Violence against women is endemic both in conflict zones and so called peaceful situations.
According to a study conducted by the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, more than 26 per cent of women there experience physical violence throughout their adult life. In a country of a similar size but with fewer economic opportunities such as the Dominican Republic, every 36 hours a woman is killed by her partner or husband.
This culture of violence was strongly challenged in a World Council of Churches (WCC) workshop on “transformative masculinities” focusing on a Caribbean situation.
The workshop took place last month in Havana, Cuba, addressing the theme “From Hegemony to Partnership”, and was organised by the WCC programme of Women in Church and Society, in collaboration with the Christian Institute of Gender Studies (ICG) of Cuba and the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission (CANACOM).
Around eighteen church participants from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba and Curacao attended the workshop.
Together they made a concrete analysis on how churches can be engaged in awareness raising about gender issues, and counter stereotyping of women and men.
The Rev Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez, WCC president for the Caribbean and Latin America, shared the importance of including gender perspectives in the educational system for pastors. She stressed that silence of the churches reinforces situations of violence against women.
For Dr Fulata Lusungu Moyo, WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, this workshop provided a unique space for churches in the Caribbean region to identify existing resources that lead to deconstructing hegemonic masculinities of violence.
“It is crucial to reconstruct transformative masculinities, which lead to mutual partnership for an environment of justice and peace. Therefore, the experience in the Caribbean will be contextualised by other regions, since every society has its own ways of how feminine and masculine identities are constructed and understood,” said Moyo.
To unravel various forms of masculinity from a faith perspective, the gender training manual Created in God’s Image: From Hegemony to Partnership was introduced. The manual was jointly published by the WCC and the World Communion of Reformed Churches in 2010, and is being translated into French and Spanish.
The manual was aimed at developing an understanding that gender diversity does not necessarily lead to a relationship of domination. It encourages the hegemonic gender paradigms in Christian history to be questioned. It also serves as a training tool to build communities of women and men, ensuring gender justice.
The key facilitators for the workshop were Dr Isabel Moya Richards and Julio César González Pagés, who are scholars of communications and anthropology. According to them even after a significant historical change, such as the Cuban revolution, the society continues to reproduce conservative expressions of masculinity and femininity.
Such expressions, they said, are tangible in the use of sexist language and the objectification of women’s bodies by the commercial media, which emphasizes “macho” attitudes as the only possible expression of masculinity.
Changing the understanding of what it takes to be a man and a woman, acknowledging that both are made in the image of God, can be challenging. This is especially important in the face of contradictory messages of violence that we receive from media and dominant social behaviours.
There are significant efforts to be taken into consideration, such as the work of the Evangelical Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, where gender is a transversal subject. This information was presented by Dr Reinerio Arce Valentín, the director of the seminary.
The workshop received consistent support from the Stichting Rotterdam Fund, along with the strong involvement of Moraima González, coordinator of ICG.