The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has established a Gender Justice Ministry based in its commitment to accelerate progress in promoting gender justice and equality through strengthening the role of women in the church and in society. The ELCJHL’s Gender Justice Ministry works to create a safe space for men and women in Jordan and Palestine by empowering them and amplifying their voices in order to reduce gender disparities. The primary focus is to adopt a gender-aware response to the impacts of discrimination against women in a patriarchal society, with an emphasis on closing the legal loopholes that weaken women’s rights and perpetuate gender inequalities in Palestine.
One of the strongest examples of the ELCJHL’s commitments to gender justice is the ELCJHL’s bold decision to become the first religious organization in the Middle East to successfully reform its religious family laws to ensure gender-equitable policies and greater compliance with international human rights standards. The ELCJHL is also the first and only religious organization to appoint female judges in its Ecclesiastical court, which affirms gender equality to be at the forefront of its mission. The ELCJHL works to create an environment that fosters inclusion and combats discrimination by actively engaging women, men, youth, and persons with disabilities in its activities. The ELCJHL Gender Justice Ministry organizes capacity-building workshops, webinars, advocacy campaigns, and annual conferences addressing gender justice from an interfaith theological perspective to build a broader interfaith coalition and encourage other faith organizations in Palestine and the Middle East to adopt similar models.
The ELCJHL collaborates with other local and international faith-based women’s organizations and interfaith religious organizations through enhancing advocacy efforts, raising awareness, and strengthening the monitoring of government efforts to design and implement policies that promote a gender-responsive framework from a faith perspective. The ELCJHL will further embrace its commitment to upholding women’s rights and promoting women’s leadership by ordaining its first Lutheran female pastor in Palestine in January 2023. As women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions, the ELCJHL plays a prominent role in challenging harmful social norms and practices that prevent women from rising to positions of leadership. With patterns of inequalities intensifying, the ELCJHL and its Gender Justice Ministry work diligently to adopt mainstreaming strategies in order to deconstruct rigid gender norms and achieve gender justice in Palestine.
Leaders of the church recognized that the women of the ELCJHL are the backbone of the family and the church, standing fast in faith, hope, and spirit and seeking support from other women when they need it. The gathering of women began informally, but the organization of the Women’s Committee helped to systematize the work of the ministry. This eventually became known officially as the “Women’s Desk”.
The ELCJHL Women’s Desk was able to return to ministry even after the most disconnected years following the Second intifada (2000-2005). During this time, and for some time after, each congregation’s women’s group organized and worked independently as a result of movement restrictions, checkpoints, and the difficulty of obtaining permits. In 2021, Bishop Azar in consultation with the ELCJHL Gender Justice team, renamed the ministry as “Gender Justice Ministry”, to better encompass the work and outreach done, as it is incomplete without the support and alliance of the men in our community as well.
Events and Initiatives
The Gender Justice Ministry has developed an initiative called #GenderJustice4Palestine, designed to coincide with other global gender justice projects and commitments. The initiative is aimed at encouraging faith leaders, of all denominations and faiths, to engage in gender justice as outlined in the LWF Gender Justice Policy created in 2013 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly SDG #5 “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls.”
The Gender Justice Ministry and Women’s Committee also hold annual conferences and events open to the wider community each year. In the past, these events have involved training on International human rights, understanding the ELCJHL Ecclesiastical Court’s Family Law system, and meeting successful women in the community to share their experiences, among many others.
The members of the ELCJHL Women’s Committee, in cooperation with women from all the churches in Jerusalem, are also highly involved in preparing the activities in Jerusalem for the annual World Day of Prayer. Each year, these services have a different theme which is celebrated throughout the world. These gatherings are hopeful signs of a growing ecumenical awareness.
International Relationships and Events
The Gender Justice Ministry is in regular collaboration with international partners. Our Gender Justice Program Manager, Mrs. Ranan Issa, has been an active member of the ACT Alliance Reference Groups. She is the co-chair of the Gender Justice Reference Group which consists of global faith actors working towards gender justice in their communities. The Gender Justice Reference group is made up of a group of men and women from Brazil, Uganda, Pakistan, Argentina, Tanzania, North America, Ethiopia, Sweden, and Palestine. Moreover, Mrs. Ranan Issa is an active member of the MENA Gender Justice CoP, where she represented the Alliance in her participation as a delegate in the UN Commission on Population and Development, in 2021. The MENA Gender CoP currently supports national ACT Forums in MENA, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Mrs. Ranan Issa is also a member of the GJP Transformative Masculinities Task Group and the GJP Family Law Task Group
Currently, the ELCJHL, in collaboration with Faith to Action Network, is implementing a 5-year project titled “Young Women 4 Awareness”, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Government. The project envisages three short-term outcomes aimed at transforming social norms and practices of faith-based organizations that constrain young women’s rights in Palestine:
- Faith actors are mobilized and capacitated to challenge gender-discriminatory social norms and promote women’s rights.
- Gender-transformative norms are promoted through local social and behavioral change communication by faith champions, opinion leaders, and groups.
- Men and boys practice positive masculinities to secure young women being safe and heard.
From the 6th to the 13th of October 2019, the Women’s Desk participated in the ELCA’s “Break Down the Diving Walls: Erasing Hostility” conference as a part of the Gender Focus Group, which advocated for gender equality issues within the context of the broader event. Ms. Ranan Issa, Director of the Women’s Desk, presented on the challenges faced by Palestinian women and how the Separation Wall directly affects our daily lives.
In 2018, the Women’s Desk represented the ELCJHL in a leadership seminar for women from churches across Europe and the United States. The seminar was sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), our companion church and fellow Lutheran World Federation member, and was held in Wittenberg Center in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany. The Women’s Desk shared information about the status of women in the Holy Land and addressed both the challenges faced by women and the opportunities available for women in the Holy Land. The seminar was a great success, as the participants got to know one another and learn from women from other Lutheran churches. Together, the participants built relationships and networks that have continued long after the conclusion of the seminar.
The ELCJHL was also highlighted as a model church at the United Nations Sixty-Third Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York, USA because of the recognition and establishment of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court in 2014 by the Palestinian Authority. Inspired by the LWF Gender Justice policy, the ELCJHL established a groundbreaking amendment to its Personal Status laws in 2015. The ELCJHL continues to encourage other faith organizations to adopt a similar model.
For more information about the Women’s Ministries of the ELCJHL, contact Mrs. Ranan Issa, the Gender Justice Ministry Program Manager, at the ELCJHL Synod Offices at firstname.lastname@example.org