Date published: Wednesday 26 April 2017
BY MARCIA BALZER
“We’re as much the message as the words we say.” This was how one Converge participant from Baptist Care SA summarised the experience of coming to Canberra in March for two days of meetings with federal parliamentarians.
That summary expressed the journey we travelled along with 40 other Baptist leaders from around the country, including CEOs Graham Dangerfield (Baptcare) and Ross Low (BaptistCare NSW & ACT).
In preparing to speak with politicians from all parties about violence against women, we were challenged by our own approaches to gender inequality in our churches, our organisations and our personal relationships. There are many people who see churches and religion as perpetuating gender inequalities rather than helping to solve them, and this was brought home to the group as we prepared to respond to difficult questions in our meetings.
Churches and Christians haven’t traditionally done well when it comes to gender equality. With only 25% of Converge participants being women, there’s clearly plenty of work to do to achieve a gender balance in Baptist leadership (as there is in secular society as well!)
Gender inequality and rigid gender roles have been demonstrated to be the main contributors towards violence against women. This is because inequality leads to disrespect of women, the basis of the scourge of family and domestic violence currently on the political agenda.
At Converge we talked with politicians about the need for reform in the family law system to protect family violence survivors and their children. A parliamentary inquiry into this issue had been established only the week before, so our message was very timely and relevant. We also covered the need for better services around housing and employment for women escaping violent situations. It was heartening to hear bi-partisan support for continued efforts to address domestic and family violence in Australia.
Our other speaking points included addressing the needs of female refugees who are particularly vulnerable to violence in their search for safety. We called for an increase in our humanitarian intake, and increased funding for UNHCR to help address the needs of women in refugee camps.
Women working in global supply chains are also subject to violence and exploitation. Our advocacy revolved around establishing a modern slavery act similar to the UK’s with stronger enforcement provisions. There is also currently a parliamentary inquiry into establishing such an act, so again we were relevant and topical in our choice of subject.
Converge is an initiative of Australian Baptist Ministries, and is organised jointly by A Just Cause (the social justice arm of Australian Baptist Ministries), Baptist World Aid Australia, and Baptist Care Australia.
It isn’t necessarily about seeing policy change – or at least not yet. I think there’s a good chance that we will see some impact over time, combined with the efforts of others to achieve change. For now, Converge is mostly about communication. It’s about we Baptists being visible to decision-makers, and talking about issues that we care about. Most importantly, it’s about advocating for others rather than ourselves – speaking for those who miss out on the opportunities that most Australians take for granted. This in itself gives our delegations a credibility that many visitors to politicians can’t claim. As a result, we received a remarkably warm welcome.
I’m very much looking forward to helping build Converge each year into a stronger voice for Australia’s Baptists that is eventually well-recognised in Canberra for its concern for and advocacy on behalf of those without a voice.
Read our media release on Converge 2017.