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Small Projects Programme: Meeting strengthens evangelical women’s struggles for gender equality

 

EIG Women_ Revda  Alexya Salvador, EIG SP, the preacher at the service

CESE supports movement’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic

Renewing motivations for the struggle, reuniting and asserting the plurality of Brazilian evangelical women were the results of the National Meeting of Evangelical Women for Gender Equality (Mulheres Evangélicas pela Igualdade de Gênero: EIG), held between 10 and 13 December at the centre of the East Zone Christian Community (Comunidade Cristã da Zona Leste: CCZL) in the city of São Paulo, as part of its Life Project: Feminine Noun, funded by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) through its Support to Small Projects.

“EIG Women (Mulheres EIG) is a plurality of women, of social, racial and gender plurality, but all included within this oppressive capitalist system which is chauvinistic, racist, sexist, misogynist and positions all women in violent situations.  Some more, others less, some earlier, others later, but, at some point in their lives, all of them recognize, have recognized or will recognize that they are in violent situations at home, at school, at work, at church, in the media, in other words, they recognize themselves within a system of oppression and violence which acts in synchrony against women. What unites us is that we are women of faith,” explained Valéria Cristina Vilhena, theologian, doctoral student in Education and History at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University (Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie: UPM) and founder of the EIG Collective (Coletivo EIG).

Following health and safety protocols for a gathering of approximately 150 participants, the meeting strengthened bonds between the women and the grassroots for future collective activities.  “Vaccinated, wearing masks and with continuous hand washing, it was possible to embrace, to get to know each other in person; we had a programme that ranged from walking around to playing, fraternizing, working, and demonstrating love, care, forgiveness and celebration in a powerful service of inter-religious, feminist, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist Christian spirituality,” declared the movement’s leader.  As well as encouraging reunions between collective members, the event aimed to strengthen the regional coordinators, their work throughout Brazil and the referrals made by the organization.   The collective also took advantage of this opportunity to promote the Founding Assembly of the EIG Women’s Association (Associação Mulheres EIG).

EIG Women_ the moment of the Eucharist during the service held by pastors

The meeting was filmed by the team of documentary maker Alice Riff, who captured activities and discussions, and recorded interviews with national directors and regional office coordinators, as well as moments of feminist spiritual worship. The aim was to capture the EIG trajectory on film, to demonstrate how the collective provides practical action and feminist theory, without ignoring the importance of religions as constructs of history, culture and social imagination. This will lead to the production of a documentary, portraying the debate against all forms of oppression and the violence perpetrated by the unholy, patriarchal, misogynist, racist and pro-system, hegemonic religious system.  Since it addresses a new movement that runs contrary to those who hold power in Brazil today, the group’s very existence is important, which is what prompted interest in creating the documentary.

EIG Women_ the moment of the Eucharist during the service held by pastors. CESE’s President for the 2021-2023 biennial, Pastor Helivete Ribeiro (Alliance of Baptists of Brazil), is part of the EIG and participated in the meeting.

The Life Project: Feminine Noun grew out of a debate the movement took out to the streets on 8 March.  “In 2021, in the midst of such a badly managed pandemic, replete with negationism, obscurantism, and the appropriation of faith and religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, the collectively chosen theme was Life, feminine noun,” added the theologian.

Evangelical Women for Gender Equality – the EIG was set up in 2015 and positions itself as a nationally established and well-known movement in Brazilian society. The EIG is a movement that works at national level to support women experiencing violence, political and economic emancipation, and the ecumenical grassroots.  Aimed at raising the voices of women, the collective operates in nine Brazilian states: Paraná, São Paulo, Goiás, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte.

The EIG Collective sees the debate about equality of rights and religion, as well as about feminist theologies (black, queer, communal, etc.), as an instrument for the struggle and practice of faith, through trans-feminist, cultic, celebratory and formative spirituality.  “As a movement of women of faith and struggle, we have a pastoral of care, of active listening and empathy, and thus recognize the religious dimension of evangelical women, which the Public Service Network recognizes in general, but which, in most cases, doesn’t know about and/or is not able to operate from this perspective.”  The collective serves and refers women to public facilities, and support and care networks for women experiencing violence.

“We also experience ‘contradictions’, because we are present in a system that has racism, sexism, misogyny and LGBTphobia in its structural foundations, we come from a perspective in which all of us experience violence as women, which is why, above all, our work is educational and ongoing, with no room for aggression, verbal violence, insults, disrespect or humiliation, but constantly seeking to strengthen sisterhood, black women’s shared pain (dororidade) and diversity, which is, or should be, contained within Christian love,” Valéria explained, outlining how the movement emphasizes the recognition that, in their plurality, evangelical women also face daily violence.  “Our core values are centred around the poor, non-White, anti-systemic Jesus from the peripheries, who was persecuted, betrayed, unfairly judged, condemned and killed by the Roman Empire, which enslaved, impoverished, oppressed, and exploited different peoples, particularly women; a patriarchal system that Jesus denounced throughout his life!”, she added.

CESE and EIG – CESE and the EIG are united in their common purpose as religious and ecumenical movements, committed to tolerance and democracy. “CESE is a role model, not only for EIG but around the country, especially for movements and organizations of a religious nature, since CESE was founded by Christian churches which understood that organizations, movements and grassroots action in favour of democracy with justice needed to be even more effective in our country, so that transformations could really happen,” the theologian noted.  “When we saw the CESE funding stream supporting this type of activity, we collectively decided to participate and are grateful that we can rely on this precious support, which allowed our National Meeting Life: Feminine Noun to become a reality, so that our struggle, our resistance for rights, particularly for women (without neglecting each one’s faith), took another firm step forwards so that the EIG and CESE can carry on together in the same pursuit, in the same (re)constructions for liberation,” Valéria concluded.