Empowering Women on the Ward Level
I know there are bishops out there who are aware that women don’t have as many opportunities to serve in ward leadership as men do, who see the gender imbalance (or total absence of women) in bishopric meetings and PEC meetings, who understand that talks and lessons are heavily skewed to quoting men rather than women. I know there are bishops out there who are aware that they spend more money on the boys’ programs than the girls, and that often women are uncomfortable meeting alone with the bishop to discuss sensitive matters. I know that these bishops understand the very troubling implications (does God love women as much as men? Does the Church value women as spiritual leaders to the same degree? What are we teaching our children about the worth of females?) such things have for the women and men who are sensitive to these things
So over the past few month, I’ve been considering reasonable, practical, and doable things that these bishops could do in order to address these problems to some degree and thereby empower the women in their wards. These are moderate things, baby steps, really. They’ve been done in other wards, and most wouldn’t even be on the radar screen of the average member. But they might mean the world to the women and men who likewise see these disparities, and struggle weekly with them.
Below are some ideas, and I want to acknowledge that many of them came from a bishop who sent a bunch of ideas into WAVE for feedback. What would you add to the list? What would you change? Keep in mind, I’m looking for things that would not get a bishop precipitously released.
Recognize and Promote Women as Spiritual Authorities
- quote from women in talks and lessons. Reference scripture stories that highlight prophetic, spiritual women. Seek out, learn from, and have a female spiritual hero. This can be someone from the scriptures, church history, or a living example. It is important for the women and men in our wards to hear leaders value, use quotes from, and tell stories about women.
- Have women train men on relevant issues—stake RS /YW/Primary presidents train bishops, RS/YW/Primary presidents help train ward council. Invite a woman into EQ and HP to give lessons occasionally.
- Have women give the final talk in Sacrament Meetings sometimes.
- Don’t make it a regular practice to assign conference talks as the topics for Sacrament Meeting talks. Conference talks are invariably male-authored, and they constrain speakers from going to the scriptures or other talks to find examples or quotes from women. Choose themes instead.
- Have female ward leaders speak regularly (at least yearly) in ward sacrament meetings. For stake leaders — have women stake leaders (RS/YW/Prim presidency members) speak on a rotation on “high council” Sundays.
- Invite a woman (women) to attend every single meeting that affects the ward as a whole, including bishopric meetings. This would show that women’s ideas and voices are valued by the male leadership, and it would help everyone more effectively oversee their stewardships
- As our General Authorities do in General Conference, speak inclusively. If a scripture or quote says ‘man’ but means all people, then change that to ‘man and woman’, ‘sons and daughters’, ‘male and female’, etc.
- Be creative with callings. Many bishops invent callings outside the CHI. (Humanitarian Coordinator, etc.) Thus consider creating callings that might include women in important meetings and provide a forum for them to contribute. A Sacrament Meeting Coordinator could attend parts of bishopric meetings, provide insight as to who might be good speakers for certain topics, and provide links to talks by men and women that might be helpful to speakers. Also, a Bishop’s Assistant could attend all bishopric meetings, coordinate with the women’s organizations, and offer valuable insight, as invited to do so.
Girls and Young Women
- make sure boys and girls, YM and YW receive roughly equal amounts of money per child.
- Have YW come to the pulpit as they advance to their various YW classes.
- Encourage activities that go beyond gender stereotypes – support the YW leaders in activities like career night, changing tires, campouts, etc. Support YM leaders in activities like cooking night, preparing to be good dads, etc.
- Make it clear that women can bring a friend or ask for another woman to be present when she wants to discuss any issue with the bishop. Chastity is a particularly fraught topic — talking to a man who is a virtual stranger about issues of sexuality can be extremely threatening, particularly if she has had any sort of background with abuse. Likewise, would it be possible to get a woman into a disciplinary council for a woman?
- Encourage YW and YM leaders to not use damaging object lessons when discussing chastity. The chewed stick of gum, the nail in the board, the licked cupcake, the bruised peach are not helpful images because they disregard the atonement. Also, avoid using language that portrays females as the gatekeepers of chastity.