Interview: Equality at all levels, Christian Aid’s new report

ACT Member Christian Aid has launched a new report, “Equality at All Levels” which explores the role of faith actors in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. ACT has interviewed Christian Aid’s Marianna Leite, Global Lead –  Gender and Inequality and Chair of the ACT Alliance Gender Justice Reference Group, to learn more about the research.


ACT Alliance: In the new report Christian Aid says that there is no Agenda 2030 without the Beijing Platform for Action, could you elaborate on that and what needs to be done to ensure equality and justice for all?

Marianna Leite: Agenda 2030 is quite ambitious and much more comprehensive than its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals. As stated on the preamble of the UN resolution that created it, the SDGs ‘seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls . In this sense, in order to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, we must put gender equality and women’s rights front and centre and, to date, there is no international legally binding instrument that addresses gender equality and women’s rights better than the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is our north and our cornerstone, be it within the SDGs agenda or beyond. Moreover, the SDGs are strongly grounded in human rights; they ‘are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental. This means that the must use international human rights instruments such as the Beijing Platform for Action in the roadmap towards 2030.

AA: What do you see as the main challenge to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action? And what are the opportunities?

ML: The issue of inequality is deeply rooted and ingrained in all societies, and, depending on the contexts, it is more serious than just poverty, particularly when we see obscene wealth in direct juxtaposition with extreme poverty. The same applies to gender inequality; it prevents us from truly prospering as a society, developing and creating a more peaceful world. So, the main challenge is making sure that all stakeholders implement the Beijing Platform for Action in an way that efficiently challenges the power structures and socially constructed stereotypes responsible for keeping women, girls and other marginalised individuals behind.

There are many opportunities created by the Beijing Platform for Action which ranges from the promotion of an economy of life that incorporate feminist values to the debunking of myths fostered by patriarchy that not only marginalise women, girls and other individuals but also puts men and boys in constraining positions and aggressive roles that lead to violence, conflict and oppression.

AA: Why do churches and religious organisations need to put their house in order when it comes to gender equality and justice?

ML: Religious institutions have, at times, been shaped by patriarchal structures, and this has been a disservice to women and girls throughout history. Our recognition of this compels us to work persistently towards basing all our work on gender justice and equality. Progressive faith actors such as ACT members must not stand still in the face of these injustices. A myriad of religious practices within and beyond Christianity become silenced and invisible in the face of rising fundamentalisms. We must bring those practices, teachings and theologies to the forefront in order to make sure faith is always used as a transformative force for gender justice. As ACT, we believe that we must always promote progressive gender norms, challenge harmful practices, and amplify the voices of women from minority groups to address their multiple inequalities. This is exactly why ACT is launching a Gender Campaign. We aim to connect with dissident voices such as feminist theologians as a way to visible theologies of gender justice which liberate and empower while also pushing for equality of outcomes for all.

AA: Why do you think that today more than ever religious fundamentalism is threatening what the international community has achieved in terms of gender equality and human rights more broadly.

ML: Religious fundamentalisms are now operating as of a triad made up by 3 types of fundamentalisms that reinforce each other: social (epitomised by patriarchy and toxic masculinity), economic (pushed forward by aggressive neoliberal policies and the unquenchable thirst for unlimited growth) and religious (characterised by the backlashes against gender equality and the delegitimization of women’s rights instruments). The effects of this unholy alliance is clearly seen in gender parity indicators. In fact, gender parity may actually be shifting into reverse. The 2016 Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum found that progress peaked in 2013 and key gender equality indicators have declined since then, particularly those related to economic participation and opportunities. Projections based on the 2015 report suggested that the economic gap could be closed within 118 years, i.e., in 2133, which was outrageous in itself. However, this target seems even more elusive by the year. The 2020 report estimates it will take 257 years to close the economic participation and opportunity gap. This is unacceptable!

AA: How do you envisage faith organisations and churches use this report?

ML: The purpose of this report is two-fold. First of all, I foresee the report being used as an informative tool which enables faith-based organisations and churches to educate themselves and to educate others on the relevance of Beijing Platform for Action. For instance, can we have an open and transparent discussion about the Beijing commitments with our congregations? If  yes, can we map out what we can do to make sure we promote transformative change?

Secondly, I believe the report can be used as a call to action triggering ourselves and others to do more in promoting gender justice and standing against those that create obstacles to that progress. For example, ACT Gender Policy urges all members to develop gender justice policies that are specific and relevant to their local cultural and programmatic contexts. Well, this need to be done within 3 years of the adoption of the ACT Gender Policy, i.e. by 2021. Members could use this and other relevant reports as points of discussion that help in the development and effective implementation of gender policies. This, I believe is crucial in making sure we stay true to our values of love, justice and dignity.

Download the report here