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by Simon Khayala

Women from the African Church of the Holy Spirit (ACHS), in a women conference held on 12/9/2009 at “Ishirulu branch” in western Kenya, for the first time were able to talk about sex publicly. Talking about sex in public in most African cultures is a taboo, but with westernization some people especially in urban setting can now freely discuss.

In their argument they said that the words we use to talk about sex reveal our attitude towards sex. Language is a powerful agent of social control. It not only colors our thinking but actually shapes our thoughts. Words we hear on television or read in newspapers, magazines and books or words casually used in conversations mould our thinking and our feelings about attitudes to what is happening around us.

If we are uncomfortable with a subject, there is usually a range of terms we can use to avoid mentioning the offensive or difficult words connected with it. For example, many people do not like to talk about death in a way that upsets other people, so they use many euphemistic ways of saying that someone has died, such as “passed away” or “gone to be with the Lord”. Like all other emotive subject, sex is a taboo topic in African context that draws around it a number of euphemisms.

Most people are uncomfortable using the sex in their language as well as most of the alternatives available. This is why we result  to talking about sexual intercourse as “sleeping with” or “going to bed with”, which are vague terms. In many Kenyan languages, there is no way to describe  sexual acts, and very few people can say in their own language what it is they do when they engage in sexual intercourse.

Looking at the modern terms used as an alternative for sex, many people still feel uncomfortable using them because they are unpleasant as well, i.e. “fuck”, “screw”, “bang” and so on. These women asserted that these words are often used as an insult; to many people they are inappropriate to describe a warm, loving, and tender sexual relationship. These words portray sex as an aggressive act preferred by a male on a passive female. Since the words are often violent, they imply that the woman is harmed.

To these women this means, in the subject of sex a woman is weak and a man is strong, something they claim is gender biased and has to be balanced.

Grace and Peace to you!

As the 54th Commission on the Status of Women draws near, the members of Ecumenical Women are hard at work preparing to welcome delegations from around the world.

In recognition of the 15th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, Ecumenical Women is preparing a series of devotions on the 12 areas of concern highlighted in the Beijing Platform for Action and the 4 institutional barriers to women’s advancement included in the Ecumenical Women statement.

We need your help to make this devotional possible. Perhaps you have a talent for writing. Or maybe you know of someone who does. Or maybe you know someone who attended the Beijing Conference in 1995 and would have a story to share. Maybe all of the above! The mission is simple:

·   Choose one of the 12 areas of concern or 4 areas of institutional barriers that grabs your attention. They are conveniently listed below.

·    Find a passage in scripture that mirrors the area of concern or institutional barrier.

·    Share a brief reflection or personal anecdote that captures the relationship between the scripture and the area of concern/institutional barrier that you have chosen.

·     Finally, include a short prayer and a suggestion or two for taking action on the issue you have chosen.

We look forward to including your work in the Ecumenical Women devotional. Contact Jessica Hawkinson at the Presbyterian UN Office with any questions you may have by e-mail jessica.hawkinson@pcusa.org or phone at 212-697-4568. Submissions or questions should be e-mailed to jessica.hawkinson@pcusa.org by December 1, 2009.

Please share with all who might be interested.

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“When the mayi-mayi (community-based militia groups in the DRC) attacked my village, we all ran away. In our flight, the soldiers captured all the girls, even the very young. Once with the soldiers, you were forced to marry one of the soldiers. Whether he was as old as your father or young, bad or nice, you had to accept. If you refused, they would kill you. This happened to one of my friends. They would slaughter people like chickens. They wouldn’t even bury the bodies they slaughtered—they would even feed on their flesh. I even saw a girl who refused to be ‘married’ being tortured.”

Jasmine, 16, the DRC

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA, and co-founder of the Blog Café Thawra

On this UN International Day to End Violence Against Women, I would like to raise an important and rather invisible subject: the issue of the Girl Soldier.

International Criminal Law considers the enrolment of children as warriors as a war crime in many texts, including the Rome Statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court (Article 8)2)b)xxvi)):

For the purpose of this Statute, “war crimes” means: (…)

(b)     Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts (…)

 

(xxvi)     Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.

The Rome Statute also classifies enlisting children as a war crime in the setting of a non international conflict, at article 8)2)e)vi). This is of enormous importance as contemporary wars tend to be internal rather than international, and foreseeing these cases can prevent war criminals to get away with a “Would the international community kindly don’t interfere with the my country’s issues please? I’m busy killing, raping and enrolling people here”. The ICC is thus currently trying Democratic Republic of the Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga for conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers.

It is reported that girls make up for 1/10 to 1/3 of the child soldiers in armed conflicts, depending on the country.The issue of the girl soldier is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention within the International Community; yet it should, as it crystallises all types of violence women and girls have to bear in times of peace.

For there is nothing better than a good crisis to get a society flaws out in the open.

Why, and how, do girls become soldiers? There could be many reasons to that, including that the girl voluntarily joins the militias. Girls are also forced into waging war, whether physically or emotionally, by blackmailing them: “If you do not come and fight for us, oh well, we’ll just torture and kill your family”. Indeed, girls are central to the war machine: they act as sex slaves for the soldiers, fight like boys and men, and perform all kinds of chores. No wonder they’re regularly abducted.

However, let us dig a teensy bit deeper into the so-called “voluntary” joining of girls in armed conflicts. Studies have shown that girl soldiers joined militias to escape domestic violence or abuse, but also in an attempt as self-protection: some girls declared preferring to go and fight rather than wait for militiamen to come and rape or kill them. Summing up, girls tend to join national violence to escape from the domestic violence they have to bear, and to shield themselves from the seemingly inevitable abuse they will face eventually.

Just because they were born a girl.

Needless to say, girl soldiers will be abused by their brothers in arms or by their supervisors, sometimes getting pregnant, which can assure them the eternal rejection of their community and family, sometimes getting HIV/AIDS or other STDs, sometimes both.

I have to say, I had a hard time digesting the extraordinary amount of violence, stigma, abuse and torture that girl soldiers have to face: they are enrolled because of violence (whatever its form), used (in all the acceptations of the word) and rendered afterwards to civil life, full of hatred, to bear the enormous stigma and contempt of their society, having lost all sense of self. Their reinsertion into civil life is even more difficult than for their male counterparts, because of the women and girls’ status in the society: in most societies, raped and abused women are synonymous of disgrace and dishonour, and a girl who has been known not only to be a fighter but also to carry a militiaman’s child is to be ostracized. That the girl is a victim doesn’t even come into the equation with this reasoning.

Civil society organisations and the international community set up rehabilitation centres, providing the children with education, counselling and health services. Sadly, the advocacy for rehabilitating girl soldiers will be long and painful, so set in stone is the prejudice towards these girls. However, it is also important to note the strength and resilience of the former girl soldiers, who, even though they have been maimed, tortured, abused, raped and ostracized, carry on living, day by day, nurturing their hopes and licking their wounds.

Every day should be the International Day to End Violence Against Women Day.

For more information and testimonies:

http://womennewsnetwork.net/2009/01/13/ugandagirlsoldier809/

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/21545/

http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com/2009/02/girl-soldiers-in-sierra-leone.html

http://www.childsoldiersglobalreport.org/

by Sung-ok Lee, Assistant General Secretary of the Section of Christian Social Action, Women’s Division of the United Methodist Women

crossposted from beliefnet.com

For many in government and industry circles, the discussion around the topic of climate change crisis focuses on energy efficiency, cap and trades and adjusting environmental policy to meet financial and economic ends.  For people all over the world, it’s a very real crisis, the effects of which they are already witnessing.  But for many people of faith, including me, climate change is a primary moral challenge of our time, and the upcoming United Nations Summit on Climate Change gives us a unique opportunity to call attention to the need to reverse this dangerous trend.

As believers, we see the need to tackle climate change as a matter of social justice. Yes, it’s true that we cherish and want to preserve Creation, but we are also keenly aware that while the poorest 1 billion people on the planet are responsible for only 3 percent of total emissions, they disproportionately bear the brunt of the devastating effects of climate change as their homelands suffer exacerbated droughts and floods, unpredictable rain patterns and crop failures. By contrast, the U.S. and other wealthy nations have benefited greatly from growth and prosperity fueled by carbon-based economies. Although our nation comprises only about 4-5% of the world’s population, we are responsible for about 25% of historical emissions. 

I am also concerned about the effects of climate change on women and girls the world over.  This week, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) released a report called State of World Population 2009.  What it reveals in terms of the impact of global warming on women and girls around the world is startling.  The report points out that the female half of the world’s population is indeed disproportionately more affected by the effects of climate change. 

While it’s true that all around the planet people are feeling the effects of global warming, women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable because they tend to make up a larger share of the agricultural workforce and typically don’t have access to income-generating opportunities.  Because they are in charge of households and family care, women are limited in their mobility, so that when tragedy strikes in the form of weather-related natural disasters, they are highly susceptible to the loss of livelihood, home, loved ones or event their own lives.

UNFPA’s report highlights how girls often drop out of school to help their mothers secure food, water and energy.  As climate affects their livelihoods, women often bear the increased financial burden by taking on extra jobs to support their families.  Of greater consequence is that while stuck in this cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality, these women and girls are unable to build the necessary social capital – like education, political power, and influence in their communities – to effectively take on climate change.

As global leaders gather in Copenhagen next month for the UN Summit on Climate Change, a four-person delegation of United Methodist Women committed to social justice will travel to Denmark to lend their voices to the women and the many others who are not able to attend and speak for themselves.  The team hopes to meet fellow advocates and learn what other organizations and governments the world over are doing to combat climate change.  The delegation will not only to press for strong, binding and fair greenhouse gas emissions targets, but will also demand that the U.S. join other nations to provide adaptation aid to the most vulnerable communities.

It is crucial that the governments of the U.S. and other industrialized nations responsible for greenhouse gas emissions implement effective and comprehensive, science-based approaches to reversing global warming.  As women of faith and advocates for social justice, we see it as our duty to hold global leaders accountable and ask that they assist developing nations to adapt to climate change, address energy poverty, and grow in ways that reduce poverty while protecting the environment.

by Onleilove Alston

Naomi Wolf author of The Beauty Myth discusses how images fueled by consumerism are used against women.  Wolf points out that the beauty myth becomes harsher  after times of political gain for women, thus distracting us from the cause of equality. As  Ecclesiastes 1:9 states “their is nothing new under the sun” because in the Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon) we can hear the protest of a woman who does not fit into her society’s beauty myth:

“I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. “Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me.My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.”

The unnamed love interest in this Biblical text does not fold under the beauty myth but stands up to it, affirming not only her beauty but her humanity. Colorism is one form of the beauty myth that is a common reality for women around the world; Dalits in India, the color caste system in African-American rap videos, and African women using deadly skin bleaching creams are just a few examples of this social ill.

This video was created by Kari Morris and Onleilove Alston based on scriptures from Song of Songs 1:5-6; 5:7; 8:6b and Music “‘Til We Reach That Day” taken from the Original Cast Album of RAGTIME.  In this video Kari and I wanted to feature women who may stand outside of the beauty myth yet convey a beauty that surpasses society’s norms, we also wanted to show the beauty of women doing justice because “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). One way we can fear or reverence God is by being agents of justice in the world, which highlights a true beauty which is not temporal but eternal in value.

As we seek to be women of faith and justice how can we debunk the beauty myth in our own lives and communities? How can men be allies in this effort?

Kari Morris a graduate of  The Actors Studio and Union Theological Seminary is an  actor, writer,singer and executive producer of the film “Two”.

Onleilove Alston is a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. She organizes with NY Faith & Justice and the Poverty Initiative. During the summer of 2008 she served at Sojourners as a Beatitudes Society Fellow. You can visit her blog- Esther’s Call

Women’s Ministries at the National Council of Churches is again offering its Young Women’s Leadership Experience at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  This project, conducted annually, provides an opportunity for women 18 to 30 years of age to be involved in the ecumenical movement through women’s issues at the United Nations. We are currently seeking applications for the Young Women’s Leadership Experience to be held February 26 to March 3 in conjunction with the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. 

This 5 day experience will provide orientation to the NCC, Ecumenical Women at the UN, the UN, and the 2010 CSW theme: Beijing +15, Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (see attached Fact Sheet for more).  As visitors to the UN-CSW, participants will get a small taste of the UN events as well as participate in exciting side-events at the Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN) and connect with Religions for Peace North American Women of Faith Network. 

The application dead line *has been extended to* November 30, 2009, so please take a moment now to decide who you should encourage to apply and send them the information TODAY.  Electronic versions of this material are available from Ann Tiemeyer, Women’s Ministries Program Director, at atiemeyer@ncccusa.org.  Applicants will be responsible for their travel cost, $100 registration, and four meals.  The NCC will cover cost of housing, additional meals, and administrative cost.  Although limited additional scholarship is available through the NCC, we hope mentors and/or their member communion would also consider financially supporting a young woman in this leadership experience.  Encouragement of new leaders comes in many forms – verbal invitations, financial support, prayers, and mentorship.  Please reach out today to a new leader with this exciting opportunity.  

Click here for an application, facts sheet, and tentative schedule for the UN-CSW Young Women’s Leadership Experience.   Please note the application lists other potential experiences.  If someone you know cannot participate in this event, but would like to be considered for future Young Women Leadership Experiences, please encourage them to complete the application and check the appropriate space.  We will add their name to our data base and contact them directly with future information.   Thank you for your assistance in identifying appropriate applicants.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call Ann at 212-870-3407 (office).

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co founder of the blog Café Thawra

Hello, my name is Paola, and I’m a shoe addict.

This being said, I know how vain and somehow laughable such a statement might sound to the sane citizen, but the clue’s in the name, and when you hear “addict” you don’t particularly think “reasonable”, “reflective”, “composed” or “together”. You think “mental”, and, well, you would probably be right.

I suppose this trait of mine has quickly been spotted by my supervisors at the World YWCA, as one of the first examples they gave me to illustrate our associations’ awareness raising campaigns against violence against women was the YWCA of Scotland’s shoe exhibition.

When I learned about it, something popped in my head and I thought, “This is IT. This job and I were MEANT TO BE”.

So my bright pink clad, elevated, feet couldn’t run fast enough to go and learn about this event that now regularly takes place in various YWCAs around the world.

In 2002, the YWCA of Scotland, shocked by the appalling number of women who die each year at the hands of their partners, decided to write to around 180 famous and not so famous Scottish women, asking them if they would be willing to donate their shoes for an anti-violence against women shoe exhibition. The women could take their shoes back after the exhibition, or donate them to the YWCA to be auctioned in order to fundraise and support the work undertaken with victims of domestic violence. 104 pairs of shoes were thus collected and exhibited with the picture of the woman whom it belonged to, with a message from her, and the event took place during the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women.

104 pairs, for the 104 women that die following domestic violence each year in the United Kingdom.

Fair enough, I hear you say, but why shoes?

The shoes were standing alone in the otherwise bare exhibition hall, forming a silent path that looked as if composed of the dead women’s footsteps. As visitors walked around the exhibition, they could read the messages of all the women that had donated their shoes, women such as J.K Rowling, who donated the pair of Jimmy Choo’s she wore at the premiere of the first Harry Potter movie. The empty shoes were like the unfinished lives of the battered women, women who could, just like their sisters who gave the shoes, have been successful authors, respected lawyers, loved mothers, or whatever they would have liked to be.

If only their executioner had let them.

The experience proved to be so moving and cutting edge that it has been replicated in various YWCAs and at various events, including for example the YWCA Week Without Violence. The YWCA of Australia launched for example the Seventy7 pairs of Shoes exhibition, and the some branches of the YWCA of the USA have also followed suit.

Some might think that using shoes might be a bit frivolous, that, even if it got the organisation’s message across, shoes are not “serious”. To these people, I would answer two things. Firstly, a pair of shoes tells you a lot about a woman, about her lifestyle, her likes, her personality. It is the most essential accessory in a woman’s life, and thus is a very powerful tool to use to raise awareness about VAW.

Secondly, I’ll simply borrow French Author Jean Cocteau’s quote, who said: “Frivolity is the dignity of Despair”.

Please ladies, remember to never let anybody take you out of your shoes. And if they try, walk away.

In style.

YWCA Scotland would be happy to support and advise other YWCA’s thinking about launching their own exhibition.  A more detailed description on how we done ours is over the page.  For further information please contact reception@ywcascotland.org

posted by Onleilove Alston with permission from Becky Garrison. This article was first featured on http://www.relevantmagazine.com

While many Christians connect online through blogs, social networking sites and even virtual church, sometimes we need to connect in real time. Andrew Jones, international blogger and missiologist reflects, “Festivals represent an opportunity to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together but rather to be together in a place where many streams of the body of Christ turn up to be accountable to each other and to enjoy each other. Or in other words, a little slice of heaven on earth.”

During the summer, thousands of young adults and other Jesus hippies backpack their way throughout Europe and the UK to participate in a spiritual smorgasbord of faith festivals. Those seeking to broaden their horizons can meet Christians from around the world while sampling a dizzying array of musical acts, worship experiences, talks, art installations, and other activities.

In light of today’s current economy and concerns about the environment, Jones celebrates the virtues of European festivals in lieu of the more pricy Christian conferences. “Festivals aren’t dependent on one or two superstar Christian celebrities who insist on fancy hotels and a hefty honorarium at the end, thus raising the price of admission and reducing accessibility to the people who really need to be there.” Despite the devalued dollar, these low maintenance, family friendly, inexpensive events prove to be a very good deal when compared to some pricier American based events. As these festivals tend to operate on a very grassroots level, they often don’t furnish amenities like electrical plugs, Wi-Fi access, easily accessible showers, and RV hook-ups that some US conference goers take for granted. These gatherings afford people the opportunity to get unplugged, connect with nature and get good with God.

Also, the nature of these festivals serves as a counterbalance from the cult of celebrity that can often dominate an event, where at times the event seems centered around someone other than Christ. But in a festival where activities are taking place in multiple locations, even if a major speaker or band may be attracting a large crowd, one can find plenty of folks gathering in other spots. Such a diverse range of activities tends to create a more participatory environment where people seek out the spiritual experiences that speak to their heart.

While one can inquire about booking a nearby hotel or hostel, consider joining in the crew for camping, in order to enjoy the full frontal festival experience. Also, these festivals provide comprehensive recycling facilities and other environmentally friendly actions. In addition, these festivals tend to have some form of public transportation available, thus eliminating the need to rent a car. While one cannot travel to a festival and leave no trace behind, all of these moves further reduce one’s carbon footprint considerably.

Greenbelt UK

For those unfamiliar with the Christian festival scene, Greenbelt UK (August 28-31) can give a perfect peek into this underground culture. While sampling an international array of speakers and performers, Americans can hear voices from Christian authors and performers living in the United States like as Shane Claiborne, Emmanuel Jal, The Psalters, Barry Taylor, Frank Schaeffer, Philip Yancey, Kevin Max, Mark Yaconelli, Brian McLaren, Walter Wink and Richard Rohr. The Rev. Steve Hollinghurst, Researcher in Evangelism to Post-Christian Culture with The Sheffield Centre welcomes the stream of international visitors that descend upon Greenbelt every year noting that “the increasingly global nature of the networks present really adds to the benefit for others from overseas as well as us at home.”

UK worship pioneer Jonny Baker observes that for American visitors, “The blend of arts, justice, and spirituality is unlike anything in the United States. Also, Greenbelt manages to hold a breadth of traditions ranging from Iona, Taize, alternative worship, Charismatic, Liturgical and Franciscan. Hence, this festival can act as both an encouragement and a spark to the imagination of people in the States.” While camping can be a bit rustic for some, Greenbelt includes a few perks like nearby showers (be sure to sign up when you first arrive, as these slots tend to go very quickly). Those who don’t want to lug their camping equipment around can rent gear and even a tipi. There are also a number of nearby hotels and B&B’s within walking distance of the festival grounds. Moreover, numerous efforts have been made to make the festival accessible for those who are physically challenged. After arriving at Greenbelt, be sure to check the schedule for the Festival newcomer sessions. These gatherings give those individuals traveling alone to the festival an opportunity to connect with others who are attending Greenbelt solo.

Upon first glance, the master schedule can be daunting with multiple talks, worship, comedy, performance art, prayer sessions and other events happening simultaneously. Among the festival highlights include the Sunday service where the vast majority of festival goers converge for communion, worship hosted by Grace (a London based emerging community), and hanging out with the Iona community. Stroll around the various smaller tents to get the behind the scenes scoop on a host of underground and emerging ministries. Fair trade products are available for sale along with books, CDs and other items related to the festival. Even if one doesn’t drink, stop by the hymn sing in the organic beer tent. (This is the only place where alcohol is permitted, thus keeping in line with Greenbelt’s ethos as a friendly festival.) Be sure to spend some times in the New Forms alternative worship program. This unique space allows for opportunities to explore creative alternative worship from the edges that can’t be experienced in quite the same way anywhere else. In addition, check out the Unusual Suspects, a program sponsored by the Proost UK that highlights up and coming young artists. A full kids’ schedule allows children to explore God’s creativity with interactive programs and performances geared for various age levels.

SLOT Festival

Over on the continent, one can find a host of underground faith festivals taking place in Europe. While the camping can be a bit more rugged, the cheap price and the hospitality are worth it for those who are willing and eager to rough it a little. Here’s the lowdown on two of the more popular gatherings.

SLOT in Polish is an abbreviation for words meaning “Foundation of Local Creative Centers.” Over 5,000 teens and young adults from Poland and the neighboring countries converge at an old Cistercian Abbey from July 8-11 to find their inspiration for involvement in culture, education and society in Christianity. This holistic gathering offers concerts on four stages, club parties, multimedia, theater, movies and over 100 interactive workshops, thus lending a carnival-esque atmosphere to the mix. In 2009, Kalejdoskop, an invite-only gathering of worship leaders from over 30 countries will be taking place during this festival, thus adding to the international flavor of the festival.

FREAKSTOCK

This festival (running from July 29 to August 2), which has been hosted by the Jesus Freaks International since 1995, attracts over 5,000 largely Goth and hardcore Christians. So, leave the bright summer tourist-y T-shirts at home unless you want to be identified as a “tourist.” Download the freak floor “What’s up” guide, so you can be aware of the main events though every morning check out the “FAZ” that will note all the changes for the day.

Some additional summer faith festivals held in the UK and Europe that offer websites include:

Frenzy (Edinburgh)

Freakfest (Czech Republic)

Skjærgårdsfestivalen (Norway)

Soul Survivor (UK)

Creation Fest (UK, not affiliated with the US based Creationfest

The Flevo Festival (The Netherlands)

Before venturing across the pond, search Facebook and other social networking sites to connect with fellow festival goers. Also, a Google search can find any bloggers who are talking up the festival, so you can get the most up-to-date information. In particular, Andrew Jones is traveling throughout Europe and he will be blogging about his journeys, which will include visiting some of these festivals. Check him out here. In addition, Jonny Baker will be offering a comprehensive overview of Greenbelt UK.

So, grab a backpack (travel light, though be sure to bring along a water bottle, sunscreen and a pair of comfortable walking shoes), book your tickets and join in the festival fun.

portrait-becky-garrisonBecky Garrison is featured in the documentaries The Ordinary Radicals and Nailin’ it to the Church.

By Simon Khayala, BD student St. Paul’s University, Kenya and youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

Introduction

I would not have written about this topic, if I did not believe that the Bible has important things to tell us, not only about spiritual matters but also about material concerns. Anyone who begins to study those parts of the Bible which deal with poverty and riches will come up against what at the first sight seems to be a confusing amount of contradictory material. At first riches are a blessing, but latter they become a curse; at times poverty seems to be praised, but elsewhere it is regarded as a disgrace.

Remember some of these examples from the Bible: “Blessed are you poor” (Luke 6:20); “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer” (John 16:33); “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world?” (Mark 8:36);  while other text put all emphasis on poverty as a spiritual problem.

Poverty and riches are not independent phenomena. One person is poor because another is rich. Poverty is not a state of deprivation which has come about by chance; it is determined by the structures of society. In trying to understand these issues of poverty and richness we need to understand the social developments of the poor and rich in the Bible.

Vocabulary for poor and rich in the Bible

The Bible has a large vocabulary for describing the poor man and his situation. In the Old Testament, the commonest word for the poor is ani: It is used 77 times, above all in the Psalms (29 times). Literally, ani is used to denote a person who is bowed down, and who occupies a lowly position. The ani has to look up to others who are higher than he. He is humiliated; he can not stand up right because of economic and social pressure. The ani however is not contrasted with the rich, but with the man of violence, the oppressor, who put the ani in his lowly position and keeps him there.

The word anaw is very closely associated with ani. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, anaw tend to be less materialistic. The anaw is someone who is aware of being of little account before God; the anaw is humble and/or gentle. Here the emphasis can be more on poverty as a spiritual attitude.

The word dal is used above all for physical weakness and material poverty with no other connotations.

For the prophet Amos (2:6ff), being poor is comparable with being righteous (tsaddiq).

The New Testament also has different words for describing the poor man and his condition. Prochos is the commonest of them. The prochos is someone who has to try to live completely without means and is dependent on the help of others.

The Old Testament has a variety of expression about riches; riches influences power, possessions, abundance, nobility among other. The same is true of the New Testament. To be rich is to have an existence of good thing, where there are no shortages. In biblical thought riches are initially success guaranteed by God to those who observes the laws of the covenant. Abraham is the living example of this un-problematic view of riches. His possessions are sheer blessing. These kind of blessings and possessions are however not a privilege obtained at the expense of others. If one man is rich, all members of the tribe are rich. The words used to describe the poor in nomadic times seem to be of non Israelite origin.

Poor and rich: Social developments in the Bible

There came an end to this nomadic life and Israelite became farmers and began to settle. But before settlement in Canaan there seem to have been no clear distinctions between the poor and the rich. At this time there were no extreme social problems, economic conflicts and social class, the family was a financial unit (Leviticus 27). When the tribes of Israel settled in the land of Canaan around 1200 BC, they turned from being semi-nomads to small independent farmers; this made them to become rivals.

Anyone who was given an unfertile piece of land soon become poor and was compelled to sell himself and his family to slavery. The system of values changed even more quickly through intermarriage with Canaanite families which were more skilled at agriculture. The possession of property became the centre of interest. People began to increase their possessions and become rich.

At the time a distinction arose between the poor and those who owned land. The development of an economy involving dealing in trade and land disrupted equality of the families. Some families became rich and others slowly became poor.

Conclusion

We can conclude that, even in the bible poverty is directly connected with the structures within which people live. Poverty does not develop of its own accord; people do not become poor because they are idol – they become idol because they are poor. This means that solving the problem is never a matter of the poor – it’s the task of the rich. The rich is reminded into his responsibility and to an increasing degree of his guilt. He must transform his social success into a blessing for his fellow country men; he must be the one to encourage opposition to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, he fails to do this.

In reality, for all the public criticism made by the prophets and in spite of legislation, the social development continued and the gulf widened further. This is similar to our present world: the rich continue to become richer at the expense of the poor. In most parts of the world a few rich individuals continue to accumulate more wealth at the expense of many poor people.

Recommended reading with helpful ideas for the discussion: Conrad Boerma, “The rich man, poor man and the bible”  (1976).

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra

Today, let us broach a rather difficult subject.

Oh, I might as well tell you right from the beginning, so you know where you stand.

CFR-REGL-BLK_400

I’m talking about female condoms.

Go on, blush. Or maybe don’t, I don’t know, it’s not because I blushed at first that you have to react in the same way.

And yes, I admit to a fair amount of blushing the first couple of times I heard about it and saw it being demonstrated. See, this was before I started working for the Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in their HIV department and for a women’s rights organisation.

Now, I demonstrate it to young women, advocate for it, and badger my friends during our dinners for them to be aware of the Female Condom. Probably not the best way to entertain a dinner party, but a girl has to do what she has to do, and if it involves making your friends shriek with laughter and urge you to keep your voice down or think you might be a tad obsessed with work, then so be it. I’m willing to carry the disgrace.

In my, admittedly short, but intense experience as a women’s rights worker, I have noticed how curious women were towards the female condom. Oh they won’t come up straight to you and ask you for a presentation, but will rather start their approach cautiously, like « Paola ? What is this on your documentation’s table? », innocence personified, as if it was just a random question. You know they’re interested, but don’t want to push them and scare them away, so you listen carefully to their questions, until you sense that they’re comfortable enough for you to ask your question: “Would you like me to open it and demonstrate it so you know what it’s about?”. Enthusiastic yes coming from blushing faces. I’ll always remember when a delegation of Sudanese women came to pay us a visit at our offices in Geneva and dropped in the conversation “Oh, by the way, we’ve never ever seen a condom (male or female)”. Our HIV Coordinator jumped to her feet, and started the demonstration and explanation, and before we knew it, our guests were examining the condoms in disbelief, laughing, thinking of how their men would react should they bring up this issue in front of them.

female_condom

And this is when the female condom is brilliant. Not all women on this planet have the extreme privilege of being able to negotiate the use of a male condom with their partners. Some even get beaten up for daring to talk about it, some don’t even know it exists. This leads to a situation where a woman is completely dependent on her husband/boyfriend when it comes to contraception and self-protection. In many cultures, women are not supposed to watch the numbers of children they’ll have, their primary role being motherhood, nor are they even allowed to question the sex life of their husbands. So if a woman has doubts regarding the faithfulness of her partner, she won’t be able to ask him to wear a condom in order to protect herself from HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Besides, even if a woman can talk about this issue with her partner, the female condom enables to share the contraception and protection duties, becoming equally responsible for the couple’s health and future.

The use of the female condom thus reduces the vulnerability of women by rendering them more independent. Because a female condom (FC or FC2 type) can be inserted up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse, women can be their own protective agent and stop relying on men when it comes to their own sexual and reproductive health. Nevertheless, condom distribution is nothing if it isn’t coupled with education and negotiation skills for women. It could happen, if the man is violent or drunk, that he doesn’t even notice his partner wearing a female condom, but this is not the situation we should aim for. Indeed, if a man refuses to wear a male condom and realises his wife/girlfriend is wearing one, the woman will most likely suffer from ill treatment, with all sorts of name-calling, as I’ll let you imagine.

Thing is, many men don’t want to wear a condom because they claim that it reduces their pleasure etc…A good argument for negotiating protection for women would be to present the female condom as something that would increase their pleasure. No matter under which light we present the condom, negotiation skills are paramount to condom programming and should be part of any serious condom distribution, along with demonstration.

However, the female condom, as all contraceptive methods, has its own disadvantages: it is rather expensive, and not particularly user-friendly.

But even these drawbacks can’t hide the potential revolution in the Female Condom. It is high time women claim back their sexual and reproductive rights, and it starts with their own selves.

Women of the world, be your own agents of change!

The Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network has recently launched the Restoring Dignity initiative, engaging senior religious leaders, women and men of all faiths, survivors of violence, and youth to End Violence Against Women. The response to the initiative, “so far has been inspiring”, says Jacqueline Ogega, Director of the Women’s Mobilization Program at Religions for Peace, a collaborator of Ecumenical Women.  Faithful women and men are taking leadership and becoming active in the Restoring Dignity– End Violence Against Women campaign at http://religionsforpeace.org/initiatives/women/restoring-dignity.html.

restoring dignity 

 

 

Please join and take action today!

With the official launch of Phase II of the UN Secretary-General’s and UNIFEM’s Say NO—UNiTE initiative, the initiative will count actions by individuals, governments, civil society partners and faith-based partners. You can show your support by visiting the Say NO website and take action by:

On this webpage, you are invited to create your own resources and actions, update photos from your interfaith event, and even link videos to youtube! And the best part, it’s very easy to use! But if you have any snags, send an email to GlobalWomenofFaith@religionsforpeace.org for technical support.

 

TAKE YOUR FIRST ACTION TODAY! Sign the Call to Action to the UN Secretary-General by 23 November 2009.

 

Posted by Onleilove Alston and authored by Yuan Tang

God doesn’t need an army of men to change the world.  Rather He needs servants with humble hearts who are willing to do His work.  As Christians, we need hearts of persistence, faith, and love that endures through the discouragements and hopelessness that can come with human rights work.  It is through relationships and communities that change happens.

I met Im Sopheak while I spent my summer abroad in Pnomh Penh doing legal work.  He is a Christian who started an organization called the Lazarus Project in 2005 where he goes into a slum every Sunday to teach the children Bible stories.  I offered to go with him since I taught Children’s Bible Study at my church.  I had no idea of the impact that those two hours would have on me.

Read the rest of this entry »

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, the Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra

child_bridesAllow me to share with you a topic that has profoundly moved me. A topic so incredibly important that it got me to reconsider a lot of things that I was taking for granted, such as my right to choose what I want to do with my life or the right to an education, and value the incredible opportunities with which I have been blessed.

I’m talking here about the oh-so-horrifying issue of child brides.

I was deeply shocked by a documentary we watched at work that was aired on the TV show NOW! On PBS called Child Brides, Stolen Lives, relating the life path of child brides from India, Niger and Guatemala.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I knew child brides existed, I knew the horrors of it.

But somehow seeing the interview of these little girls sharing their hopes and dreams, after having endured the unspeakable in some cases, kind of slapped me in the face and woke me up about the issue.

So I decided to do what I could do, on my level.

Write.

From the Mormons communities of the United States, to the Xhosa realms in South Africa via the dry desert of Saudi Arabia, the problem of early marriage is a practice that plagues communities all over the planet. In its report “Early Marriage, A Harmful Traditional Practice”, UNICEF gives us a much-needed reminder on the International Law texts regulating the issue of marriage:

“The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women mentions the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.”

Why do early marriages happen? Just like female genital mutilation, early marriage is a dangerous traditional practice. Many factors lead to the perpetuation of such a tradition, including poverty, culture and beliefs, and lack of education. Although governments try to put a stop to it, communities still believe it is carved in stone and protect one another from the police and inspectors. maldaindiaGETTY070606_228x189The idea that a girl should be “protected” against herself dies hard. It is as if, in order to prevent the “dishonour” of a girl (and hence, of her family), girls had to be married as soon as possible, to make them “respectable”. Once again, women bear the burden of the millennium-old prejudice that has plagued their ancestors. This obsession with the “purity” of women is coupled with a lack of resources and poverty: the girl is considered a burden that won’t work and bring money to the household, and thus should be better off married.

This solution is naturally designed for the benefit of everyone but the child bride, who, at sometimes as young as three years old, do not understand what is happening around her.

Nevertheless, it would also be wrong to think that families that marry their girls so young are hateful psychopaths willing to get rid of their daughters: most of the times, mothers and fathers want the best for their children, and what’s the best thing for a girl? To be respectable and thus respected. They simply follow the trend to spare their children what they believe to be a shameful situation.

This practice is however tremendously dangerous on various levels. First of all, it infringes the very Human Rights of girls and young women, leaving them with very few life choices and often making them ideal preys for modern-day slavery. The girl that finds herself stranded in her husband’s community often has to become everyone’s servant and to endure ill-treatments. Besides, it harms the physical integrity of the these girls who often get pregnant and give birth at an age when their body is still developing, leading to rough complications during the birth, leaving them to endure fistula, a highly-stigmatising condition that isolate them from society, even threatening their lives.

And finally, it utterly and completely shatters their self-esteem, and their confidence in a happy marriage. Most of the girls that manage to get out of their dire situations swear that they will never marry again, that the whole experience left them feeling worthless.

So what to do? Advocacy is once again the key, coupled with skills-building and confidence-building sessions. Education programmes have to be put in place to make community leaders and parents understand that letting their daughters go to school will actually make them more productive and will allow them to bring more resources to the community, and benefit society as a whole. Awareness campaigns should be implemented to involve men and make them understand that marrying a child isn’t the right thing to do, that it doesn’t make them any more of a man.

Imagine if it were you that were abducted, and made to live with a stranger that has 10 times your age, with no future ahead of you.

I tried imagining it but couldn’t.

The courage of these little girls put me and my constant whining to deep, deep shame. Let us not forget them and work hard until we make this practice history.

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