This is the third year that I have worked to gather statistics on the number of women and men speaking at national events. I am passionate about seeing gender parity achieved on the national Christian platform, working to engage Christians through statistics and resources to address gender injustice in the Church. Although every event in 2015 had women speakers, both in seminars and on the main stage, some events have complementarian theology. Complementarians believe that women and men have equal value, yet their roles within the Church (and family) should be designated by their gender; with men and women complementing each other’s unique and gendered gifts. In practice this means complementarians view the role of preaching and teaching as primarily male rather than female.

Other events hold egalitarian theology, believing that men and women are called according to the gifts God has given them, and that their male or femaleness is not a defining feature of the way they live out God’s calling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the events with the lowest number of women speaking are those who have complementarian theology; though no events had 100% male speakers. However, few conferences with egalitarian theology had a gender-balanced platform either. It is interesting to consider that although a church or organisation may affirm egalitarian theology, their conferences do not seem to reflect that same theology. It was also interesting to note that the content delivered by women at many events is often perceived as ‘women’s issues’; women in leadership, parenting, women’s ministry, the caring professions, relationships and sessions related to ‘feelings’.

Each year as we release the statistics, I expect to hear conversations about whether quotas are a good idea. If events are explicitly egalitarian, should they insist on gender parity on their platform through quotas? The intention behind such questions ranges from well-meaning to ‘political correctness gone mad’. Conversations about desiring a meritocracy and not wanting to interfere with ‘God’s plan’ often ensue. Quotas are generally a red herring in the conversation about gender parity on platforms. They reduce the very complex reasons why there are less women on the platform down to a lone unachievable solution. These reasons may include a lack of childcare provision for speakers, the belief that mentoring women is the slippery slope to an affair and the thinking by both audiences and event organisers that some subjects are ‘default male’.

By producing statistics each year Project 3:28 hopes to inspire egalitarian ministries to see gender parity as a significant consideration in planning events. In the last two years we have seen a number of events taking steps to improve the number of women on their platforms. It can be discouraging and alienating for women to feel there is no commitment from Christian events to recognise their gifts and expertise. In the future, I hope we will continue to see and celebrate more equal numbers of men and women speaking publicly in order to encourage and strengthen the UK Church.

NATALIE COLLINS is a gender justice specialist and is part of the Project 3:28 collective. Follow Natalie @God_loves_women

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