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Filipino women ask for support against abuse

The Rev. Blessing Yap, left, and Chita Millan at the 2009 fall meeting of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Blessing Yap.

By United Methodist News Service*
Sept. 22, 2009 | EVANSTON, Ill. (UMNS)

More United Methodist women in the Philippines are in church leadership positions. But they remain underrepresented as clergy in a church and society challenged by a “culture of silence” in the face of violence against women and children.

Chita Millan of Pangasinan, Philippines, told the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women Sept. 18 that women in the Philippines need greater church support in cases of domestic and sexual violence.

Millan, the commission’s vice president, gave an overview of the lives of women in the Philippines, particularly the status of United Methodist laywomen and clergywomen. Her presentation was based on personal interviews with Filipino women and a survey of United Methodist Women leaders.

The survey found that women are gaining ground as leaders. More than a quarter, or 414, of the 1,600 clergy serving the 600,000 United Methodist across the Philippines are women. In addition, 430 deaconesses -- laywomen trained and appointed as Christian educators and teachers across the Philippines -- undergird the church’s mission and ministry.

“Women are the wind beneath the wings of our church,” the Rev. Connie Mella, a pastor in the Davao Province, told Millan in a video interview shown to commission members. She and others hailed the Filipino Women’s Society of Christian Service.

At the same time, Millan and those she surveyed said women need more leadership training so that they are equipped to advocate for their concerns and to bring their voices to regional, national and international mission, ministry and administration.

Violence increasing

Reported cases of violence against Filipino women increased by 21 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to government statistics. Churchwomen say they need denominational support to help address physical and sexual violence in their communities and congregations.

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Millan and the women surveyed reflected on the “culture of silence” in the Philippines. “We are taught not to tell family secrets and women are discouraged from reporting violence by their husbands or other male family members and friends,” she explained.

“Even in the church, pastors and others don’t know how to support women who are victims of violence. They feel uncomfortable interfering,” said Millan, who is also president of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Women. Compounding the silence is the fact that some pastors themselves are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse, Milan said, so they are not receptive to training and intervention.

Nearly half of the women Millan surveyed—lay workers and clergy—said they knew of cases of domestic and sexual violence in their congregations. Respondents also lamented a lack of training for church workers and reticence among Filipinos to speak publicly about such violence.

To address these concerns, Millan said the Board of Women’s Work, an umbrella organization of United Methodist women’s groups in the Philippines, petitioned for—and the Philippines Central Conference approved—plans to:

  • Mandate women’s studies programs for clergy through the conference board of ordained ministry;
  • Require training for pastors on women’s rights and how to identify and address violence against women and children;
  • Create church-run “sanctuaries” or shelters for Filipino women and children fleeing sexual and domestic violence.

After the presentation, the Rev. Blessing Yap, a Filipino American and pastor of Grace-Epworth United Methodist Church, Bartlesville, Okla., echoed the concerns about domestic and sexual violence, especially at the hands of United Methodist male pastors, and called for greater oversight and accountability by United Methodist bishops in the Philippines.

Even when a woman makes a complaint, the pastor is often not removed from the pulpit, or the process of adjudication is delayed, even in cases of alleged incest or child sexual abuse, Yap declared. She challenged the commission to work with the United Methodist Council of Bishops to insure “that our laws against abuse by clergy are enforced around the world.”

Sexual misconduct –including harassment, violence, or abuse—is considered a “chargeable offense,” according to United Methodist Church law.

The 45-member commission was created in 1972 to advocate for full inclusion of women in United Methodist structures and creates resources and trains church leaders on addressing sexual harassment and abuse. Millan is the agency’s first elected officer from outside the United States.

*Information for this story was provided by the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  

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Philippines Episcopal Areas

Philippines: Mercy and Mission - UMC.org

Philippines: Faith and Justice - UMC.org

Commission on the Status and Role of Women

Sexual ethics Web site

Philippines Advance projects

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