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Adventists Say “Yes” to Women’s Empowerment

Charles Sandefur is President of Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Spectrum asked Sandefur about End it Now, the new women’s advocacy campaign currently sweeping the denomination.


RD: What is the End it Now campaign, and how did it begin?

CS: End it Now is an initiative being championed by ADRA and the General Conference Women’s Ministries Department to combat violence against women and girls globally. It started out of a conversation some of us had about how the church needs to speak out more on social issues to which the values and vision of the kingdom speak deeply.

RD: How extensive is gender-based violence and why did you choose to tackle this issue at this time?

CS: Gender-based violence is pandemic globally- it doesn’t know class, caste, culture, race. Any people group that says, “We don’t have gender-based violence in our culture,” is in denial.

Well, we’re a global church. ADRA is a global organization. Women’s Ministries is a global organization. And so speaking on an issue that has such a global evil footprint has been a great fit. 30% to 40% of women globally have experienced some kind of emotional or physical abuse. In some cultures it’s more; in some cultures it’s less, but it exists everywhere.

RD: So what are you actually doing as part of the campaign?

CS: First of all, we are creating awareness in the Adventist Church and mobilizing Adventist commitment to putting an end to gender-based violence around the world. And so there has been a lot of publicity as we’ve been trying to collect a million signatures on banners and petitions. We’ve reached a third of a million now and we’ll present those to the United Nations when we’re done. But more than anything else, the campaign has been about waking people up and creating space and permission for individuals to address the real issue that is gender-based violence. We’re also asking people to join us by creating programs and projects that embrace the values of End it Now.

RD: What response have you received here at General Conference and what have you been doing to create awareness among attendees?

CS: It has been astonishing here at General Conference. We have been rolling this out in different parts of the world church over the last six months, but it has taken a huge leap forward here in Atlanta. We have thousands of signatures on our banners and petitions, and we have young people from IMPACT going out into the community collecting even more signatures. It has been very gratifying to receive so much support- after all, this is something the church has never done. The church has never really spoken on any social issue that hasn’t been significantly about us. We have emphasized our religious liberty, our health, our temperance, but gender-based violence is truly global. I can’t go 30 feet in the hallway without people wanting to ask about End it Now—how they can participate—and I think for a large number of Adventists this speaks to a witness that they want to have come out of the soil of the church. People want this to be part of the heart of our Adventist witness.

RD: How have your contacts outside the church responded to End it Now?

CS: I think a lot of the people with whom ADRA partners in the global community have been surprised to learn that a conservative Protestant denomination would take such a public stand on this issue, and that our church has programs that say “yes” to women’s empowerment, to women’s livelihood. And so when we dialogued with our partners more recently and told them that we have signatures already from a hundred and fifty countries, they were astonished and gratified that our worldview and vision and values fit theirs on this issue, just as we’re gratified that their values fit ours.

RD: You’ve talked about how this campaign is not just about saying “No, “but about saying “Yes” to women’s empowerment. What is ADRA already doing on the ground to say Yes?

CS: We have projects in 50 or 60 countries that seek to create an empowering environment for women. A lot of them are about skills training, because when women are in extreme poverty it makes them much more vulnerable to gender-based violence. Some people at first don’t recognize that helping a woman get a job and financial independence is actually a response to gender-based violence. It is. So we have literacy programs, community support programs, programs to keep girls safe in Southeast Asia (which is the way we combat sex trafficking), and other programs as well. All of these attempts at stopping gender-based violence are complicated because they involve changing social and cultural conditions. Putting an end to female genital mutilation, for example, includes finding alternative employment for the practitioners who depend on it as a form of livelihood. Of course, the Women’s Ministries Department has its own range of projects and activities. When we started mapping together, we were astonished to realize how many programs we already have going on globally that act out the vision and values of End it Now.

RD: What are you going to do with all the banners people have been signing at GC?

CS: This Sabbath we are having a parade of banners across the stage here in Atlanta. Then we’re going to take the banners to the UN to see if we can get some of them put on display. These banners have come back to us from around the world—from Zimbabwe, Singapore, Ireland, Zambia, etc. The energy that has been captured by women and by men, has been just amazing. I was worried at first that this would be women about women. But entire congregations and church leaders in many parts of the world have really spoken up. This last Sabbath, for example, our new GC president Ted N. C. Wilson signed one of the banners and gave his own commitment to the campaign.

RD: Some people who are hungry for a quick end to gender-based violence are bound to ask, “Well what’s collecting a bunch of signatures really going to do?” What do you say to that?

CS: These kinds of deeply embedded injustices are not quickly fixed. It takes time. But even just doing the banner campaign and collecting signatures has raised a lot of awareness. Today a young woman come up to me and said that she raised the issue of gender violence at her church using End it Now as the catalyst. Some said, “We don’t have that problem in our church and in our community,” but then some of the women said, “Yes we do.” They went from there to forming a women’s group, to the pastor preaching a sermon on what it means for people to treat one another with dignity and respect. So we see that even the signature campaign is igniting new involvement.

RD: ADRA is perhaps best known for its international relief work, but End it Now is primarily about advocacy. To what extent has ADRA been involved with advocacy in the past? How does End it Now fit into ADRA’s vision for the future?

CS: Although ADRA has always been involved with advocacy, some of it has been carried out through quieter methods than what we’re doing now. Every time you work on social transformation, advocacy is happening through that witness. But End it Now is a much more public form of advocacy, having a goal to galvanize the church and its 20 million members who are spread out over 200 countries. Our church has the opportunity and the responsibility to speak out globally, and so one of ADRA’s pillars for the next several years is to become more involved with overt expressions of advocacy.

RD: What can Spectrum readers do in their local churches and communities to help End it Now?

CS: Go to It’s got resources on how you can make your own banners, download petitions, etc. These things you can do within your own congregation and community. Then there are ideas and suggestions on how to start women’s support groups, international rape prevention classes, and so forth. There’s a range of opportunities for people to get involved with beyond just signing the petition.

Photo: Gerry Chudleigh/ANN

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