Global commemorations of International Women's Day have included a public call for reading the Bible "through a gender lens" - writes Chris Herlinger.
In a statement issued in the run-up to the 8 March IWD events, the World Communion of Reformed Churches said it was supporting efforts to focus attention on the ways words and images can harm women.
"Controversial biblical texts on women such as a passage saying women are to be silent in church (I Corinthians 14.33-34) can harm women when they are used to justify enforced submission of women to male authority,” said Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, a Guyanese theologian who heads the WCRC's gender justice programme.
“If the language of the Bible is not understood in today’s terms," she said, "some passages can be used to allow excluding women from church leadership.”
As it prepared to mark the day, the Toronto-based World Association for Christian Communication called for a renewed focus on protecting women's rights through the media, including media literacy from a gender perspective.
The WACC said, "The concept of women’s communication rights includes the right to fair and balanced representation in and through the media."
Sheerattan-Bisnauth said a "gender lens" is an important way to read and interpret the Bible.
“It is necessary for church women and men to learn to read the Bible in the context of their economic, social, political and cultural reality,” she said. “Churches need to encourage openness to women's interpretations of Scripture and ensure their voices are heard in theological seminaries and in local parishes."
The WCRC said that among the ways it was focusing on more inclusive ways to read the Bible is a Caribbean-based program that will result in a manual entitled "Righting Her-Story: Caribbean Women Encounter the Bible Story."
While the Geneva-based WCRC provides scholarships and support for women seeking theological education and ordination, it noted that 40 percent of WCRC member churches still do not yet ordain women as ministers.
The alliance was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council. It has 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians.
In Africa, a senior clergyman asked the international community to remember women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who have suffered crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict.
"I urge you to support those organisations which advocate for their rights so that they can have the capacity to continue to condemn the abuses," said the Rev Josue' Bulambo Lembelembe, vice president of the Church of Christ in Congo.
Lembelembe has been leading peace efforts in the eastern DRC, center of a conflict fought between the Concolese army and rebel groups. According to human rights organisations, rape has been used as a weapon of war in that area.
The churches in the region have been helping thousands of women and young girls who are victims of rape and forced sexual slavery to get medical services, psychological counseling and legal recourse, Lembelembe told ENInews from the town of Bukavu. However, within the last two months, soldiers and officers have been convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.
In the US, organizers of Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a conference that will take place in Arlington, Virginia from 25 to 28 March 2011, said the theme will be 'Development, Security and Economic Justice: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?'
"This week, as people the world over commemorate International Women's Day, with its theme of equal access for women, it is fitting that grassroots activists and experts from around the nation and the world will delve into issues ranging from women and poverty to women and the global economy and women and migration," according to a statement from New York-based Church World Service.
Further information is available at http://advocacydays.org 
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews , formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]