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Second Quarter, 2003
Gender and development
Female or male - all alike called to serve

Summary:
In Christian teaching there is neither male nor female, but only individuals who are called by Christ to love God and to love their neighbours. Women are to be active participants at the very centre of the process of development. - Alan Whaites

JESUS SOUGHT TO INCLUDE women not just as passive participants within his ministry - for example the recipients of healing, food and teaching - but also as actors in events and discourses. Women are recorded as examples in relation to their faith, such as Mary Magdalene, and also in relation to their receptivity to the message of Christ, such as Mary the sister of Martha.

Jesus used dialogues with women as ways in which to underline his willingness to break through traditional convention, perhaps most famously through the conversation at the well with a Samaritan woman. We should also remember that when Jesus broke up the mob intent on stoning a woman who had been caught in adultery, he was giving short shrift to cultural mores that tended to view male and female actions unequally.

The church and women

Jesus' inclusion of women within his ministry is an important reminder that in Christian teaching there is neither male nor female, but only individuals - individuals who are called by Christ to love God and to love their neighbours. In living out that call in relation to the issue of gender in development, Christians and the church must constantly re-affirm the need for women to be active participants at the very centre of the process of development. The church has sometimes fallen into cultural traps of ignoring the potential that women can play in the life of the community, and has sometimes forgotten that as actors in the Christian story women also have the ability to change the world through their own decision to follow the call of Christ.

Women who have made dramatic impacts on the lives of the poor and rich alike by their commitment to following Christ and loving their neighbours include some of the most important social reformers and civil society pioneers of the last two centuries. More broadly, women have continually transformed the world in which we live, and the story of development has shown this taking place from grass roots communities to global institutions and justice campaigns.

For Christians the need to constantly challenge any remaining complacency on gender in development is an imperative not only of biblical teaching, but also of practical experience.

Alan Whaites is Director for International Policy and Advocacy with World Vision.

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