OMNIA held four online conversations on Dismantling Patriarchy. Each session featured expert initiators and had 60-70 participants from around the world. Click here for the Zoom recordings and notes of each session.

The four conversations were:

-- What is Patriarchy: Dr. Fulata Moyo and Ms.Soraya Deen

-- Manifestations of Patriarchy in the three countries where OMNIA operates Interfaith Peacemaker Teams: Ms. Daisy Roy(Bangladesh) on child marriage, Ms. Ruth Abner (Nigeria) on polygamy, and Ms.Shreen Saroor (Sri Lanka) on Muslim marriage laws in Sri Lanka.

-- Ordained women's Challenges and Struggles: Rabbi Karen Bender (Los Angeles, USA), Bhikkhuni Maharagama Uppalavanna (Sri Lanka) and Ms. Kate McElwee (Rome, Italy) initiated the conversation.

-- The fourth conversation on Dismantling Patriarchy focused on strategy. What can we do about it, that was urgent, relevant and winnable. It required analyzing our power and cutting a thin-slice out of the massive problem of patriarchy, with the confidence that a small victory will lead to building greater power which leads to greater victories.


The Five Issue Areas:

1. Child Marriage: How can we get a handle on this complex problem? Some Interfaith Peacemaker Teams are already addressing it. What can others learn? How can we support them?

2. Female Role models: How do we lift them up? How do lift up women protagonists? How do we encourage women writers,storytellers, poets, singers, musicians and artists? How do we celebrate the work of ordinary women?

3. Religion, including sacred texts and language: How do we lift up liberative aspects of religion? What do we do with problematic texts and male language? How can we lift up the Sacred Feminine?

4. Anti-patriarchal organization: What does it mean for us to become an anti-patriarchal organization, and encourage all our affiliates and Interfaith Peacemaker Teams to be so?

5. Elected office/Leadership: How can we train women to run for elected office – political, corporate, religious or at the community level?


Questions Raised By Breakout Groups:


1. Female Role Models:

a. How do we get younger women and girls into leadership roles? Bring both the younger and older women together to find out what are some of the barriers that young women face. What are the cultural and structural factors that impact women? Co-leadership with two women or even male and female has potential.

b. How do we lift up role models?  How do we lift up particularly young women like Malala, Greta Thunberg or Amanda Foreman and everyday women so we have role models in all different aspects of life, from musicians and artists across the spectrum so all women and girls can see the potential they have?

c. How do we help women to learn to be powerful? A lot of women are put down as not as important as men. How do we get examples, and to make sure that we're building up trust, and that they can speak and talk?

d. How can we get women (in our IP Teams) to tell or write their own story? How do we promote women protagonists?


2. Religion including Sacred Texts and Language:

a. How can we hear the stories of the sacred feminine? Biblical examples are plentiful. We need to do this across religions.

b. Can we translate small pieces of Scripture into inclusive language, such as the Lord's prayer? Some of it is already done. One of our participants is rewriting the Roman Catholic catechism in inclusive language, otherwise, young people hear exclusive language from their early faith formation. Translating small texts like the creation story into inclusive language, maybe sharing them with our IP Teams, or churches, is a winnable task.

c. Similarly, volunteering to rewrite the worship songs into inclusive language. So we are singing every Sunday, about God's empowerment and love and grace of women.

d. Can we find in children's bibles, stories that celebrate female role models – the “sheroes”? This way, women and girls from the youngest ages will learn that they are created in God's image and have the full empowerment of God.


3. Six Principles of an Anti-Patriarchal Organization:

a. Co-leadership of men and women  

b. Set goals and processes about being anti-patriarchal, without establishing quotas.

c. Find ways to address religious patriarchy.

d. Take time to evaluate every meeting on issues of how do we do on patriarchal issues and styles.

e. Resist simple solutions, dig into the deeper patriarchal patterns.

f.  Lift up the achievements of IP Teams that are all women.

4. Encouraging women to run for elected office/leadership

a. Need resources: money to mobilize women to engage in the political processes. Basic income or economic empowerment are prerequisites for engaging in political leadership.

b. Education including parenting for equity shifting mindsets, for gender equity, which is a long haul proposition and shifting attitudes.

c. Organizing to press governments to provide opportunities for women.

d. Because different places have different processes this is a bit more complicated.


Principles for Evaluating Our Power

1.  IP Teams:

We have 150 IP Teams in 3 countries. These teams are capable of bringing hundreds of community people together because they do one-on-ones in their communities and therefore they have deep relationships.  In one case, 2000 women came together and they strategized to end election violence and won.

Each team has 20 trained religious leaders. That means there are 3000 trained peacemakers in our teams. Because they are religious leaders, they have access to large gatherings of organized people sometimes thousands in their congregations where the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or other religious preacher tells them something like this is what’s God’s will for you, and many people try to follow that instruction. And they collect money!

2.  Organizational Alliances

OMNIA is connected to about 120 organizations. They are listed and categorized with a 1-5 numerical value, with 1 being a casual relationship and 5 being an MoU, and 2,3and 4 according to the closeness of the relationship. We have a good number of 4s and 5s, meaning that we can partner with other organizations if we find tha tour projects are mission-compatible and will enhance each organization.

3.  You who are in this room

The third way to think about our power is you who are in this room. Each of you represents a network. You have people in your congregations in your professional networks and in your neighborhoods. You may not have been intentional about developing those networks, and our training will teach you how to do that. But each network represents a power-base. So, the 40+ participants today may represent over 1000 people. If the issue is right, if it fits with your friends’ self-interest, it is not hard to get others organized to participate in something we want to do.

In addition, many of us, and many in our IP teams, know the power brokers. Many of us know our mayor, our governor, our elected officials,many of us know people in corporations and people with money. We just haven't cultivated those relationships. But if the right issue was brought to those people there is no reason they won’t join us. Think about how much power there is just in those categories. That's the level of power we have.

When we undertake issues that are urgent, relevant and winnable, and not things we cannot win, the people in power and all our friends are going to marvel at the success. Soon, we will grow power and will be able to accomplish greater victories.


Focusing on Three Questions:

Participants offerred the following suggestions and perspectives:

1. Interpretation of Texts

--Provide textual resources. worship resources, short texts worship songs, midrashes of the Bible stories etc. to powerful preachers, so they can lift up the role models from the stories. This is one way of getting it to the grassroots so women can be empowered.

-- Find a few texts, such as the Our Father prayer, change to inclusive language. Not only Christian texts but from other religions too.

-- Religion plays an important role in raising the status of women and pastors and imams are able to get to the grassroots. I believe that we must begin to talk to our congregation or our church members using inclusive language.

-- Not just the text but the music, the songs, so there is a lot of power. Providing religious leaders with inclusive language songs.

-- Is there some way we can collect pull together resources that are already there, such as the inclusive Catholic lectionary, or Women’s Bible Commentary, so we don't have to reinvent? There is a lot that's there that we can pull together.

-- I have a project that promotes the theory that Mary Magdalene was the author of the fourth gospel. And I'd like to do this through a movie, a musical, and a network of people that can explore the potential impact of that it could really have a lot of implications.

-- We have referenced the need for getting away from exclusive references to human beings, but we need also to think about whether we want to get away from patriarchal references to the divine.

-- I think, go beneath the surface perhaps it is the creation text itself. It is the foundation of our theological understanding of who we are and whose we are. And if there is any oppressive power that considers anyone lesser than the other.


2. Mentorship

-- Both female mentorship but male and female mentorship. And so I'm wondering because we are already strategically in place in Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Are there ways to engage the IP Teams in carrying out just a pilot project on, mutual mentorship.


3. Anti-Patriarchal Organization

-- Go public on being anti patriarchal.

-- Make a point of it in terms of the public to establish markers, our progress in terms of goals, how we, what kind of rules we follow so that you can also be public about that.

-- Evaluate everything in terms of its supremacy and patriarchy.

-- I'm a little nervous about the quantitative markers.As soon as a marker becomes a goal, it loses its purpose.

-- thought it was important to move the markers into the IP Teams, so they can set their own markers and to encourage them to have a large percentage of women. To give guidelines about how to do this appropriately.

-- I absolutely agree that to claim an antipatriarchal identity, and then to make that public is the place to start. We also use that in anti racism work, and that is very urgent and is winnable, and it's something we can easily do. It is empowering to have OMNIA name patriarchy as something to address. So simply to name it is powerful.

-- Before announcing that OMNIA is an anti patriarchal organization, I would suggest working through your community on these issues in the same kinds of conversations you've held here, but really not so much voluntary and helping people to unpackage and uncover issues of supremacy issues of patriarchy and why this is considered important getting feedback from different people in different communities, so that you're not imposing something on them, but you have buy in across the work.

4. Strategic Questions

-- What I'm hearing is if we build it they will come and not a strategy. The people who are closest and have the most influence are probably those in our network. But we can’t just hand them a text and say just go ahead and address supremacy and patriarchy. We need to convince them about why this is part of their issue. Patriarchy is invisible to a lot of people. So, you have to make that an issue. It is also important to find out who else is doing this.

-- OMNIA already has alliances across different religions. It doesn't yet have alliances with youth organizations, businesses, government organizations. And if any of those alliances include those, that would be very powerful place to do one small project with a few allies.


Participants made the following Commitments:

-- I want to work on inclusive texts for women.

-- I'd like to be around a theological table to continue discussing and working through it.

-- I am going to work with Diana to write a song about Mary Magdalene.

-- I will push the inclusive Lord's Prayer in my community.

-- I would be willing to work with OMINA on designing strategy for implementation.

-- We have to head on address this issue, it can't be the third or fifth item in the agenda. So how can we reorganize our training also to teach young girls?

-- I look forward to continuing in conversation with Diana on her project. But I also look forward to continuing to get the word out in whatever projects we're working on, in the ELCA networks, and within the global Lutheran family.

-- I'm helping OMNIA develop monitoring, evaluation and learning methodologies, particularly for the interfaith peacemaking teams, so we can really integrate gender analysis, and find ways of tracking and measuring patriarchy and dismantling of patriarchy.

-- I have so much interest in Nigeria because I've worked with them a lot and willing to work with the OMNIA on how to actually deconstruct patriarchy using sacred text. I will also work with Diana on the Magdelena project.

-- I'm committed to continue pushing for larger scale power that I think OMNIA has much opportunity or much potential to have much beyond what it now has.

-- I'm really excited because I think what we're trying to achieve in our Roman Catholic Church. We are going against the rules. In that, we may have found an ally. It’s a good alliance and I'm lookingforward to further connection.

-- Last week I wrote an article on one issue based on the patriarchy. I am going to do that again. And there are social issues, I can write about. I can write to the websites and social media.

-- I'm ready to walk into OMNIA in order to help in deconstruct patriarchy. I am a specialist in gender studies.

Shanta Premawardhana


Shanta Premawardhana is president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership. Prior to OMNIA, he served as the Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA. While serving as pastor of Ellis Avenue Church in Chicago, he engaged in community organizing in the Southside of Chicago. He is an emeritus trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, National Council of Churches, USA, and Common Cause Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


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