GENDER has been very much on the global agenda over the past few
weeks. The "One Billion Rising" demonstrations across the world on
St Valentine's Day focused attention on violence against women, and
called for governments to give this matter priority over the coming
year. The vision of a world where women and men experience equal
respect and freedom from harm is crucial - and an essential part of
Christian redemptive hope.
The same vision was behind a less public gathering that I had
attended earlier. Gender equality, respect, and freedom were again
central, but here the context was different. The Emerging Markets
Symposium met quietly in Oxford, under Chatham House Rules, drawing
together global economists, politicians, and academics to explore
strategies towards greater gender equality.
This symposium was formed some years ago around the belief that
the social and economic challenges faced by the middle-income
emerging markets - China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, India, Turkey
- are different from those that face both advanced and economically
poor countries. So it encourages practitioners and theorists to
share research and experience.
This was very true in the area of gender. A former Prime
Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, who chaired the symposium,
articulated it succinctly: "Gender inequality is morally wrong, bad
economics, and bad for business."
I was interested that the gathering included those for whom
gender was unexplored terrain, as well as those who had done years
of empirical work in the area. Yet, as we pored over economic
statistics, looked at growth and innovation, and discussed issues
of production and reproduction, there was extraordinary unanimity
in interpreting what we uncovered.
We found that although the 22 countries identified as emerging
markets are very different from each other, they overlapped in
their patterns of gender inequality. Women staff were paid less
than equally qualified male peers, they were under-represented in
corporate hierarchies, and domestic duties often cut short women's
education and training. We also found that, when countries did
become more gender-inclusive, they enjoyed faster growth and less
Economic and development factors, however, are always interwoven
with deep cultural and religious attitudes. Take the dowry.
Ostensibly an economic transaction between families, it carries
with it assumptions of value and ownership. And when we reflected
on "bride-burning" (where a bride is killed by her husband, or
husband's family, owing to his dissatisfaction over the dowry), or
female trafficking, we inevitably moved into the same moral
territory as the St Valentine's Day marches.
Even though many of the symposium's participants were avowed
secularists, the organisers had included in the programme an
examination of the impact of religion. Of a global population of
seven million, almost six million are affiliated to a faith
tradition. My own contribution, as a Christian, sought to open up
the radical nature of the Christian gospel for gender equality, and
to identify both the failures and the faithfulness of the global
The acknowledgement that faith traditions have something to
contribute to a discourse on gender was encouraging. And I found
delegates ready to engage with theological issues with rigour. Yet
it leaves a bigger challenge for the Church, not just to proclaim
God's calling to gender justice and empowerment, but to live it out
in our practices and communities: celebrating women's calling in
the home, the workplace, the pulpit - and the House of Bishops.
Dr Elaine Storkey is President of Tearfund.