When Lima Toura (pictured below) prepares a sermon, she does it by the light of a single cell solar battery lamp using her precious, tiny collection of third-hand commentaries given to her on graduation from Seghe Theological Seminary.
Forget Google. Forget online forums. Forget access to any library or nearby colleagues.
“There’s no electricity in my home and sometimes the lamp doesn’t last,” Lima says. “But I’m so happy to have the books. And I use my bible and a lot of prayer.”
A new graduate ministering in a coastal village in the Solomon Islands, Lima’s call to ministry is strong.
“I am so happy to be here walking alongside my people,” she says. “This change means everything to me. It means so much to women in my village.”
If the women in Lima’s village are typical of women throughout the Pacific, they’re likely to be facing considerable challenges.
Women have the primary responsibility for holding the family together in a context where food and water shortages due to climate change and natural disaster are becoming more frequent. Poverty is widespread.
In some parts of the Pacific, women also have an eight in ten chance of being beaten by their partners. They earn up to 70 per cent less than their male colleagues, if they’re lucky enough to have jobs at all. And if they’re under the age of 15, they have more chance of being sexually abused than almost anywhere else in the world.
By any measure, it’s an appalling situation. What’s brought it about? And what are the keys to unlocking change for the future?
While gender bias and the oppression of women are common to many cultures, in the Pacific Christianity has a unique role to play both in the problem and the solution. In most Pacific cultures, 90 per cent of the population identify strongly as Christians. Deeply held biblical views of gender are highly influential.
As a result, good theological education is critical.
“Some interpretations of the bible, in the Pacific and even in our own culture, have been used to justify all sorts of behaviours, including the oppression of women and turning a blind eye to domestic violence,” says UnitingWorld’s Kathy Pereira, who has worked with women in the Pacific on strategies to empower women.
“Theological education is a means of giving women the tools they need to grow in confidence and begin to challenge issues like gender-based violence and inequity.”
Throughout 2013, UnitingWorld has committed to a focus on gender and women’s empowerment in the Pacific through theological training, education and livelihood programs.
“Especially in the Pacific, women are treated as second grade citizens,” Lima says.
“But right now in the Uniting Church in the Solomon Islands, female ministers are being trained and ordained…we are being recognised because God created us all equal. This change means so much to us.”
By Cath Taylor
To support Lima and other ministers or to learn more about ‘Transforming Lives through Leadership’ go to: www.unitingworld.org.au/transformlives