I spent the early part of 2017 gathering data on the number of women and men speaking on national Christian platforms in 2016. This is the fourth year I – and a few others - have done this, and it forms part of the work I do with Project 3:28, a collective of people committed to improving the representation of women in UK Christian culture.
The Pursuit and Ichthus Network’s Revive event achieved 50/50 representation of women and men and The Pursuit told us this was an intentional decision on their part. Alongside this, seven events had improved the number of female speakers alongside men compared with 2015. In spite of this, there has been no overall improvement in 2016, with women comprising 36% of the national Christian platform. In previous years, we have seen gradual improvements, so it is disappointing that no such increase has been seen within the last year.
Our rationale in collecting this data is that there is a level of ambivalence among Christians about the representation of women in Christian culture. Neuroscientist Cordelia Fine has evidenced that we are primed to see women in male roles as more dominant than they actually are. One female and eight male speakers will leave us assuming an event is pro- women. Whereas eight female speakers and one male speaker would lead to assumptions it is probably a “women’s event”. By making visible the representation of women at events, it allows event participants to make informed choices about attending events that are perhaps pro-equality in word more than in deed. I hope it also encourages event organisers to be more intentional about seeking out women speakers.
Though across the board there hasn’t been a move towards equal representation for women, we have had anecdotal feedback from Christians involved in event planning that the annual statistics and the work of Project 3:28 has resourced them in challenging event organisers to be more intentional in seeking women to speak. It has also given people the ability to challenge events in a more evidence-based way. And I’ve been impressed at the commitment of events like the Premier Digital Conference who have been working year-on-year to improve the number of women speaking. So, these are all things to celebrate!
Sadly, as we look forward through 2017, new event Naturally Supernatural (from the egalitarian organisation Soul Survivor) has few women announced as speakers and the HTB Leadership Conference is heavily male-dominated. There is so much still to be done. We’re unlikely to see events with complementarian theology seeking to improve their platform balance, however events that have an explicitly egalitarian stance have a responsibility to do better. We have to remain hopeful that the work of committed individuals and organisations, including Project 3:28, will see long-term change happening. F
or until the fullness of the people of God is reflected in all areas of Christian culture, the people of God will continue to be short-changed.
Natalie Collins set up Spark and is an independent consultant working to prevent and respond to violence against women and enable others to do the same. She is also the creator of DAY, an innovative youth domestic abuse education programme. Natalie speaks and trains on understanding and ending domestic abuse and gender injustice nationally and internationally.