By Magaela C. Bethune, MS, MPA
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) published part one of a report on the gender distribution of 2019 Special Called Session of General Conference delegates. In this second report, GCSRW continues the conversation on delegates’ gender distribution and representation. Below is a comparison between 2008 and 2019 data, a reflection on the progress made, and persistent challenges regarding gender representation among General Conference delegates.
The overall number of delegates shrunk from 990 in 2008 to 862 in 2019. While the overall number of General Conference delegates declined from 2008 to 2019, it is important to note that both of the numbers and percentages of General Conference delegates from Central Conferences increased significantly (see Table 1).
We compared 2008 and 2019 General Conference delegate data on the gender distribution of delegates in the U.S. region, and we found no change in women’s representation among the U.S. General Conference delegates. In 2008, 43% of the 704 U.S. delegates were women; in 2019, 43% of the 493 U.S. delegates who reported their gender were women. While the Southeastern Jurisdiction underwent no change in women’s representation, the North Central, South Central, and Western Jurisdictions saw a decline in women’s representation among General Conference delegates. Northeastern was the only U.S. jurisdiction to show an increase in women’s representation from 2008 to 2019; over half of its 2019 General Conference delegates were women.
Overall, women’s representation between both clergywomen and laywomen General Conference delegates has declined from 2008 to 2019 (see Table 3). The Northeastern Jurisdiction made notable increases in women’s representation between both clergywomen and laywomen.
All delegates from the Central Conference regions were 24% of all the 2008 General Conference delegates. Now they comprise 43% of all General Conference delegates in 2019, which yields significant implications for the overall gender distribution of delegates. Of 2019 General Conference delegates who reported their gender (n=347), 25% were women and 75% were men (see the previous GCSRW report). This is a decline in women’s representation from 2008, which was 28% among General Conference delegates from the Central Conferences (see Table 2).
As the increase in number and proportion of General Conference delegates representing Central Conferences increases, the influence of these regions on policy-making also increases. It is becoming critical that Central Conferences consider the importance of gender representation and act with urgency to elect more women as General Conference delegates. More women delegates in the Central Conferences improve gender equity among General Conference delegates as a whole.
About half of the global membership of The United Methodist Church is comprised of women. Still, despite years of reporting and recommendations, women are significantly underrepresented among General Conference delegates across the globe. Very little progress has been made over the past ten years toward equitable gender distributions among delegates.
Many annual conferences will be electing delegates to the 2020 General Conference this coming spring. General Conference is the ONLY body that speaks for The United Methodist Church and decides on policies that affect us all. While annual conferences are electing delegates, please remember the elected delegates determine the future of The United Methodist Church. Let us be intentional in making our delegations represent the membership of our annual conferences.
2008 figures were drawn from a 2008 report by GCSRW.