Earlier this year Kirsty Moore joined the Red Arrows as a pilot, Carol Ann Duffy became poet laureate, Claire Taylor was named a Wisden cricketer of the year while Dorothy Hughes and Winifred Philiips joined the ranks of the Chelsea pensioners – and all of them were the first women to do so. Thirty years after Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and 81 years after women were given equal voting rights with men, the fact that we can be marking so many female firsts shows that there’s still a way to go before there’s a level playing field for both men and women in our society. And while we’re on politics, around a fifth of the UK’s MPs are women. In the world league table of political representation we come 60th, lagging behind Vietnam, Iraq and Burundi and completely eclipsed by Rwanda and Sweden who are closest to the 50/50 split. At the current rate of change, it’ll be 200 years before there’ll be equal representation of men and women in parliament.
Not that being a man is a bed of roses! According to the Men’s Health Forum men are significantly more likely to both get cancer and die from it. There’s no biological reason for that; it’s thought that stereotypical male behaviour such as downplaying early symptoms, being reluctant to visit a doctor to ask for advice and not being as health-conscious as women are part of the problem. Facts like these suggest that none of us can afford to ignore the dynamics and complexity of gender.
The biblical narrative says that men and women were created in the image of God and were given the task together of unlocking creation and bringing new things to birth, working in partnership and co-operation. Christians have different perspectives of what that looks like in practice. Some believe that the gospel liberates both men and women to lead and exercise their gifts in all areas of life, while others are convinced that men are called to loving overall leadership in the church and home. It’s challenging, isn’t it, that there are thoughtful spirit-filled Christians who have studied their Bibles deeply and yet have come to different conclusions? The danger is that we allow our different perspectives to polarise and divide us; the opportunity is there for us to listen, to talk, to learn from each other and to work together if we will only take it.
And we need to make sure that our theology isn’t a hiding place for the same old discrimination found in the rest of society. The Sophia Network was created just under two years ago to encourage women and men to work together more closely in a way that reflects the heart of God and to address some of the gender imbalance found within youth work. We believe that when women, or men, are sidelined, silenced or ignored, then something vital is missing and the kingdom of God is misrepresented. Our remit has broadened to include women in children’s ministry, church leaders and others who are on the same journey, and we welcome men as Friends of Sophia because we can’t do this on our own. We focus our energy in the areas of partnership, relationships, voice and training, and our website has a blog that highlights current gender issues and the impact they have on us and on young people. We want to encourage women to use their gifts, develop confidence, grow as leaders and broaden their vision of the ways in which God can use them. And above all, we want to see young people growing up with healthy role models of what it is to be men and women of God.
Article submitted by Sharon Prior, one of the founders of the Sophia Network and an Activate Dream Team Member.