed because of selfishness, greed and power. Meanwhile, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is firmly established in both the old and new testaments.

The people of Israel entered into a covenant relationship with God where the people were promised “a kingdom of priests and a Holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6). The children of Israel were invited to relate to and act for God as Priests. The prophet Isaiah also spoke about the priesthood of all believers Is 61:6. The function of the priest as indicated in the scriptures include among other things conduct of worship; making sacrifices on behalf of others; represent believers in matters relating to God ie mediate between God and his people and provide guidance for those who lack knowledge (Lev 21 and Heb 5:1-5; 8:3-6). In early Christianity, the power of the Priest increased and there was so much distinction between the priest and the laity.  In the Roman Catholic Church, there was the selling of indulgences: The Priest can grant remission of punishment due for sins for both living and the death upon the payment of money. The privileges of the priest led to corruption. This partly led to the protestant movement. But today, there appears not to be sufficient emphasis on the priesthood of all believers.  There is therefore the need to return to the fundamentals. Every believer has been given the ministry of reconciliation 2 Cor 5:18. The death and resurrection of Jesus has made us Priests Rev 1: 6. God has made us Priests to reign on earth Rev 5:10.

We shall reign with Christ as priests during the millennial reign Rev 20:6.

Ignorance about interpretation of scriptures: Christians believe that the scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). The scripture is “God-breathed” as Apostle Paul reminds us but because it is written by human beings, it is affected by style, history, cultural context and distinctiveness of the authors. Therefore, preaching the word requires interpretation as the Bible is God’s word written in human language.

Edward L. Hayer points out that three basic questions may be asked of any text:

What does it say?

What does it mean?

How does it impact me?

Exegesis which is the process of drawing out of a text its intended meaning involves several processes including:

Examining the text, its origin and wording

Scrutiny of translation

Discovery of historical context- authorship, setting and dating
Analysis of literary context

Determining the genre or literary type

Outlining and diagramming structure

Classification of grammar and syntax

Systematically studying a given truth in the setting of all revealed truth and

Applying the text.

Many preachers are not careful to follow the principles of interpretation and they take a verse of the bible and raise it to the level of doctrine.

The effect of the misconception is telling on the spiritual, political, economic and social life of all human beings and preventing mankind from living a meaningful live. To live a meaningful live requires holistic approach. As we have shown elsewhere, success comes from three worlds: Spirit, Mind and body (physical).

Spirit: Intuition; Inspiration; Insight
Mind: Thinking, Planning, Choice, Knowledge, Analysis, Focus, Attention.

Physical: Events, Activity, Action.

Every man and woman must strive to live a balanced life including economic, social, political and spiritual dimensions. This is why traditional and faith leaders must pursue integrated mission to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of people.

Side by Side Movement presents an opportunity for people of faith, faith leaders and faith-based organisations (FBOs) across the world committed to partnering together to challenge barriers to gender justice.

This is based on the belief that each person is made in the image of God and has intrinsic value and dignity. If this happens, then inequality and discrimination against half of humanity will be prevented. The danger posed by oppression and violence against women will be avoided and all of humanity will have enabling environment to flourish spiritually,
politically, economically and socially. This requires action at multiple levels: individual, household, community and societal.

At the consultative meeting held on 30th August 2018, we agreed that the following are possible programmes and activities for Nigeria:

Raise awareness and build commitment for gender justice in Nigeria.
Build, strengthen and share information about existing work by faith leaders on development issues to address gender justice.

Build capacity of faith leaders to address development and gender justice issues.

Advocate and campaign for gender justice issues at the local, national and global levels.

Provide space for people of faith to engage in open debate on gender justice issues.

Build evidence base for gender justice issues.

Build synergy and amplify the voice of faith leaders and faith-based organisations in Nigeria.

Build and promote champions of gender justice from faith-based organisations.

Develop principles, priorities and action plans for addressing gender justice in Nigeria.

National Faith Actors Dialogue Forum
Research and Publications
Advocacy and Campaigns
Capacity Building
Networking (Database of faith leaders and database of programmes)
Movement Organising- e-mail; listserv; WhatsApp; Facebook; Twitter etc
Champions of Gender Justice
March during international days to mark gender justice
International Collaboration

Promoting gender justice in Nigeria will involve programmes and activities to change laws, policies and practices that have been mediated by patriarchy over the years. This movement will not be a dash but a marathon.  But with commitment, hardwork, courage and the grace of God, victory is certain.

(Igbuzor is founding Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) and General Overseer, Palace of PRIESTS ASSEMBLY, Abuja.Website:;;

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