We previously noted that it was going to be hard to include women’s voices to the extent that they exist in the church (well over 50% if combining clergy and laity), just based on how few women are among the delegates (about 1/3rd), and indeed, it is a challenge.
These monitoring reports cover the period from early afternoon one day to the same on the next day. So, from early Sunday afternoon to about the same time on Monday, 60% of the speakers were men and 40% were women. Indeed, women’s voices are a bit more numerous than their percentage of the body, but it also depends on the topic. For example, during the debate on pension issues, very few women spoke.
Also notable was the gendered nature of the committee officer nominations. As is often the case, more women were nominated for the position of secretary and more men for the job of chair. In the end, two women were elected to the three officer spots, but both in supporting rather than leading roles. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women asked that Rev. Dr. Betty Musau Kazadi be given a chance to preside over some portion of our business, not only to give a woman the seat of leadership, but a Central Conference clergywoman from Africa. We hope to see that later in the day.
In 1888, six women were first elected by their annual conferences as lay delegates to the General Conference, but were refused seats because women were not allowed. Some of the annual conferences were ready to elect women, but some segments of the General Church were not. A long twelve years later, in 1900, laywomen were finally admitted to the General Conference. Some Methodist women were ordained at the merger of 1939, but full clergy rights for all Methodist women came in 1956. It took another 20 years for the first clergywomen to be elected to the General Conference, in 1976. That’s all to say, the road to full inclusion of women in the church has been a long one, and even now, women’s voices are the minority at this, our highest legislative body, and for this very important moment in the life of the church.
Frances Willard from the then Rock River Conference, was one of those women, who in 1888, was refused inclusion. Today, while we continue to work toward not only full gender inclusion, but full equity in the church, it is important to remember her words:
“It is my dearest wish to help break down the barriers of prejudice that keep women silent.”
By the way, also pertinent to our work, Willard also said the following:
“The world is wide and I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.”