About 40 people were gathered at Kulturhuset in Oslo for Care Norway’s seminar earlier this month to learn how “Engaging Religious Leaders in Gender Transformative Work” can be done. Technical Advisor Prabu Deepan in TearFund has been working on transforming masculinity on several continents, and he gave some very interesting insights.
“The narratives about masculinity often derive from misinterpretations of the scriptures. The Bible says that the body is not hers, but belongs to her husband. During a workshop a man realised that for the last 20 years he had forced his wife to sleep with him. He never asked for her permission,” Deepan said.
Who was Jesus?
When he talks about gender equality in religious communities, there can be resistance.
“Some see it as a western concept and believes that it does not fit in with their faith. We hold workshops and community dialogues to show that the values from the Human Rights are the same as the ones we find in the scriptures.”
Deepan tells that they actively use the scriptures to transform the way of perceiving gender roles.
“We use Jesus as an example. We say: Look at him. –What kind of man was he? Look at how he treated people…”, Deepan explained.
TearFund works with both Christian and Muslim communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia. According to Deepan, many of these communities lack good examples of loving and caring men.
“Men need to see alternatives. Most men have never seen another example – not from their father and not from the society. Therefore, it is important for the religious leaders to not only preach, but also model this behaviour. –If you believe God has placed you as a leader, you have a responsibility, a mandate, “he states.
The project works hand in hand with priests and imams to make sure that the messages given at the service will not be contradictive and confusing. During a six weeks’ intense workshop where men and women of the same congregation meet in separate groups, they will start to get in touch with their real behaviour, motives and needs.
“Many times men need to release vulnerability and trauma in their lives. Then they find out what they want their woman to understand about themselves,” Deepan said and cracked up in a big smile:
“After a while others start asking “Why are these guys happy?”, “Why do they go to the market together?” We see massive, massive improvements after the workshops!”
Takes religion seriously
Knud Jørgensen from Areopagos, Christiane Seehausen from the Nansen Centre and Beatrice Halsaa also contributed with useful insights about the topic.
“This seminar was a very good initiative from Care Norway. It takes religion seriously, and acknowledges that the religious leaders are very important to create a greater respect for the Human Rights,” Senior Advisor in Digni, Knut Espeland, said after attending the seminar.
He added on saying:
“I was especially inspired by Prabu Deepan’s methodology. –When the scripture is used, it creates motivation for positive change. Then religious leaders can serve as positive change agents.”