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Tischreden und Lesekost

Dr. Elaine Neuenfeldt - Pfarrerin, Secretary for Women in Church and Society, Lutherischer Weltbund (LBW), Genf

Evangelischen Akademie Tutzing – Frauenmahl May 22, 2014


It is an honour to take part at this important event, here in Tutzing. I am very pleased to contribute with some reflections, based on the experience of our work with women and gender justice programmes in the LWF Lutheran Communion. I would like to follow 3 steps as we gather around the table, asking some questions to motivate further discussions and dialogue.


1) We are hungry! We are hungry of what? How do we name our hunger?


The facts and figures of leadership and political participation of women in government and politic spheres are revealing an interesting landscape. According to the 2014 UN Women statistics, the political map of women’s participation shows that from the first 10 countries with more women in politics, Africa is the region with the highest number of women in the parliament, followed by Europe and Latin America. [1] But, worldwide only 1 in 5 parliamentarians are female. Nevertheless, having more women in the politic sphere does not mean any guarantee for more democracy or transparency. In the LWF Communion, our statistics are revealing still a glass ceiling for women in high leadership positions in the church level: In the whole Communion of 142 churches we have 11 churches lead by a woman bishop or president (Asia: 1 (Hong Kong); Western Europe: 2 (Central Germany and in Switzerland); Nordic: 4 out of 5 (Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden); Latin America and Caribbean: 2 (Nicaragua and Suriname); North America: 2 (US and Canada). In LWF Council, the governing/decision making body, representation is respecting quota system approved since the Assembly in Budapest, in 1984, which is orienting towards at least 40% women and 20% youth representation. Looking to simple facts and figures, we see a lack of presence, of numbers, of being at the table where important decisions are taken. In that sense, one possibility in naming our hunger is just PRESENCE!


2) Let us prepare the meal – we want to take part and decide the menu and the format of the table


We are what we eat, but we cannot be, without eating! Presence is important. Seeing women sitting and taking part at the table where decisions are made is an important shift in our imaginary. But, it is not enough. Presence must be accompanied with qualification, with full participation. Women’s participation at politic level, in any organization must be framed in a structure that allows full and qualified participation in the agenda and the life of that organization. Structural arrangements and change are crucial to allow women to feel whole and comfortable at the table where decisions are taken. If women are not comfortable at the table it is not a just place. The exercise of being part, of building important decisions is what is called citizenship. In being citizens in the society and in the church, women are agents of change. Citizenship is a quality of someone which rights are recognized. It defines that social, political and economic rights are secured by the law and a status of citizen is guaranteed to a given person. In religious and theological perspectives it means that also an ecclesiastical citizenship for women must be advocated. A theological citizenship requires that women are autonomous and historical agents also inside the churches. [2] Continuing to use the image of the table of food, a full or empty portion in the plate is a sign of fullest or emptiness of social relations. The way of sharing meals can determine social relations. Sharing the bread is about how, with whom and in which way the power is distributed. The word “companion” carries in its (Latin) root the notion of “with and bread” – with whom I eat the bread, who is my partner in the table, she or he is my partner. We became allies with whom we share the table and together with whom we have food. So, if women are not whole and comfortable at the table how can we talk about sharing power and sharing bread? “As long as women are asked to bring a self-denying mentality to the communal table, it will never be round, men and women seated together; it will remain the same traditional hierarchical dais, with a folding table for women at the foot.” [3]  Another name of our hunger is PARTICIPATION!


3) Who defines the menu? What about mixing things, being creative, and inventing new ways of cooking?


Our Reformation heritage is giving impulses to discuss women active citizenship in church and society. The operation and mechanisms of power relations needs to be addressed in a biblical and theological perspective. In the effort to put in practical terms the theological concept of an inclusive communion, the access (or not), the use (or misuse) of power manifested in the practice through the hierarchical and androcentric structures of the church must be problematized. The work of churches and church-based organizations toward preventing and overcoming violence against women, based on an ethic of resistance to injustice, is one good practical example of this active role. [4] The churches’ practice, diaconal work and theological reflection are part and parcel of the critical approach to faith and religion, which can help to dismantle the frequently dangerous connection between religion and culture that relegates women to the private sphere where violence most frequently occurs. Reflections from a feminist perspective are saying since a while that so called private issues are political and are driven by unequal and unjust power relations. Another theological word is urgently needed. Women’s voices and words are required to build up a public role of theology. A word that is free from punishment, guilty and accommodation, in justification of violence, especially against women. A feminist theology or a theological perspective crosscut by gender justice is the way of producing these other words; open, in dialogue, enriched and motivated with women’s experiences. This is the public and prophetic role of theology and religion: it is helping to produce sense in quotidian life, is to reconnect and build a feeling of belonging and dignity for all human beings. What I am advocating for is that religion and theology should interact with the public spaces in order to help promoting transformation of unjust and excluding structures. We have experienced in LWF that in order to building signs of just and inclusive Communion platforms, processes and policies to orient gender justice are needed – and this was the process to build the LWF Gender Justice Policy. [5]

Another name for our hunger is diversified and re-signified POWER relations! Let’s celebrate: feast and joy – to build signs of a Just and Inclusive Communion is a way of dealing with our Hunger!


Elaine Neuenfeldt

LWF WICAS 20.05.14



[1] Only 20.9 per cent of national parliamentarians were female as of 1 July 2013, a slow increase from 11.6 per cent in 1995; As of June 2013, 8 women served as Head of State and 13 served as Head of Government; Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 56.3 per cent of seats in the lower house; Globally, there are 37 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of July 2013. 1) Rwanda - 63,8%. 2) Andorra - 50%. 3) Cuba - 48,9%. 4) Sweden - 45%. 5) South Africa - 44,8%. 6) Seychelles (África) - 43,8%. 7) Senegal- 43,3%. 8) Finland - 42,5%. 9) Nicaragua 42.4%. 10) Ecuador - 41,6 21. Germany – 36.5% 33. Switzerland - 32% 126. Brazil – 8.6%
See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and- figures#sthash.1L5OfrKO.dpuf
And a world map at: http://www.ipu.org/pdf/publications/wmnmap14_en.pdf

[2] Deifelt, Wanda. Educacao teologica para as mulheres : um passo decisivo rumo à cidadania eclesial.
In. Genero e teologia. Interpelacoes e perspectivas. Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte : SOTER, Loyola ; Paulinas. 2003. P. 265-282

[3] FALLON, Patricia, KATZMAN, Melanie, WOOLEY, Susan C. Feminist perspectives on Eating disorders. New York : Guildford Press, 1994, p. 98

[4] See the LWF Plan of Action – Churches say No to Violence Against women. 2006. Available in English, German, French and Spanish. http://www.lutheranworld.org/content/resource-churches-say- no-violence-against-women-action-plan-churches

[5] http://www.lutheranworld.org/content/resource-lwf-gender-justice-policy

Dieser Internetauftritt gehört zum Studienzentrum der EKD für Genderfragen in Kirche und Theologie (vorher: Frauenstudien- und -bildungszentrum in der EKD, FSBZ).
Besuchen Sie uns unter www.gender-ekd.de.

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