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A personal reflection by Jonah Gokova, Zimbabwe, first published in Gender and religious education

I wanted to be different
I was born in 1956 in a family of very devout Christian parents who both were active leaders in the Methodist Church. I was number two in the family but first born son. I have a young brother who comes after me and four sisters.

Traditionally my status in the family was higher than the one of my sister who came before me. In my case, my sister is seven years older than me! It is not about, who is older; but who is the son. This emphasis was repeated throughout my formative years and even up to now.
The Zimbabwean society, in which I was born, is not different from any other society in the world in terms of social expectations relating to gender roles between boys and girls who grow up to be men and women. There was an unwritten law, which regulated behavior and was read as the following: boys must be tough, boys do not cry, boys do ‘men’s work’ outside the home. At every step the requirement on maleness had to be confirmed. Physical ability, toughness were objectified as necessary ideal, that had to be achieved by every boy in our society.

I had four sisters who had an enforced ‘cultural and religious obligation’ to cook, wash dishes and clothes for me. In my younger days I was not satisfied with this arrangement and wanted to be different from other boys in my community. I was interested in assisting my sisters in doing household chore and I gained a lot of satisfaction from it. I learnt to cook, to iron and to perform household tasks, normally done by girls and women. My mother encouraged me to work together with my sisters and I enjoyed sharing the tasks with my sisters. My brother was rather different. He enjoyed playing with other boys away from home and his level of gender sensitivity is not notably high today.

Well my involvement in all this is definitely not the result of some fantastic gender theories I had read before. At that stage of my development I was not even aware of the work of feminists, who later assisted me with tools of analysis of social organization and unequal power relations that seem to be consistent in our societies today.  I was simply doing what I felt as the right thing to do at that moment. It is important to note that my mother played a crucial role in encouraging and supporting me. She did not read any of the feminist theories and up to now, at the age of over 80 years, she is not familiar with the gender theories that are beginning to inform our critic of social and power relations between men and women in society.

It is very possible that as a leader in Church she must have been influenced by her belief in God  to develop a sense of justice, that is reflected in the way she worked hard to create opportunities for her daughters, and the encouragement she gave me to develop a sense of equality between me and my sisters. I listened to her and I have never regretted.

My concept of salvation
As I look back I always ask myself, what specific contribution has the church made to my gender consciousness? What I remember from Sunday school theology and youth leadership lessons in the church is that God has always been neutral to these issues. Gender stereotypes have always been glorified as God-ordained. Boys should strive to positions of leadership while girls should be submissive and learn to obey.

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The United Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has launched a month-long online discussion on Women in Power and Decision-Making. Dedicated to the fifteen-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), as well as outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (2000), these discussions will be a contribution to the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women to take place 1-12 March 2010.

Good news! Registration for the Ecumenical Women Orientation on February 27, 2010 and the Ecumenical Women dinners on March 2nd and 4th is now open.

You can now access the registration information and purchase tickets for the events at: http://ecumenicalwomen.eventbrite.com/

Please contact ecumenicalorientation@gmail.com with any questions regarding the events or registration.

Event details:

Orientation – Saturday, February 27, 2010, 8:00am-5:30pm

Delegates will receive an introduction to the structures and processes in the United Nations, and an overview of this year’s theme of the CSW: the 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Includes 2 meals and Ecumenical Women Advocacy Guide. Party to follow the training!

Advocacy Dinner – Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 6:00 pm

Gather to reflect on our experiences thus far and consolidate our advocacy strategies for the days ahead. Dinner will be provided. The dinner will be held at the Church Center for the United Nations, 8th floor.

Advocacy Dinner – Thursday, March 4, 2010, 6:00 pm

Gather to reflect on our experiences thus far and consolidate our advocacy strategies for the days ahead. Dinner will be provided. The dinner will be held at the Church Center for the United Nations, 8th floor.

We look forward to seeing you there!

by Simon Khayala, Kenya

In life, what matters most is how we react when faced with a situation.

As we begin the New Year, I ask us to reflect on whether we are any of the above; an egg, a potato, or a coffee bean.

I have a friend who can afford to laugh even when she is hurting deeply. It is a trait I greatly admire in her. What does it take? I always marvel. I am the exact opposite. When all is not well, I find it hard to pretend otherwise so when asked how I am, I will let the enquirer know what’s happening. Another friend can do the most difficult of tasks when faced with an equally difficult situation. Even when misfortune strikes, she can plan a project and get it working. When the situation is bad, she gets into autopilot mode.

Yet another friend is an emotional sucker. She becomes an emotional wreck when something small happen to her. Her children and husband knows this, so when something befalls them in her absence, they make sure no one tells her.

What am driving at is that we are all made different. We react differently to the same situation. That does not mean that whatever kind of person you are, you are right or wrong. It just means that you are unique.

Read this story:

A daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed that just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed. Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each over a higher fire. When the water began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot. He then let them boiling for a while without saying a word to his daughter.

The daughter moaned and waited impatiently, wondering what her father was doing. After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes and eggs out of the pots, and placed them in different bowls, and poured the coffee into a cup. Turning to her he asked “What do you see?” “Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she quickly replied. “Look closer,” he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After removing the shell she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face. “Father, what does this mean?” she asked. He then explained that the potatoes, eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity- boiling water. However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but in boiling water it become soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After being exposed in the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. When adversity knocks to your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg or a coffee bean?”

In life, things happen around us and to us, but what really matters is what happens within us. Which one are you? Which ever you are, go ahead and just be. You are uniquely made.

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

While reading the excellent book Purple Hibiscus from the outstanding Nigerian author and previous Princeton lecturer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I got to thinking about abusive relationships and how women get stuck in them, unable to break free from these iron shackles. In the novel, the heroine endures torture from her father, who tells her he’s doing this for her own good.

As the world is getting ready for the 54th Commission on the Status of Women to be held in New York in March, that will review and strengthen the commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, domestic violence and abuse against women are now more than ever getting attention from both national and international authorities.

In my whole 25 years of existence (Don’t laugh, I know it’s a small number, but it just goes on to proving my point, which is,(keep on reading)), I have witnessed women being abused verbally in public by their partner or by their father, I have heard testimonies of physical abuse given by young women, women under 30 years of age, already carrying the burden and repercussions of such emotional and physical turmoil so early on in their woman’s life. To many, the abused woman is the married woman suffering beatings from her alcoholic husband. This cliché, like all clichés, has a lining of truth, but let us not forget that abuse can be physical, but also emotional, that it can happen to any woman, and that it can also take place in a parent-child relationship. Besides, violence can also be perpetrated by women, but as the vast majority of violence against women cases recorded have been made by men, we will stick to the gender angle for the purpose of this article.

I have often wondered why women who find themselves in such a relationship do not simply leave their very own private hell.  While it seems very easy to have this rather judgmental kind of reaction, things are far from being so black and white, many shades of grey can appear: many women could be afraid not to be able to sustain their family financially without their partner’s support, some others claim they still love the person who abuse them, some will even tell you they were guilty of something and deserved this outburst of violence, and some will simply not realise they are being abused, because to them abuse is only physical, and they won’t have the appropriate tools to unveil the emotional mistreatments.

While it is possible that many women probably think along these lines, I’m also convinced that something in their partner’s attitude keeps them emotionally attached to them, triggers something in their mind and heart for them to stay or makes them feeling so guilty and worthless that they become grateful to their partner for “putting up with them”.

Studies have shown that the abusive partner is generally somebody who exerts some kind of power upon their victim, whether financially or emotionally, which puts the abused woman, right from the beginning, in a dependent situation. Right at the start of the relationship, there is a will to dominate the other spouse or partner. The process will slowly creep on the relationship: it’ll be a hurtful comment, or a slap. These incidents will be followed by justifications such as “But I’m only saying this because I love you”, or “You provoked me, I went out of my mind, I’m sorry, It will never happen again”.

 

It will happen again.

Emotional manipulation is a big component of the abusive partner’s attitude, along with making the victim feel guilty, put the blame on her. In the eyes of her aggressor, an abused woman has all the flaws in the world, and she should be grateful that he’s staying with her. Insults, degrading comments and intimidating measures will happen often, leading the woman to feel worthless, guilty, and to continuously ask herself if what her aggressor is saying is true: Is she really such a bad person? And if so, why is he still staying with her? Surely, he must be an outstanding person?

And there you go. This is how a woman can endure so many unspeakable treatments and this is how this vicious circle starts.

However, it doesn’t stop there. In order to ensure a firm grip on his prey, and make sure that his partner will never leave him, the abusive man will know how to cajole and seduce his spouse/partner. While continuous violence will eventually lead to a defensive reaction from the victim, an alternation between evil and angel will have her confused: “He can be so adorable; I must be really awful to him sometimes to push him to this extent”. The violent partner will be charming in society and with other people, only throwing from time to time the degrading comment (with a smile and condescending laugh) to the woman accompanying him. These strategies are equivalent to brainwashing, and with such an oppressing burden, no wonder mistreated women have trouble leaving their homes.

This is why it is tremendously important to teach women, not only about their rights, but also about how to identify the first signs of an abusive relationship, when it is not too late to intervene or for the woman to seek help.

Just think about what difference it would make if women would walk into relationships aware of these twisted strategies and manipulations.

Maybe women would have more confidence in themselves.

Maybe a woman wouldn’t die each week in Europe following violence from her partner.

While we reflect this year on Beijing+15 and on the status of women, let us not forget that education is not only knowing about national laws protecting women or CEDAW. It is also giving women tools that they can use before they actually need to resort to these laws.

It’s called prevention, and it works.

Ladies, you’re aware now.

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