This past Saturday at Ecumenical Women’s Orientation Day for the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I was honored to give two brief workshops about advocacy, the Millennium Development Goals, and the power of sharing stories. We had extremely powerful conversations in both workshops that opened up a bunch of new insights for me about how the sharing of stories relates to Christian witness and working to end gender inequalities. Most importantly, folks got to share how they had used stories in their own local contexts to organize against gender injustice and accompany other girls and women in processes of liberation. Hopefully we all picked up a few new ideas and were able to share something from our own stories as well. As the crazy, awesome energy that is CSW swarms around me, I figured it’d take a quick break and briefly outline what we talked about. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear any feedback you might have.
We began by talking about the power and use of stories in the Christian tradition… how Jesus used stories and how we organize our Christian community around the story that is Christ death and hope-bringing resurrection over the worst of human sin. The group then got into discussion around one of Jesus’ stories, a parable not regularly heard in many of our congregations called “The Parable of the Growing Seed:
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4: 26 – 29).
Many participants offered interpretations about how this parable related to their advocacy work… some talked about the frustration of spreading seeds and not seeing how they grow into justice. Others talked about the joy when they do succeed in their work. One woman contributed a great interpretation, that she was not the person scattering seed but rather a seed itself. God was helping her grow and change into her calling as she engaged in advocacy work.
We next watched part of the following film from Participate, an organization that is bringing the perspective of the world’s most marginalized people into the debate about what will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015:
While Participate is primarily a secular organization, it’s amazing about how their approach reflects the best of the Christian liberation theology tradition, which believes that Christ chooses to especially locate Himself in the lives of those who are most marginalized in the world, whether it be by poverty or other forms of oppression. The lives of oppressed people then serve as sources of revelation, and thus, prove the main source of liberation from whatever or whoever may oppress them. With this in mind, folks and organizations like the Church cannot simply swoop in and “make things better” in a patriarchal manner, but rather should simply accompaniment those living under oppression in their walk toward liberation, using whatever privilege they may have to amplify those voices who are not currently being listened to by decision makers. Furthermore, the global Church is likely the organization that in practical terms has the most direct contact with those living under oppression, including girls and women. The Church (and we as Christians) are therefore called to accompany oppressed individuals in are local communities as they seek to free themselves.
After we discussed this concept, I highlighted two platforms through which the United Nations is providing an avenue for increased participation in evaluating the Millennium Development Goals, the World We Want 2015 platform and the MYWorld global survey of priorities for global development. Whether it pertains to the MDGs or otherwise, amplifying the voices of those living under oppression is important in any community organizing or advocacy effort, whether on a local or global scale. Thus, we spent the second half of the workshop discussing how we had used stories in our local contexts. We heard about the power of stories in combat human trafficking. We heard about the power of stories in helping women reclaiming their lives after being victims of domestic violence. We heard about the power of stories in helping women discern how to interpret privilege and oppression. We heard about the power of stories in helping women gain access to education and sexual/ reproductive health services. At once point, one participant stated that “silence kills” when trying to overcome various forms of oppression. I couldn’t agree more, and I feel extremely grateful for being able to hear the stories of all who participated. What an amazing experience, and I look forward to hearing and sharing more stories throughout the week.