On 9 February 2017, Ms. Le Ngoc Bich Ly, a Vietnamese national, has obtained her Doctoral degree at ICRS with Cum Laude predicate after three years and six months study. Her dissertation entitled Struggles for Women-Inclusive Leadership in Toraja Church in Indonesia and The Evangelical Church of Vietnam: Agency and Structural Change is a comparative analysis of the different forms of accommodating women in church leadership between Toraja Church in Indonesia and the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN).
The study argues that the gender structure of each church has been destablized to varying degrees and reshaped in different forms today largely due to: (1) the degree of destablizing forces from external context and institutional structure; (2) the degree of support and identification with the struggle by male leaders; (3) the dominant existence of women’s feminist projects and their success in turning their feminist projects into collective effort. Toraja Church has higher degree to change regarding these aspects.
This study shows that feminist analysis of gender equality struggles in religious institutions need to include men’s agency in the analysis since their agency plays a significant role in the transformation of the formal religious structure. The study also reveals that men’s struggle for gender equality can go beyond gender politics when their agency is enabled by long-existing cultural values such as gender justice and empathy found in Toraja and Vietnamese cultures. Opportunity agency can contribute to structural change; however, this change might not have a long-term effect. The case of the ECVN is an example. For the Toraja Church, opportunity structure plays the role of a catalyst rather than main motivation for the struggle.
As a whole, this dissertation project contributes to the body of knowledge not only in terms of locality but also in terms of a comparative and empirical explanation of process and different forms of church accommodation of women in leadership by examining the relationship of agency, context, and gender structure contestation. By including men’s agency in the analysis, it helps to look at women’s struggle in religious institutions in a more comprehensive way rather than focusing on either structural constraints or women’s agency.