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Why statistics can't tell the full story on gender equality

Project 3:28 has just released their figures for male/female representation on speaker platforms at Christian festivals. Emma Fowle, one of the project managers of Creation Fest, explains why she believes there's more to the story than cold, hard numbers

Last week saw the release of the latest Project 3:28 report into equality at UK Christian festivals. I love this project. I am registered on its database, as are the two other women that I work with, who ostensibly make up the team that lead, plan and run Creation Fest.

We are, all three of us, female preachers, teachers and leaders, passionate about raising up the next generation to be equipped and released to do all that God has called them to. All three of us have wrestled with the theological questions around these issues, sometimes at great personal cost, which is a good thing, because this isn’t abstract for us.

I am a great believer that systemic inequality should always be called out. If the Project 3:28 report makes festival organisers think harder about who they book and how they are including women in their line-ups, that can only be a good thing.

But while statistics are helpful, they rarely tell the whole story, and if festivals like Creation Fest, headed by a female festival coordinator (who takes every opportunity to raise the profile of women in leadership) backed by a predominantly female core team, can’t make the grade according to the statistics, perhaps we’re missing part of the picture.

There are many reasons behind the line up of every event: budget, location, time of year and what is going on elsewhere at the same time. Anyone who has ever been involved in the process (especially at a smaller event) will know that often – frustratingly – there can be a huge gap between who we invite to our stages, and who actually says yes.

And as Christians, we must consider even this within a spiritual context. All year round, we are praying for our festival. As a gospel-centred, outreach-focussed, free to attend event tucked away in the far South West of England, it sometimes feels like no small miracle that we actually exist at all. We see God’s miraculous hand of provision in so many ways, including the speakers, bands and artists that say yes to coming to Cornwall for a week in August for little or no recompense. If we’ve prayed honestly, invited well, and ultimately end up with more men than women on our stages, what then do we say about who God chooses to bring?

The question then perhaps is this: are equality and equity of opportunity the same thing? Do I want a world where everything is the same, even if it’s an artificial, legislated same, or do I want a world where women and men have access to the same opportunities, are encouraged, called and equipped equally, where they can work together, pray together and ultimately do as they feel God is leading them to do, regardless of their sex?

In the UK Church as a whole, only 16 per cent of ministers are currently women. Against this backdrop, perhaps we need to look at the opportunities that the Church itself is creating for women to develop as preachers, teachers and speakers so that more of them gain the experience and exposure they need to equip them for the platforms of the big events.

The cold, hard truth is that there are still far less women preachers and teachers out there than men. And until that changes, despite our very best efforts, it is always going to be an uphill battle to make our stages reflect a diversity that does not yet exist within the church at large.

So what do we do in the meantime? Paul’s reminder to the Galatian church that “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” should challenge us all to look beyond sex, to allowing God to use whomever he wishes to for his purposes at any given point in time, regardless of our own agendas – but this works both ways.

For us, aiming for a 50/50 platform balance just because a report says we should cannot ever be the goal. The goal always, ultimately remains the same: pray, invite wisely, champion, equip, resource and give opportunity across the board, regardless of sex (or race or social status or any other defining feature) and trust God to work out the rest.

Emma Fowle is a freelance writer and speaker. She’s loves to talk about everyday faith, social justice, family and travel. She is part of the leadership team at her local church and runs the media team at Creation Fest. 

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