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by Diana Sands, LGTB Program Associate at the Unitarian Universalist UN Office.

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a much-anticipated report on a truly horrifying campaign of human rights violations in Iraq called “They Want Us Exterminated”: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq. This 67-page report documents a wide-reaching campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and torture of gay men that began in early 2009.

If you have heard about this issue in Iraq you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with women if the report documents a systematic campaign of torture and murder against men?” The answer is simple: These attacks constitute gender-based violence because they are perpetrated against men who are believed by the attackers to engage in homosexual conduct and also against men whose behavior or gender expression is judged to be “effeminate.” Fear or hatred of feminized men boils down to hatred of women or misogyny. These human rights violations should concern everyone, but it is critical that those of us who have dedicated our work to fighting gender-based violence – especially when it is committed in the name of faith – recognize it as such and do what we can to help stop this campaign of torture and murder. It is also worthwhile to remind (as is noted in the report) that Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calls on states “To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all iraq0809other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”

Iraq ratified CEDAW in 1986, but the Iraqi authorities have done nothing to try to stop this murderous campaign or to hold any of its perpetrators accountable. I hope that you all will take the time to read this insightful report and take action on the recommendations.

Read and download the full report here.

crossposted from unaids.org

According to a new report published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimated 50 million women in Asia, who are either married or in long-term relationships with men who engage in high-risk sexual behaviours, are at risk of becoming infected with HIV from their partners.

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The HIV epidemics in Asia vary between countries in the region, but are fuelled by unprotected paid sex, the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment by injecting drug users, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men. Men who buy sex constitute the largest infected population group – and most of them are either married or will get married. This puts a significant number of women, often perceived as ‘low-risk’ because they only have sex with their husbands or long-term partners, at risk of HIV infection.

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Caring Men – Ezra Chitando

My ears of faith
Stretch for the sound
Of the arrival of caring men
My heart of faith
Yearns for men who care

My hands of faith anticipate
The gift of caring men
My eyes of faith
Search for men who care

My nose of faith senses
The aroma of caring men
My feet of faith propel me
Towards men who care

Sensitive men
Loving men
Inspired men
Humble men
Caring men.

This poem was composed during the 53rd Commission on the Status of Women in New York, March 2009. The theme was, “The Equal Sharing of Responsibilities between Women and Men, Including Care-giving in the Context of HIV and AIDS.” 

Ezra Chitando is a Theology Consultant to the WCC.

by Sonali Salgado, Inter Press Service (IPS)

The United Nations has realised that if it wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it will have to partner with like-minded faith-based organisations (FBOs).

“It is important to invite religious leaders and faith-based organisations and other secular organisations and work together. It’s the only way,” Gladys Melo-Pinzon of the FBO Catholics for Choice told IPS. “The U.N. and the other international agencies understand that it’s true,” Melo-Pinzon said. In recent years, the United Nations has tried to work more closely with faith-based organisations (FBOs). “We’ve been working with the U.N. and hope to continue working with them,” Yousseff Abdullah told IPS on behalf of the FBO Islamic Relief. For the past few years, Islamic Relief has worked with UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP). A joint Islamic Relief-UNFPA effort has led to the establishment of women’s centres in Sudan.

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From August 3-4, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) gathered representatives of 41 FBOs -including Islamic Relief and Catholics for Choice - and numerous international agencies ranging from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the WFP for a meeting in New York. Since Dec. 2007, UNFPA has asked FBOs working in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean: “What should we do better? What should we do more? What projects should we work on, and in what particular ways?” At the New York meeting, Azza Karam of UNFPA told IPS, FBOs were presented the “shopping list of recommendations.” According to Karam, they were told to select the areas that FBOs and international agencies would “work on together for the next three years.” “UNFPA is hosting this meeting because it is part of the culmination of the vision of its Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid,” Abubakar Dungus of UNFPA told IPS. Since she became director of the UNFPA in 2000, Obaid has been leading the drive to collaborate with FBOs. “She has said that development work would be more strategic and sustainable when such actors – already among the world’s largest basic health-care providers – were engaged in common efforts on the MDGs,” according to Dungus. Obaid stresses that FBOs are key players in health care services. “In most developing countries, anywhere between 30 to 60 percent of basic health is being served through faith-based organisations,” Karam told IPS. “In Latin Ameica, 70 percent of hospitals are still run through or by the Catholic Church.” Moreover, the World Bank has noted that, in some countries, health services offered by FBOs are better than those of the government.

At the two-day conference here, FBOs and international agencies identified reaching gender equality and improving reproductive health as the goals on which they would collaborate. “Partnerships between faith-based organisations and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, are critical to enhancing efforts to reduce maternal deaths and end violence against women,” UNFPA said in a press release. Maternal health and female empowerment are two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000. The MDGs also include eradicating hunger and poverty; achieving universal primary education; reducing child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental stability; and developing a global partnership for development.

The maternal health goal is “at the heart of the MDGs but lags behind the most,” Dungus said. “This is the 21st century and yet women are dying because they’re giving birth or trying to give birth,” Melo-Pinzon stressed. According to the UNFPA, FBOs can assist in reproductive health not only because of their significant role in the health care industry, but also because of their position in individual communities themselves. There is “a critical personal and community-based connection between the people and the faith-based organization centres providing services,” Obaid said. Melo-Pinzon concurred. “The main actors who can approach grassroots and communities in general are people who are related to faith,” she told IPS. “When you’re in conflict,” she continued, “faith gives comfort.” Obaid noted, “the profound moral authority that religious leaders have” and “the fact that religious organisations are the oldest social service providers humankind has known.”

But, quite ironically, as some FBOs strive to improve reproductive health and gender equality, they are betraying the edicts of their church. In their efforts to develop reproductive health, Catholics for Choice, for instance, promotes access to contraception despite the Vatican’s strong opposition to contraceptives. “We are challenging the wrong policies of the Catholic Church, which is misunderstanding the principles of compassion,” Melo-Pinzon said. “We’re saying ‘you’re wrong! You’re wrong!'”

Today EW releases our guide for regional meetings reviewing the landmark Beijing Platform for Action.  Entitled “Resurrect Beijing! Calling for a Renewed Commitment to Women’s Rights,” it is intended that these local meetings will inspire grassroots women around the world to connect and learn from each other, as well as demand from governments the increased implementation of the Beijing Platform, which is still relevant for today.

Are you interested in organizing a meeting in your area?  Download an Informational Packet and Sample Agenda.  More detailed information is available in the document.

En Espanol:

Hablemos de Beijing

For many women who weren’t able to attend (or who weren’t old enough to know what was going on oat the time) the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995 exists only in the realm of the imagination.  For me (age 12 at the time) the words “Beijing conference” conjure up the list of areas of the Beijing platform and visions of huge crowds of global women.  That was until I saw “The World Through Women’s Eyes.”

In the time leading up to the Beijing conference, a group called The U.S. Ecumenical Women’s Network: Beijing and Beyond, was focusing on the importance of calling media attention to Beijing and spreading the stories that would be shared there.  This group of women decided that one of the most effective things they could do was create a video (yes, it was VHS then) documenting the conference.  Through the magic of modern technology, we were able to transfer this VHS tape to DVD, and then upload it to YouTube.

It is with great thanks to the women who had the foresight to make this video possible that we encourage you to watch, send it to your friends and networks, and inspire a new generation with the stories of your own involvement in the global women’s movement.

The Commission on the Status of Women has decided on its multi-year program for the coming five years.

The themes that were agreed upon are:

  • For the 54th session in 2010: Review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the outcome of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly.
  • For the 55th session in 2011: Women and girls in science and technologies: increasing opportunities in education, research and employment. Review theme: agreed conclusions from the 2007 session on the “Elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against the girl child.”
  • For the 56th session in 2012: The empowerment of rural women, in relation to climate change and food security. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2008 session on “Financing for gender equality and empowerment of women.”
  • For the 57th session in 2013: Addressing stereotypes which constrain the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women, including in decision-making. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2009 session on “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS.”
  • For the 58th session in 2014: Prevention of violence against women and girls. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2011 session, “Women and girls in science and technology: Increasing opportunities in education, research and employment.”

For more information, check out: Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Women’s United Nations Report Network, and the International Women’s Tribune Centre.

Cordaid and Partners reward Home Based Care Leadership in responding to HIV and AIDS. Win up to 15.000 Euro!

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AIDS has changed the fabric of communities around the world and placed a burden on the lives of many people, especially girls and women, young and old. With health systems failing and people living longer with HIV thanks to access to Antiretrovirals (ARVs), mainly poor women, are increasingly forced to devote their time, energy, skills and the little resources to care for their family members at home and provide their services to the wider community, often at great expense to themselves. This invisible task-shifting is insufficiently recognised, valued and validated as work.

Prize of €15.000 and €5.000 for HBC Leadership

The Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development (Cordaid) and partners of the Caregivers Action Alliance’s (CAA) Organising Committee (HelpAge International, Huairou Commission, VSO International) as well as the World YWCA, reward and encourage leadership around the strengthening of home based care in responding to HIV and AIDS in the “global South” by awarding €15.000 for an organisation and €5.000 for an individual. Cordaid and partners are seeking applications from organisations or individuals committed to supporting home based care as a necessary, effective, and community-based initiative – recognising home based care as an insufficiently resourced, under-valued and unrecognized solution for mitigating the effects of HIV and AIDS.

How to submit

Submissions can be sent up to 15 September 2009. To download the Rules and Procedures as well as the Application Form, visit the website: http://www.cordaidpartners.com/rooms/hiv-and-aids-award-2009. For more information please contact HIV_and_AIDS_Award@cordaid.nl or visit www.cordaid.nl.

by Haeley Park, Intern with WCC UN Liaison Office

It was when I first entered into college when, all of sudden, I felt like I was brainwashed with Christianity. I was born into a devoted Christian family and grew up in a church environment all my life. I obeyed God’s calling by coming to the U.S. to become an international lawyer, when I was only thirteen years old. Life in a foreign country without family or friends was very hard, but I always was filled with joy, with presence of God’s protection and love.

For first time in my life, I started questioning about faith, Christian beliefs, Bible, and God since entering college. I kept on examining what it means to be a Christian and its position in the world. I was immediately thrown into a spiritual battle field and had bloody struggles. I developed criticizing and cynical views of Christians whose deeds seem to be contradicting between inside and outside the church. I kept on judging Christians and called them hypocrites.  I was in an extreme denial against God and His people.

God had sent me to the World Council of Churches’ United Nations Liaison Office as a summer intern, probably to humble me. The spiritual battle continued to rise to its peak as my wonderful supervisor who is now like my beloved sister, challenged me greatly about faith, Christianity, theology, justice, life, purpose, and beyond throughout the summer. One of many hot debates we had was about the position of women in the Bible. I was upset at the fact that bible contradicts gender equality principles and teaches women to be submissive and obedient to their husbands while my supervisor claims that the Bible does promote gender equality. To prove myself, I had to dig into the Bible for examples:

“You wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News…They [women] trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands… For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, when she called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do”(First Peter 3:1-2, 5-6).

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savoir…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:22-24,33).

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (First Corinthians 11:3)

I could not conclude anything regarding this matter, so I put it aside from my concerns. Then a few weeks have passed since the topic has been discussed. Then the unsolved question was unexpectedly solved yesterday morning. There is a worship service every Thursday morning at the Church Center of the United Nations, and I attended as usual.

Haeley picture EWIn the program, one pregnant woman who is a professional dancer, worshipped by dancing while carrying her baby inside her stomach. That was the most beautiful dance I’ve ever seen in my entire life and each movement she made literally pump my heart. It completely revealed mother’s love for the child and I was able to feel the sincere passion and loving heart for God through her dancing. I then realized that God gave a unique gift to women, to be a mother who is loving and caring. After all my questions and doubts regarding the gender references from the Bible, I learned that it’s not about commanding or obeying one another. Rather, it is about loving each other with what God has given uniquely to men and also to women.

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