Equality in leadership

Phoebe Griswold, Asian women seek change
December 31, 2005

Cultural contexts continue to challenge women’s efforts to join equally in church leadership, Phoebe Griswold said after returning from meetings with women during a two-week trip to Asia.

“Traditionally, cultural values place women in a secondary role, especially, particularly, as that applies to their public voice,” she said. “The policies and attitudes have to be adjusted to permit women into leadership circles.”

In October, Griswold and her husband, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, traveled the continent with other Episcopal church officials, meeting with Anglican leaders in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. She also met many women in various positions throughout the church, who described their struggles to share leadership.

During her travels, Griswold emphasized the importance of gender-equity in church councils and leadership bodies. At St. Andrew’s Church, Tokyo, female clergy told Griswold that her presence was an impetus for them to move forward. “They have women priests and they moving forward in church leadership,” she said. “They wanted to share their struggles with a lot of disappointments.”

The Anglican Consultative Council passed a resolution acknowledging the Millennium Development Goal that urges women to receive equal representation in decision-making councils. “When the women heard that the ACC encouraged gender-equity at every level of work in the church, they were thrilled to know that women throughout the world were with them,” said Griswold.

The theme for World Mission Sunday, designated for Feb. 26, is “Anglican/Episcopal Women: Relevant, Radical and Responsive.” “By resolution of General Convention in 1997, congregations of the Episcopal Church are asked to use the last Sunday after Epiphany as an opportunity for mission education,” said Margaret Larom, Episcopal Church director of Anglican and Global Relations. “After witnessing the joyful synergy created by bringing Episcopal and Anglican women together in New York early last year at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, we knew we had a wonderful focus for our 2006 theme.”

The 50th commission, to be held in New York in Feb. 24-March 8, will highlight the theme: What is an enabling environment for women’s leadership? “Globally,” Griswold said, “the environment holds many challenges to become an enabling environment for women’s leadership.”

Overcoming timidity

In Shanghai, Griswold met with 15 church leaders, including three women. She asked Dr. Cao Sheng-jie, the first female president of the China Christian Council, Cao what she considered women’s greatest assets. Cao replied, ‘Candor and caring.’ “Then, I asked her what was women’s greatest impediment in putting these gifts to work, and she said, ‘Timidity.’”

Griswold said she observed timidity when she attended a meeting of 40 women, ordained and students, at St. John’s University, Taipei, Taiwan. Addressing the group, she talked about women’s need to bring their values to the decision-making tables where policies and budget are shaped. “Those qualities of candor and caring must be invited to the table,” she told them. But, she said, “when I asked for comments and sharing [from the women] no one spoke … timidity reigned. This was the cultural norm.

“But I realized that I had to learn new ways of finding out what was on the women’s minds,” Griswold said. “When we asked them to write questions down, there was a lot of activity, but to stand up and speak was tough.”

Griswold said she hoped the next U.N. commission meeting would strengthen participants. “When you bring women together, face-to-face and they form relationships and bring bonds of affection, that is the stuff of ‘courage.’”