Women bishops – Church of England votes no
On 21st November, the Church of England Synod faced its biggest crisis yet after voting against allowing women to become bishops. The legislation, which would have swept away centuries of entrenched sexism, was rejected by just six votes. Controversy had centred on the provisions for parishes opposed to women bishops to request supervision by a stand-in male bishop.
After a 12 year push the long awaited measure was dealt a fatal blow. The legislation had needed a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses of the General Synod to pass. The measure was passed by the synod’s Houses of Bishops and Clergy but was rejected by the House of Laity. The votes were 44 for 3 against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for 45 against the House of Clergy and 132 for 74 against in the House of Laity. If just six members of the laity had voted for instead of against the measure it would have been passed.
The result was met with disappointment from campaigners who warned that the church’s image had been severely damaged. The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, who had campaigned personally for a yes vote expressed his ‘deep personal sadness’ at the result of the vote. He said: ‘Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness, that that is not the case.’
The synod will not be able to return to this issue for another three years, during which time supporters are likely to push for a more uncompromising measure which would remove the option for those parishes opposed to women bishops to request an alternative male bishop.
Female Genital Mutilation
On 26th November, the UN adopted a resolution calling for a global ban on Female Genital Mutilation. The resolution calls the practice harmful and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.
Italy’s UN ambassador, Cesare Maria Ragaglini, who has been working with African partners for a ban, called the resolution “a breakthrough in the international campaign to end the harmful practice of FGM”
“I think that together we can change the fate of many young girls around the world, and today this goal appears closer than ever,” he said. “The resolution, in condemning the practice and promoting social and educational programmes, is … the beginning of a new journey.”
Amnesty International UN representative in New York, José Luis Díaz also stated that:
“Vitally, this UN resolution places FGM in a human rights framework and calls for a holistic approach, stressing as it does the importance of empowerment of women, promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive health and breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence.”
The resolution on FGM, adopted by the Assembly’s Third Committee, is expected to be considered by the General Assembly Plenary in December. Although resolutions are not legally binding, they do have political and moral weight.
International Men’s Day
Monday 19th November was International Men’s Day (IMD), promoted by the organisers as a day to highlight gender specific issues such as male health and wellbeing. As such, it is convenient that it falls within the month of ‘Movember’, where men grow moustaches with the aim of raising awareness of men’s health issues, in particular, prostate and testicular cancer.
As well as highlighting health issues, IMD aims to improve gender relations and gender equality. Arguably, however, given that the men hold the dominant position in the patriarchal power structure, focussing on men’s issues is not the best strategy to reach gender equality. It is argued, by men, that men’s issues must be considered alongside those of women. Yes, men’s and women’s lives are intertwined, and perhaps gender-specific issues should be discussed in this way, but does IMD uncritically buy into stereotypes and create more of a divide in the broader issue of tackling problematic gender roles, expectations and power structures?
It has been suggested that ‘the seeds of a new men’s movement’ are being sown, but how far this is the case, and what form this movement is taking, is unclear. There is evidence of some men’s movements that stand with feminism to fight against sexism and other intersectional power structures, such as homophobia and racism. However, this is not always the case, with some men’s movements being vehemently anti-feminist.
If a men’s movement, and International Men’s Day are to continue, activists in this area will need to ensure that they refrain from focusing solely on the needs of the white, straight man, to avoid alienating swathes of the people for whom they are campaigning.
It has been revealed that David Cameron is likely to fast-track legislation to introduce equal marriage within weeks. It has been suggested that his reason for introducing the policy is that if people commit to each other, it will enable a solid foundation for society. This is a positive move forward given that it has only even been suggested that same sex marriage will be legalised before 2015 – this new time frame provides more immediacy to make such legislation a reality. Although the original proposals did not allow for it, Cameron’s legislation is likely to allow religious institutes to choose to perform same-sex marriage. Cameron will face some clear opposition on this, given that 34% of conservative voters say they would not vote for the party again is such legislation is passed. However, the party was the only one to make a commitment to investigating such changes in the law in the last election. However, while religious institutes will still be able to choose when and for whom they perform marriage, and many people still see it as a negative step for the law, it cannot be disputed that the majority see this as a positive step forward in eradicating discrimination.
And more from afar…
The US Supreme Court held a closed doors conference on Friday 30th November on whether or not they would hear any of the same-sex marriage cases, including any of the five DOMA cases. The result of their closed door conference was that the Court decided to take Association for Molecular Pathology v.Myriad Genetic, a case of whether or not removing a human gene from the body for research was process that could be patented. They additionally decided to hear Mutual Phamaceutical v. Bartlett, a case on the legal protections for makers of generic drugs.
The Court released no information about any decision it may have reached regarding DOMA and it is entirely possible that they have not yet reached one. No decision was made on the 3rd December either, their next opportunity to do so after this conference. Another closed doors conference could take place on Friday 7th December.