World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / What we do / Just Community of Women and Men / History

Programme for Women in Church and Society

Since its birth in 1948 the World Council of Churches has promoted women’s rights in close collaboration with religious and civil-society partners around the world.

K. Bliss at 2nd Assembly

Kathleen Bliss addressing the WCC 2nd Assembly, 1954.

The beginnings

Since its birth in 1948 the World Council of Churches has promoted women’s rights in close collaboration with religious and civil-society partners around the world.

In 1953 the programme of Women in Church and Society began with the proclamation that the renewal of dignified life after World War II was only possible if women were an active part of every initiative of justice and peace by the churches in society.

Led by Kathleen Bliss (Church of England) and others, they were inspired by leading Christian women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, an early advocate of ecumenical international initiatives and chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission which composed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

More than 60 years of making a difference

Pioneer – Formulation of key insights about the patriarchal and androcentric character of Christian traditions and the need of a more inclusive theology.

DOV 9th Assembly

March against gender-based violence at the WCC 9th Assembly

Consciousness-raiser - persistently promoting inclusion of women and gender-justice and equality in the churches and in society.

Builder - WCC Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998) built on the UN Decade for Women (1976-1985).

Catalyst – focus on violence against women as key to WCC Decade for Overcoming Violence 2000-2010.

Partner - works with churches, women's networks, civil society, raising awareness and offering on-the-ground training on gender analysis, gender-based violence awareness, women's rights and HIV-competence in health and pastoral care.

Today and future decades of change

Gbowee 10th Assembly

Leymah Gbowee speaking at the WCC 10th Assembly, 2013.

  • Developing a cross-cutting approach in all WCC programmes, promoting the building of a community of women and men for a culture of justice and peace with no violence against women in church and society through the process of a gender justice policy led by the WCC Gender Advisory Group
  • Mobilizing a church women's movement for the advocacy of women's dignity and human rights with states locally and through the UN Commission on the Status of Women
  • Delivering grassroots training related to the health and well-being of women
  • Increasing partnerships for gender justice and equality in programmes addressing human sexuality, HIV and AIDS, migration and trafficking of women.
  • Promoting concepts of positive masculinity which support gender justice and equality through gender training and awareness raising in collaboration with men's gender networks and increasing women’s access to services which provide appropriate help in cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Advocating for women. In March 2013, WCC associate general secretary Dr Isabel Phiri gave a statement on how WCC is committed to supporting women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, to the UN Commission on the Status of Women 57th session. She was quoting statements issued in 1994 at the Cairo Population and Development International Conference.

The initiatives of WCC Women in Church and Society are closely aligned with UN initiatives and anchored in the Declaration on Human Rights. In addition to the decade of churches in solidarity with women, the programme participated with delegations to the UN Cairo Conference on Population and Development (1994) and the UN Beijing World Conference (1995). The WCC continues to stress the shared responsibility of churches, civil-society organizations and nation states to protect, defend, and expand women’s rights and freedom.