International: It is high time FBOs start representing women’s interests

International: It is high time FBOs start representing women’s interests

Date: November 28, 2011
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Durban, 28 November: As world leaders and media descend upon Durban, civil society organisations are making their voices heard in the call for climate justice. Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) occupy a unique position as the moral and ethical backbone of society. This role has become increasingly prominent in the wake of global warming and climate change.

FBOs have a huge following, reach and moral sway not least among women who form a significant proportion of congregations, and bear the major brunt of climate catastrophes. While FBO’s lead the call for climate justice, however, they remain steeped in patriarchal cultures and practices.

Women need to be well-represented in decision-making structures within the FBOs so that their voices are heard in climate justice efforts.

One may ask why a faith based approach to dealing with climate change? According to Southern African Faith leaders, “God has entrusted us with a rich, living planet, protecting the environment is demanded of us by our faith.” Yet FBOs argue that human beings have lost their moral compass by reducing all economic decisions to maximising profit and consumption. Thus we see the proliferation of industries that put the means of production first before life and poor people.

Liz Palmer who serves on the Diakonia board says that FBO’s build climate change awareness in various religious communities and aims to motivate and mobilise constituencies.

A faith based campaign called We have Faith-Act now for Climate Justice has been instrumental in urging society to work towards an environmentally sustainable future. It is a Pan-African movement of people, faith communities, faith leaders and youth who believe in the need for a just and concrete outcome of the climate negotiations in South Africa during COP17.

The campaign managed to mobilise society through a petition urging world leaders to commit to a legally binding agreement as well as a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. The petition also calls for adequate financing for adaptation in Africa as well as clear targets for the reduction of carbon emissions.

As of 27 November, over 40000 people had signed the petition. Archbishop Desmond Tutu handed it to Christine Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on the eve of COP 17. Figueres assured the crowd of her commitment to ensuring that the petition is taken seriously during negotiations at the conference.

Although it remains to be seen whether her promise will bear fruit, this is testimony to the power and impact of faith based organisations in mobilising society for a cause. Over and above the political and economic aspects widely prevalent within the discussions of climate change, a moral understanding of the issue is critical to addressing current climate challenges. But so is a gender perspective.

According to Wikipedia: “Christianity traditionally has given men the position of authority in marriage, society and government. This position places women in submissive roles, and usually excludes women from church leadership, especially from formal positions requiring any form of ordination. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and many conservative Protestant denominations assert today that only men can be ordained-as clergy and as deacons.

“Many progressive Christians disagree with the traditional male-authority and female-submission paradigm. They take a Christian egalitarian or Christian feminist view, holding that the overarching message of Christianity provides positional equality for women in marriage and in ministry. Accordingly, some Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership… Women have filled prominent roles in the Church historically, and continue to do so today in spite of significant limitations imposed by ordination restrictions.”

Considering their large followings, these institutions can ensure that their constituencies, in particular women are educated on the challenges and effects of climate change. It is imperative that the men who dominate the decision-making structures of the church also take a leading role in ensuring that women’s views and voices are foregrounded at such conferences as COP17. These women constitute the majority of the congregation. It is only fair that they are at the centre of the faith and climate justice discourse.


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