Over 139 participants attended “Women Breaking Chains, Nurturing Communities, Planting Seeds of Hope”, a virtual event held by the Gender Justice Working Group of the Council for World Mission (CWM) Caribbean and Europe regions on International Women’s Day.

After words of welcome and greetings from CWM regional staff, the lively event commenced with the pulsating beat of drums by the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT) worship team, a reminder of the Caribbean’s history of using drumming for prayer, worship and communication.

Following worship, Rev. Patricia Sheerattan Bisnauth, Chair of the Gender Justice Working Group gave an overview of the group’s objectives, which included analysing and identifying ways to address contextual realities that hinder women’s ministry and leadership, and creating a women empowerment resource to add to CWM’s ongoing work in resisting life-denying forces.

Next up was the event’s highlight, an energising table talk facilitated by Ms. Karen Campbell from the United Reformed Church (URC), where the panellists and participants named women across CWM member churches and their hard-earned achievements in church and society, and identified “patriarchy, misogynism, violence, abuse and inherited theology, bible interpretation, church practices and structures” as factors preventing women from fully participating in the life of churches.

Panel members clockwise from left: Ms. Karen Campbell, URC; Rev. Rev. Dr Janet Wootton, a retired minister of the Congregational Federation (CF); Mrs. Linnette Vassell, a civil society activist and member of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI); Rev. Ellen Mulenga, a minister of the United Church of Zambia (UCZ); Dr. Elizabeth December-Singh, member of the Guyana Presbyterian Church (GPC), and Miss Vanessa Blissett, President of the UCJCI’s United Church Young People’s Fellowship

While younger contributors spoke about a generational gap around gender justice matters, and the internalising of oppression, all conceded the need for renewed solidarity among women and a concerted effort by both men and women to make gender justice a priority of the church. The event was interspersed with poetry, including a poetic interlude by Dr Anna Perkins that served as a grim reminder of the cascading reality of gender-based and intimate partner violence.

In closing, the Moderator of CWM, Rev. Lydia Neshangwe highlighted the need to be aware of activism that insists that one’s way is the only way, and proposed a helpful approach to “let a thousand flowers bloom”, where each person takes her place and does her part in her way and in her place.

She explained, “This means we do not discourage those whose place, stage, and methodology are different”. For example, some speak publicly on the issue as they have access to public spaces, or are academics whereas others advocate for the rights of the girl child in their homes. Rev. Neshangwe encouraged women to “engage in whatever level you are, whether you are in leadership, or in the home or community” since every level of contribution is valuable, after which she offered the closing prayer.