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Religion, Gender Equality and Violence against Women in Papua New Guinea.

I was brought up in a society full of all forms of violence against women, girls and boys. Violence against women is considered a norm in many of the societies in Papua New Guinea. The teaching of the local church during my time doesn’t really emphasize that men and women are equal so women are not allowed to take sermon and most of the decision making in church gathering is done by the so called elders who are always the men.

After graduating from the Fiji Women Crisis Centre on the 28th of October 2011 , I was deeply challenged to do blogging on gender issues apart from my volunteer work as the Project Officer for Seeds Theatre Group(now Morobe Development Foundation) writing drama scripts and designing projects. It’s all about innovative awareness strategies we design and we were lucky to be one of the five grantees for UNWOMEN to carry out a project to ‘’End Violence against Women in Lae and Ahi District, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea in 2011’’

This blog will emphasize if Christian teachings can be effectively be used to promote equality for all and ending all forms of violence against women in Papua New Guinea.

When we look deeper into the bible teachings in Papua New Guinea, too many denomination teachings promote inequality that is too often we hear the inequality interpretation of the bible which results in unequal power relations between men and women in their homes, communities and in the churches not to mention the public life.

However, if we look carefully, Christian teachings can be used as a tool to promote equality and end all forms of violence against women in Papua New Guinea.

In GENESIS…….. We were created in the image of God, both men and women. God said that Men and women were to have dominion over the earth and the creation and NOT over each other.

The word “Helper” which is stated in Genesis in it-self has been misinterpreted to such an extent that we use the creation story to justify how we treat women rather than focus on the immense depth, wonder and beauty of God’s creation and how God created all of us in his image. That is really the beauty of creation.

The word helper in the original context is about equal responsibility and not about mastery or slavery and a woman should not be a man’s slave.

Let us all go back to the first sin where many people blame women for the first sin and for causing Adam to sin. But Christ has died for all (women, children and men) and therefore all sins are forgiven and  if we look back to the original family when God first created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden  we now are all equal both men and women having equal dominion of everything else – except for over each other.  Some preachers who have tried to preach about equality and interpreted that Eve was created using Adams ribs and not from part of his toe or any tissue above his heart therefore a women should always live side by side with his husband sharing responsibilities and bringing up their children using the right interpretation of the bible.

Let’s look at the 10 commandments, one of the most important documents in the Old Testament. In the 10 Commandment nothing is said about men being superior or women being subordinate. In fact it says that children are to respect both parents. There is no emphasis on the father alone and this clearly means that both mother and father deserve equal respect from their children.

Some might say that the old testament might no longer be relevant, however most if the commandments apply to our day to day lives. So moving on from the 10 commandments to commandments from Christ.  Let us all not forget the two greatest Commandment emphasized by Christ himself where he said that “Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”.

Your neighbor begins from home, you wife, your partner – love her, treat her as you would to yourself or in other words do unto others want you want others to do unto you. These are the only two commandments from Christ while he was here on earth. None of the commandments from Christ is about women’s submitting or men being masters – the commandments have everything to do with respecting each other and treating each other equally – hence love your neighbor as you love yourself”. 

The all too familiar saying “Wives submit to your husband for he is the head of the family…”Go back to the original text and its meaning where the “Head” means source. For example the source of a river, it does not control the path of the river nor does it determine where the river will meet the sea.  The text means that the men being the source of income doesn’t mean that he has the control of the woman, is this really being emphasizes by the Pastors in most of their teaching and sermons? So often is about women being down there and men being up here.

The men required duty is to ‘’LOVE LIKE CHRIST’’ yet many men do choose to ignore the continuation of the so called submission verse in Ephesians 5: 22 where “…women should submit to her husband for he is the head of the house hold… husband should love his wife just as Christ loved the church…”

Interesting, how did Christ love the church one might ask? Christ love is that he came NOT so that others may serve him, but he came to serve everyone by t dying on the cross to redeem them. Jesus also said if anyone wants to be first he should make himself last of all and servant of all and Least we forget he gave his life for us. So a good question to ask, is why do certain individuals preach about men being superior, when Christ was about serving, putting himself last and above all else sacrificing himself so that others may live freely. If Christ died for our freedom why do we continue to suppress women and teach or preach the gospel in a way to create inequality?

Women’s role in a church as stated in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches…” and It was a letter from Paul to Timothy for that particular time. This is not a mandatory manual that all churches should follow, it related to a specific time and incident but somehow it has been interpreted to restrict women from preaching the gospel and leading churches.

Christ himself after his resurrection told a woman to go and spread the good news as stated in Mathew 28: 8 "Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers." Having accepted Christ into their hearts, they never once doubted Him, as some of his closest apostles did.  Recall the apostle who demanded to see Him and to put his finger into Christ's side, only then saying, "My Lord and my God!" (Matthew 28:8-10).

Why emphasize on inequality in our Sunday sermons? Doesn’t the bible say that we are all equal and created in the image of God? Galatians 3:28,’’There is neither a Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’’.

The question now is some people will debate and say that, we are trying to twist the bible and that we should not do this and take the bible word for word.

So why not we take word for word on Gods message! okay let’s  see  in Mathew 18:8, “8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away….”and in Mark 9: 43, “43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell…45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off… 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes…”

Why is it for these verses do we choose to interpret the bible?? The bible should be interpreted to bring about freedom, respect, peace, justice and equality for all and not just for a certain group of people.

Many times the church sees domestic violence as a private matter in which it cannot interfere. What about the parable of the Good Samaritan? The parable teaches us that we should assist and support people who are in need of help, even if they do not ask for it and this includes victims/survivors of violence. So the church should have a more active role in preaching against inequality and violence against women. The church should also be willing to provide the right kind of support to women who are suffering from violence. The church can also make reference to laws which protect.

The bible says to respect authority - the government of the day so this also refers to existing laws and the policies in places. So if there are laws to protect women and promote their rights, we as Christians should encourage and respect that laws which promote the rights of all people including women.

At many times women who suffer from violence are told to Forgive and keep forgiving, ‘’How many times must a woman suffer from violence and abuse?’’ Often the church speaks about forgiveness without looking into the pain, suffering, hurt and abuse that a woman faces and most of all let us not forget that forgiveness is also about repentance. A person who has wronged you must repent and never do the same thing to you again.

Many times we tell a woman to keep forgiving her husband or the partner and that this is all part of the marriage – the good and the “bad” times.  Marriage vows are often used to keep women in violent relationships but what about the husband’s vows? Does he not have an oath before God not to harm the woman in any way? The bible does not refer to bad times as domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, intimidation or fear.

It bring us back to the saying ‘’till death do us apart’’. Many Christian’s use the teaching ‘’ What Christ has put together let no man take apart but in fact Christ puts together; respect, kindness, love, understanding, patience, and peace NOT  domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, humiliation and abuse. So really it is the perpetrators of domestic violence who are taking apart the plan and purpose of God. He is taking apart what God has put together.  It is never the purpose of Christianity for a woman to suffer or die as a result of violence or be subjected to violence and inhumane treatment.

Women’s rights isn’t about breaking up families but  often women’ rights organizations are blamed for this – BUT for many women a divorce is the only way out of a life or cycle of violence. Women’s rights organization provide support to these women and encourage that all families and relationships should exist without violence and intimidation.

Many times at weddings, women are told and reminded about their submissive roles. This is quite sad because a marriage sermon could emphasize on equality. For example, this was shared during a sermon for a particular wedding: ‘’marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art’’. It is possible to transform so long as we do not harbor ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom…” "Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon, Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon."

This was part of the sermon at marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton (who was a commoner). William was from a royal family but Kate was a commoner, however the sermon had nothing to do with Kate being submissive or about the man being in control. The sermon had everything to do with equality, love, patience, understanding and above all else freedom to allow your partner to grow and become the best person they can be.

We talk about many gifts of the bible but what about the greatest gift of all emphasized in 1 Corinthians 13 - ‘’LOVE’’. Love is about treating others with respect, dignity and equality and love does not promote inequality.

We look closely and carefully, the main message in the bible about human relations (or relationships) is we were created in the image of God; love your neighbor as you love yourself; equal dignity for all; both parents are to be respected; If you want to be first you should be the last; do unto others as you want others to do to you; humility; kindness; justice; peace; fairness, Love and equality.

The bible is a living document and should be interpreted to bring empowerment, peace, justice, freedom and life for all persons. The bible can also be used to promote human rights, equality for all women, men and children. Our society at all cost should be free from injustice, discrimination and inhuman treatment.

Now we have to start asking our self, why most churches continue to promote the few verse of inequality when there is so much of the bible which talks about equality, respect, justice and peace? The bible does not give any right to a man to hit or subject a woman to a life of violence, slavery, torture or inhumane treatment.

There are many factors contributing to the downfall in promoting gender equality in Papua New Guinea so having churches in promoting equality and interpreting the bible to promote women rights to end all forms of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, I dearly believe it will be a right step forward for the family, the church and the community as well as the country.

By Willie Doaemo


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