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Rosina Scott-Fyfe is a graduate from Otago University in New Zealand, and part of the Student Christian Movement Aotearoa. She is part of the World Student Christian Federation delegation to the UNCSW57. Written March 11, 2013.

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“When we are aware of our inner resources and use them, they help us to be resilient and assertive. It’s when we disconnect from ourselves and react to the world around us that we can become violent. By involving both men and women in this process real sustainable change can occur” –Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University

 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James 2:14-17 (NIV)

I begin with these two quotes because they articulate why I am here: to use my faith to take real action; to use my faith to bring about real transformation in the communities I am a part of; to see the connections between myself and others, globally and locally, and to use my own personal voice to advocate for those who have less. To be part of the transformation of attitudes.

Today I attended three parallel events which moved me and connected to my work in different ways. The first, entitled “Both Men and Women using their inner resources to bring change: relearning peace” and run by Brahma Kumaris, reflected on how we need to draw on our own “inner resources”- what some of us might label God, the Spirit- before we can make meaningful change. We had the honour of hearing from four inspirational panelists- Carl Murrel, Denise Scotto, Luis Mora and Gayatri Naraine, who shared with us through story and experience a richness of ideas. What resonated with me was the idea that we need to go beyond engagement and aim for transformation and elevated conciousness of our communities. And as Gayatri expressed, women we have a pivotal role of healing and transformation; although at our core, our soul does not have a gender, we were born into this body and onto this planet and it is up to every one of us to use our power for justice and peace. The most important tool is ourselves.

So what does this look like? What is the physical manifestation of this inspiration? It’s all very well talking about peace but we need to put it into action. What the actions look like will be different and will depend on our cultural context but they need aspects of innovation and creativity. The second event I attended looked at Primary Prevention tools- stopping violence before it happens, and was presented by Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA). A 15 page toolkit created by AWAVA is available free online here. http://www.nrwn.org.au/toolkits/

I like the idea of primary prevention because it is all about changing attitudes, and addresses the underlying causes of violence. It ties in to our desire to belong. If our assumptions are that humans are innately violent, and if this is the way things roll in our communities, this idea is perpetuated through action. And the inverse is true: if we believe that humans are innately peaceful, and this is the belief of our community, this belief will be lived out.

Nothing could be more important in the eliminations and prevention of violence against women and girls than the involvement of men and boys. The third workshop I went to today was so inspirational, and the room was packed. We heard stories from men working with men and boys on attitudinal change to hold the conversations about violence against women. Part of this is just planting the idea. It is about providing a new lens through which to look at these issues, because they are not just women’s issues: they are men’s issues too because while most men are not the perpetrators, most of the perpetrators against women are men, and, as the panelists shared, we cannot tell by looking at a man what his attitude will be. Men are also victims and survivors of this same violence, perpetuated by assumptions about gender. Some of the key messages from this powerful event were that we do not need a society that “protects” women, we need a society that respects women; and that men can be strong without the use of violence. Fathers and positive male rolemodels have a key role through the messages they give their sons. And a quote I found particularly inspiring, from Q Cochlin from Brooklyn’s Connect programme: “In doing this work, I become a human being”.

Within the midst of this presentation, a conflict arose where a member of the audience spoke out about wanting time to ask questions, felt he was being lectured to, and was quite derogatory to the moderators of the event. I greatly admired the way in which the moderators handled the situation- not reacting, which would be the easiest thing to do, but treating the man who offered the comment with respect but also respecting the time and knowledge of the panelist who were there. It was a ‘wow’ moment for me, seeing this man really practice what he was preaching, using non-violence to proactively negotiate a conflict. I think that this is something all of us can learn from.

So in reflection, our attitudes are how we live out our lives. To live our lives truthfully, we need to put into action the values we are promoting: faith and action is inextricably linked. These ideas are not new to any of us, but I think it is worth taking some time to reflect on.

 

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” – Romans 12:2 (KJV)

Hi everyone, with only 7 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.  Today’s post is a video of Leymah Gbowee’s inspiring words at last year’s CSW about men, religious leaders and radicalizing the church.

 

Check out the video below which features Christine Mangale and Mia Adjali, members of the Ecumenical Women Worship Committee. The video provides a great and concise update of all that we’ve been working on at Ecumenical Women to prepare for CSW57 this past month. We’d love to hear your feedback!

Please check out the following sermon preached this past Sunday at Sparta United Methodist Church in Sparta, NJ by Kathleen Stone, Chaplain to the Church Center for the United Nations.  It is specifically speaking about two texts from last Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Mark 12:38-44.

I’ve entitled this sermon, confessions from a woman’s eyes.

I feel a little bit that by the end of this morning, in the best of light you might look at me like I’ve uncovered the missing “r” that the monk discovered.   You see after all these 2000 years, and the 100s of years of painstaking transcription, writing down each letter with such precision, the monk discovers that an “r” had been dropped by some early predecessor who had worked painstakingly in the night to illustrate the scriptures.  You see, it was supposed to be “celebrate”….not celebate.

Now, lest you think I’m thinking this would be good news and everyone would be happy, imagine the traditionalists, imagine the church structures, and imagine all the conflict that this discovery would bring forth.

But, just to be straight up.   Here’s what I’m trying to do these days.   Scripture has been interpreted for 2000 years mostly through the eyes of those who really do not know the story of women unless they were married to them and even then, well……husbands, boyfriends, sons…..do you find yourselves sometimes just not understanding women at all?   Women’s experiences of life, the social, economic and political world around them and what they do about it really are somewhat outside men’s experiences of the same.

I remember this amazing poet I used to listen to quite regularly and he and a female storyteller did a seminar together.   In that seminar, they discussed what happens between men and women in relationship….And with great humor, David Whyte – the poet said…..you know…..the woman comes in and says…. “Dear, we need to talk about this” and the man responds, “Again?   Didn’t we talk about that last week?”

So, I ask you for a moment to think and feel along with me.   I know this can be challenging but give me and the God who has freed me and liberated me to tell my truth, for this moment, give me a hearing…….

These two texts were simply the texts assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.

Widows — Ruth and Naomi, as well as this unnamed woman in the Gospel story, they were all widows.   In ancient Israel, a widow, was the proverbial metaphor for someone who was utterly marginalized by the society in which they lived.  They are poor, not from their own merits, content of their character or any other reason than the written and unwritten cultural, legal, social, economic policies that impoverished them and told them they are without any power.   They are not powerless or voiceless because they have no voice or no inner power or have nothing to contribute to society.   They are not helpless or dumb or uneducated from the skills they need to live in that society …… they are impoverished and exiled because the society has dis-enfranchised them and determined that they are not worth a hearing, not worth a roof over their head, not worth food on their tables…not worth anything. They are not poor because they deserve it, are owed it, did it wrong, made the wrong decisions, etc.   They are poor because the policy of the land made it so that …….unless the widow was attractive enough for a man to remarry her, she remained destitute, and vulnerable to atrocities. 

This attitude was in ancient Israel (and in some places around the world still) considered normal; not many questioned this aspect of the social world.   The Prophets challenged it sometimes.   But mainstream temple politics certainly did not.  It was most often not raised up as a question in men’s literacy classes.   The widows themselves, I’m sure, critiqued the injustice, but most merely had to put their heads down and somehow manipulate their circumstances as best they could so that they’d be able to have another meal and a roof over their heads…..  These were women……seriously cursed not by God, but it could be taken out on God…..they were women seriously cursed by the social world in which they lived. …. As they both grieved for the life and perhaps love they had lost and had concerns for their survival at levels I don’t know whether many of us in this sanctuary can relate to.

Let’s look at the texts now that we have a bit of context.   We have a bit more of Ruth and Naomi’s life in text than the Widow in the Gospel text.

In Ruth and Naomi’s case, the horrendous nature of the political and economic and social consequences of being marginalized come forth into their lives….    First of all, they have to migrate.   Naomi determines to go back where she thinks she has a bit of a community from the past.   But, Naomi arrives back into Israel to gossip from the townswomen who do not quite recognize her, and question whether she is Naomi.   I wonder if grief and the hardship of widowhood and migrating across the desert had all taken their toll.    The women of the community (which I assume are all married)  had bought into the ways things were…..had bought into the horrors of a system of social, economic and political exclusion – probably saying things like  “but for the Grace of God, go I” and then saying, “What are you going to do;  look at her,  she’s so far gone”.  But, for whatever reasons, the community support systems that Naomi had wished for are just not there.  Naomi is no longer beautiful or young and I’m assuming she has some deep well of grief and anger that she needs to work through just because of that; but this next injury where her sisters from the past gossip and exclude her again — God, help us.

The incredibly loyal daughter in law Ruth thus must figure out a way for them to survive.   So, she goes out to glean the barley in Boaz’s fields.   Gleaning, for those of you who don’t know, was a legal way that the impoverished could have food in ancient Israel – like a food bank,  this was the leftovers…..they would follow behind the official harvesters and glean whatever little bits were left.   Whole loads of poor people often gleaned in the fields.

For a while this gleaning works for Naomi and Ruth, but in today’s text, the fields are harvested and so, like we heard, they have to figure out something new to survive.   Naomi, wise in the ways of the world, determines to use the one power the two of them have left,   Ruth’s youth, appearance and beauty…coupled with the power of sexual attraction…..  Naomi traffics Ruth – dressing her in very attractive clothing and perfume, Naomi tells her to lie down with the twice her age old man Boaz in the middle of the threshing floor.   This way, they might both have a chance of surviving.

Now let me stop here.   Tradition hasn’t usually looked at this text in the way I’m going to look at it.  Traditional interpretations seriously white wash Boaz.   The tradition says:   Boaz is a savior type figure who saved Ruth and Naomi and whose descendants eventually birthed Jesus.   We know, certainly, that without Boaz, the life of Ruth and Naomi would have most likely ended, unless they found another way to survive. ….…. . But from my vantage point, Boaz isn’t really worthy at the entire label of savior.   He simply uses his economic, political and cultural power as a landowning politically privileged male of significant social stature to get what he wants.  He neither really cares whether women who are still left in the fields have anything to eat…. nor figures out ways that there could be a more systemic address to feed the widows where they would not be so impoverished.   He simply figures out a way to save the one he wants, Ruth, who has done such kindness to him to lie down with him, an old man….. and realizes it’s probably a package deal with Naomi.

This is the moral dilemma with having power.   And this is what I want to talk about…..For I believe this is the challenge in both this story and the widow’s mite story.   When you have economic, social or political power, you can use it simply to get more of what you want or you can understand the systems and pressures that create the power imbalances and the totally unjust judgments of society……and do something about that…..notice it….tell the truth about it…..work to eradicate it.  I prefer to think the 2nd of these is Gospel Good News work.

In the Widow’s mite story, Jesus is pointing out not so much the Widow’s two cents as the Widow’s two cents in comparison to the Sadducees and Pharisees who’s relatively small but great contribution allowed them access to the power and privileges of the temple.  They were sure they were “in”, “righteous”, “the ones whose appearance seemed so clean” while at night they devoured widows’ houses.   How we could spend a long time on this when we think about bank bailouts, the housing crisis, the ways were made to participate in a system which is just not good for poor people, which does ok for the middle class but which does very well for the rich……….from birth to death…..

Recent elections?  Yes, we can use the power we have to get what we want, to make us feel important, to make sure we have the privileges we think important…..  Or we can use it to make sure that the systems change so that no woman or man or child ever has to compromise their fullness of life, the abundant life,  by giving their proverbial last two pence to the religious coffers…..or that no man, woman or child ever has to give their body to the Boaz’s of the world in order to belong, be a part, to eat, to have shelter, to be forgiven, to have a place…..everyone should have these things…..PERIOD.

What is the role of the Church – the Body of Christ – in such a world……..  

We can take a look at the Body of  Jesus’  in this middle of this culturally, politically and economically disastrously powerless world for widows, for those disenfranchised…those society has deemed not so important………He sits down where he can see what’s going on and he waits, and listens, and watches and from all of that, he slams the Pharisees and Sadducees – tells the truth about them and then…finds a widow, this unnamed widow – the one with nothing – no looks, no marriageability, no power in society and impoverished and notices her. …..There’s nothing pretty about what he gazes upon.  It’s painful.   She’s putting her last two pennies in the temple treasury….Don’t you want to shout, “STOP!”   But, he watches her.   He gazes upon her.     And then?   He raises her up.   He notices her love, her faithfulness, her hope, her story, her generosity, her richness and in pointing to the system of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he then condemns a system that would require her to give her last two pennies to the Temple treasury where she will receive nothing in return from their economic, political or social distribution of power…no power to sit up front, no belonging, no food, no redemption….nothing…..    He watches her.   The great Jesus who had crowds of people gathering around him, in the center of Jewish economic, social, political power, the Temple which was in the center of an unjust Jerusalem and he gazes upon the one who is “nothing” in the eyes of the world…

I’m not pretending to have answers about what the Church should do, but Jesus’ action here would be a good start.   I’m sure there was discomfort in the room when Jesus pointed out this concern in the Temple and to raise up a Widow’s tuppence as the better gift?   Where do we need to point out the concern in our life together, dear people?   And how would this truth-telling and compassion truly embody the good news Gospel?

[Athena Peralta, World Council of Churches Consultant on Poverty Wealth and Ecology, presented the below address during the United Nations’ General Assembly Hearing with Civil Society on the Millennium Development Goals, 14-15 June 2010, New York]

Tackling the roots of poverty

For Christian churches and the worldwide ecumenical movement, eradicating poverty is nothing less than a moral and ethical imperative. We believe that God’s will is for all humanity – regardless of gender, religious belief, race and ethnicity – to experience life in fullness and in dignity. Thus, together with many civil society organisations (CSOs), we at the World Council of Churches (WCC) applauded the United Nations (UN) in 2000 for taking leadership in the articulation and adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), foremost of which is the internationally agreed goal to halve the number of people “living” in poverty by 2015. Discussions on poverty eradication must continue to be a main concern of the UN, where broad participation of all nation-states and civil society could take place. As 2015 looms closer, there is an urgent need for the international community to revisit and deeply consider the structural, historical and interconnected roots of impoverishment and the required policy- and systemic transformations leading not just to the attainment of the MDGs but to the eventual eradication of poverty.

The WCC remains profoundly concerned that the global financial and economic crisis – which continues to wreak havoc on economies including in the Euro zone – has thrown tens of millions more people into poverty, swelling the ranks of the disempowered, hungry, thirsty, unemployed, sick and homeless, and further derailing the achievement of the MDGs. At this stage of the crisis, many countries are being forced to adopt stringent fiscal policies that imperil economic recovery as well as social and ecological protection – at a time when such protection is needed most.

If anything, the global economic turmoil has called into serious question the previously widely accepted role of deregulated and liberalised global financial and trade structures in reducing poverty: current evidence points to the opposite. Yet the international community appears not to have adequately absorbed these sobering lessons. Prevailing financial and trade paradigms are still driven, at core, by the pursuit of ever-higher growth rates and short-term returns at the expense of people’s economic, social and cultural rights and the health of our increasingly fragile ecosystems. Mere economic growth, however, has already been shown to be an unsustainable, inefficient – and in some cases, ineffective – way of addressing the global poverty crisis.

Against this light, the WCC reiterates its calls for governments and international institutions – with the democratic participation of all peoples – to pursue economic policies as well as build economic frameworks that move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth; universal provisioning of common social goods; sustainable consumption and production; and investments in small-holder agriculture (which continues to be the main source of livelihood for people and women in poverty), social reproduction and ecological protection.

Critical to lifting societies and people out of poverty is a much more equitable distribution of assets (capital, technology, land, education, health care, among others). A wealth of studies reveals that the lack of access by the poor (especially poor women) to assets necessary to achieve socio-economic security as well as higher productivity and income is a “fundamental constraint” on poverty eradication.

Emphasising the pivotal role of MDG 8 (global partnerships for development) in meeting the rest of the MDGs, governments and international institutions must seriously respond to widening inequalities among and within nations and the global financial and trade structures that propagate and deepen these inequalities.  Much more attention ought to be placed on developing policies and structures that enable wealth-sharing among and within countries.

Poverty eradication is of course a critical goal in and by itself. At the same time, the WCC has long argued that many of the violent conflicts that continue to rage in different parts of our world stem in large part from the socio-economic deprivation experienced by communities. Thus, measures to eradicate poverty and close socio-economic gaps are important pathways to strengthening social cohesion and achieving lasting peace at local, national and global levels.

We believe that mobilising the financial resources needed for poverty eradication and the achievement of the MDGs – particularly through creative forms of taxation inasmuch as taxes are the only sustainable source of development finance – is a matter of political will, yes, and also of moral courage. At the onset of the global financial and economic crash, governments in rich countries were able to put together trillions of dollars in a matter of months to resuscitate ailing financial institutions; and global military spending continues to increase, amounting to US$ 1464 billion in 2008 alone (SIPRI 2010). We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more import on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness. Clearly, the often put forward excuse of a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty is instead more indicative of a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care.

What the international community can and must do in 1660 days

Reshaping the unjust financial and trade structures that generate and reinforce poverty and inequality is a long-term undertaking requiring coordinated action and meaningful cooperation among and between governments and international developmental institutions, as recognised by MDG 8, beyond 2015. Yet this does not preclude the international community from taking immediate measures and initial steps towards deep-seated transformations. Therefore, the WCC calls on governments and international institutions to commit to the following actions at the MDG Summit in September 2010:

  • Enact urgent financial reforms and support further high-level discussions with substantial civil society participation under the auspices of the Financing for Development process to build an international financial architecture that not only distributes socio-economic risks fairly but finances job-creating production, social reproduction and environmental sustainability; and in particular with a view to:
    • Achieving stronger democratic oversight of international financial institutions, by making them subject to a UN Global Economic Council with the same status as the UN Security Council as proposed by the Stiglitz Commission;
    • Creating and/or transforming financial regulatory institutions and mechanisms and implementing financial transaction taxes to deter speculation (whether on currency, food and other commodities) and capital flight;
    • Supporting regional initiatives that decentralise finance and empower people in the global South to exercise control over their own development through bodies such as the Bank of the South, the Asian Monetary Fund and the Bank of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América;
    • Strengthening tax systems by establishing an international accounting standard requiring country-by-country reporting of transnational companies’ economic activities and taxes paid and forging a multilateral agreement to set a mandatory requirement for the automatic exchange of tax information between all jurisdictions to prevent tax avoidance;
    • Establishing a new global reserve system based on a supranational global reserve currency and regional and local currencies;
    • Setting up a new international credit agency with greater democratic governance than currently exists under the Bretton Woods institutions;
    • Setting up an international bankruptcy court with the authority to cancel odious and other kinds of illegitimate debts and to arbitrate other debt issues;
    • Regulating and reforming the credit agency industry into proper independent supervision institution(s), based on more transparency about ratings and strict regulation on the management of conflict of interest; and
    • Using innovative sources of finance, including carbon and financial transaction taxes, to pay for global public goods and poverty eradication.
  • Resume the Doha Round of trade talks and review free trade agreements based on the objective of transforming multilateral and bilateral trade and investment rules and agreements in support of realising the enshrined rights to food, water, health, education, and gainful and decent employment; and in particular to:
    • Implement workable common international regulations to end agricultural import dumping; and
    • Establish international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.
  • Channel resources away from military spending and odious and illegitimate debt payments to investment areas with potentially strong anti-poverty impacts, particularly small-holder agriculture, social development and ecological sustainability; as well as ensure that development assistance to poor countries is not diminished in light of current pressures to rein in fiscal deficits.
  • Discuss and adopt new and more balanced indicators that factor in social and ecological costs and benefits, and therefore better measure and monitor global socio-ecological-economic progress.

by Abraham Simatupang, Indonesia. First published in Gender and Religious Education.

The more children you have the luckier you will be
My parents are from the Batak ethnic group, a sub-ethnic group in the north Sumatera province. My father is the fourth of thirteen children. My mother has eight siblings, though three of  them died in infancy. To have a big family was not unusual in Sumatra at that time. Lots of children meant a great help for the family. According to the Batak’-tradition or “adat”, the more children you have the luckier you will be.

I am the eldest of four children, and was born in 1960. At that time, the political and economical situation was not stable in Indonesia. My mother told me that stable was curt and expensive. Most of the people could not afford it. However, since my mother worked as a pharmaceutical assistance in the Health Department of Indonesian Air Force, she got rations of baby formula from her office. My father was still a university student when they got married. In the beginning of their marriage my mother was the breadwinner. After he had finished his study, he started his career as a junior lecturer at the University of Indonesia. Hence, both worked to support the family. I learned that my mother took a significant role in nurturing the family and being a good host. We lived in a small house in the capital city of Jakarta. I remember those times when we hosted our extended families and relatives from the village who wished to move to the city. It was not unusual to have many guests and share our house with many people. They helped us with housework, while they were studying or looking for employment.

In my childhood gender role was not clearly differentiated.  My brother and I were given the same tasks as the girls. Dish-washing and house cleaning were not unusual for me. Sometimes I helped pumping the water from our well. My parents often told me to look after my brother and sisters, especially on the way to school. Before I went home from school, I had to assure that my sisters and brother have already gone home. If not, we would go home together by foot or by becak, a tricycle with driver. At that time, as the big brother I learned to take responsibility for my siblings.

We went to Sunday school in a protestant church nearby our house. I was always fascinated of the characters of the Bible’s heroes, like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Deborah, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Peter and Paul, told by our Sunday school teachers and the way they were called by God, men and women, to accomplish difficult tasks. In the majority of cases they had to make sacrifices. I learned that God calls anybody, regardless of which gender, to be God’s messenger and to be God’s partner for completing God’s plans.
Today women have more chances
Indonesia is an agricultural country. Like other agricultural countries, Indonesia has strong traditions where gender-related role allocation is very strongly differentiated. For example women were responsible for children while men took care of provision of food and shelter.
But, nowadays, since people are more open to influences from the outside, values change and gender-related issues or gender-role in society are no longer easy to define. To some extent, this gives benefits to female members, because they have more opportunities to fulfill their dreams as individuals. They can pursue higher education or career if they want. Many women work to earn money, not only for themselves but also for their families.

We even had a woman as president and a number of women are leaders in provincial or regional government.  A higher quota of women, up to 30% of the members of totally 550 of the national parliament, has recently been discussed extensively.

The fight for gender justice, however, is not fully realized. Certain groups, who have their own principles, try to slow down this process. They still require traditional custom like arranged marriages and imposing curfew for women in certain areas.

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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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by Onleilove Alston

In America many people make New Year’s Resolutions to set goals as they go into the New Year. Most resolutions involve breaking a harmful habit or beginning a positive one. This New Year’s I want to challenge all of us to make the resolution to resurrect Beijing by supporting the advancement of women’s rights at your church, in your communities and on your jobs. If you choose to take-up this resolution review the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Become familiar with the document and share it within your community. One way in which you can advance women’s rights is by advocating for women’s leadership in local churches and denominations. March is Women’s History Month and you can advance women’s rights by teaching a Sunday school class on women in the Bible. On a broader level if your state or nation is considering legislation that affects women get involved by lobbying your governmental officials. Consider mentoring a younger woman in your church or community this year and encouraging her to be a leader. Individually you can make a donation to a women’s organization or ministry. Personally you can resolve to advocate for yourself and other women when faced with sexism and gender discrimination.  One important way you can help resurrect Beijing is by attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City from February 26 to March 3. Even if you can not attend the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women take-up a local cause that affects women: childcare, sexism in the workplace, women’s wages or any issue that affects women in your community.

2010 and the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action gives us a unique opportunity to consider the advancements women have made since the Fourth World Conference on Women and to fight against the disadvantages we still face as a global community. The New Year always presents us with new opportunities for growth and advancement, 2010 will present women with the opportunity to advance our cause for equality. As a global community let’s unite and resurrect our rights, our voices, and our cause.  Let’s Resurrect Beijing! Have a blessed, safe and prosperous New Year from Ecumenical Women!

Luke 1:39-56 (The Message)

Blessed Among Women

39-45Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,You’re so blessed among women,and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed thatthe mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears,The babe in my wombskipped like a lamb for sheer joy.Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!46-55And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news;I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts.He knocked tyrants off their high horses,pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.   It’s exactly what he promised,  beginning with Abraham and right up to now. 56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home. 

I playfully call the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower. In America baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given and games played. I am sure that each culture has its own version of the baby shower. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way. John the Baptist being a prophet even from the womb jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy- Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for God’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise and prophecy. When Mary sings: “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.  The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. When women gather in Christ name he is in our midst. Mary and Elizabeth are a positive example of what can happen when women come together to celebrate life. By their example I am reminded of women coming together throughout history such as: Ruth and Naomi, woman suffragists, and the Fourth World Council on Women in Beijing, China. As we reflect during this season of Advent we must remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways and that we can walk in their example. Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. When we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed and hope given. 

Question for Reflection: Using the example of Mary and Elizabeth how can women support each other and create a space that celebrates life?

Prayer: Dear God give us spaces to rejoice, laugh, and celebrate your life during this Christmas season. Develop friendships that will inspire us to speak truth to power. Help us to support our sisters and rejoice with those who rejoice. Thank you for the example of Mary and Elizabeth. Thank you for the gift of your life. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

by Peace Corps Member Erica McMahon posted with permission by Onleilove Alston

from Ms. McMahon’s Peace Corps Aspiration Statement:

As a Christian African American women born in Brooklyn, NY moving to Kazakhstan will not doubt bring culture shock. Although I have traveled to many countries, I have never spent more than 2 months in one place. During my times abroad I was able to adapt and learn about different cultures by remaining observant, asking questions, and being as humble as possible. Also, as a person who often travels alone, I am familiar with people staring and questioning me. I consider myself to be a person who has strong faith and values and because of this I am willing to experience new things, while at the same time, not having to compromise my beliefs or push them onto others. I remain open-minded and humble to the fact that I have a lot to learn and I am eager for new growth. I hope to use these strategies in Kazakhstan, but I am also eagerly awaiting the advice that comes from Peace Corps training.”

“Hitler is my favorite world leader”

So….

Many things have happened since I started teaching last week. So far its been going really well. My students seem to really like me and I do my best to make sure my lessons are interesting. In Kazakhstan, the teaching style isnt centered around critical thinking; its mostly memorization. I like to give my students challenging activities to make them think out side their Kazakhstan box.

Today was my 1st lesson with a new class so I wanted to give them an activity that would help me get to know them. So I taught them how to ask interesting questions besides “what is your name, how old are you, yada yada yada…”. Some of the questions I came up with were “If you could be any animal what would you be?, If you could cure any sickness in the world what would it be? How much money do you spend in a week and what do you spend it on?” While playing a musical chairs each student had to ask the person who was lost that round some of these questions. Overall it went well…until…..

One particular student had to answer the question: “Who is your favorite world leader and why?”

Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Im sorry, I dont think I heard you correctly, can you please repeat.
Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Hitler? From Germany?
Student: Yes, I like Hitler from Germany.
Erica: Oh ok (while thinking in my mind…..whaaaa?) Can you please explain to the class why.
Student: He had great visions for Germany and I like is ideas.
Erica: ………………………………………………………………………………..Interesting…………ok lets move on.

So needless to say I was speechless. This was a class of 1st year students, so their level of English was pretty low. I didn’t think it would be wise to get into a debate about Hitler when the students cant form complex sentences. Also, the topic was “Getting to know you” which was supposed to be a happy lesson! So I let it go.

I posted this on my facebook page and one of my friends had an interesting point. Here is his response: “Remember, people are raised and taught differently. We cannot judge them (not saying you are). All we can do is share our opinions and hope we show how that may not be an appropriate answer… of course your student may have been referring to leadership skills and certain domestic policies of Hitler, not the monstrosities he orchestrated.”

My response: “Good point Mario… we didn’t get a chance to discuss because for that lesson I didn’t think it was appropriate, and we were running out of time. I hope she was just referring to his leadership skills. But I would not characterize Hitler as some who is interesting to study and analyze. Not my FAVORITE world leader. But everyone is entitled to their opinion!”

I wonder what Kazakh history books say about Hitler/Holocaust?

Teaching has been very interesting so far. Maybe with a more advance class I will do a lesson plan about controversial would leaders and have them debate.

Thanks for reading. And as a special prize for reading my blog, here is a picture from the Kazakh Symphony Orchestra and A Squat toilet!

The conductor was a diva! I loved her!

Its not what you think…thats mud…but still….lol

Be Blessed
Erica

Erica McMahon is a Peace Corps Education and Community Development Volunteer in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. A native New Yorker  she graduated from Syracuse University where she studied Information Technology. A former Diversity Recruiter for Credit Suisse, she is  a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. a historically African-American community service sorority. She blogs about her Peace Corps experiences at Faith, Patience and Endurance.

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.

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logo-assembly-enAn international gathering of women from across the Lutheran communion at Bogis-Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland, kicked off the first Pre-Assembly in a series of seven that will precede the Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), to be held in Stuttgart, Germany, July 2010.

Referring to the Assembly theme, “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread,” Mr Jaap Schep, acting director of the LWF Department for Mission and Development (DMD) called upon women to prepare a strong contribution on gender perspectives to issues that are on the assembly’s agenda.

Schep expressed his hope that the pre-assembly participants “will not be overwhelmed by the many negative trends in global food production.” He urged them “to create a strong call for this world to become a sustainable community that must” include gender justice.

“Is it not for the same reason that some 2 billion women around the world wake up much earlier than anyone else to prepare for the necessities of the day?” Schep asked participants, linking women’s role in providing bread and the WPA as the first pre-assembly.

Participants in the 27- 31 October pre-assembly include 34 women representatives from LWF member churches in the Federation’s seven regions.

Schep urged the WPA participants to use the opportunity of coming together “to make a strong contribution to the process of preparing yourselves for the Assembly of our communion.”

“The prevailing gender inequality is also clearly present in the context of our daily bread,” said Schep, citing what he had witnessed during DMD-related visits to projects of LWF member churches. “I see in many regions women working on preparation of the daily food … and men usually talking with other men … I have seen food being distributed unequally. And I have seen women, especially mothers, taking the least [portions],” he said.

During the opening worship, women were invited to speak out their names, and to share bread and bowls from their regions, as well as words and ideas that were inscribed on a patch work cloth. The women also remembered fellow delegates from Cameroon, India and Nigeria who had been invited to take part in the meeting, but did not receive visas.

Deliberations at the four-day international meeting include issues of women and power, women’s participation in decision making and women and justice. The participants will also have the opportunity to get acquainted with the LWF Assembly rules and procedures.

The DMD desk for Women in Church and Society has organized the WPA. Five regional pre-assemblies will take place in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, as well as an international Youth conference, organized by the respective DMD desks.

More information on the Pre-Assemblies is available here.

by Onleilove Alston

This Bible Study Resource is one part of a series of Bible Studies that examine The Last Week of Christ Life and The Last Year of Rev. King’s Life, created by The Poverty Initiative, an organization “dedicated to Building a Movement to End Poverty Led by the Poor”. This is an interactive, multimedia Bible Study that can be used in various settings. We offer a variety of resource choices so that you can tailor the study to the needs of your group.  This type of Bible Study was created by The Poverty Initiative by working with grassroots community groups and is called textual reflection, where we engage the Biblical text with contemporary writings. In no way is this Bible Study comparing the life of Dr. King to the life of Christ but by looking at the life of our fellow man we can see that it is possible to live out the teachings of Jesus in the public square to the end of social change.

 

Mary of Bethany Contributing to the Movement....

Mary of Bethany Contributing to the Movement....

This Bible Study examines the role women played in the ministry of Jesus and in Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, showing that the leadership of women is needed in ministry and  social movements; Christ set this example.

For the entire Bible Study (including resources and links) visit:

The Last Week of Jesus and the Last Year of Martin Luther King: Women in the Movement

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

Despite the Beijing Declaration that “Women empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision making process and access to power are fundamental for achievement of equality development and peace”, women still feel discriminated. Based on a one-sided interpretation of culture and scripture, discrimination of women is often reinforced by the churches. 

Traditionally the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3 was used to blame women. Eve, the first women, seduced Adam into eating the fruit from the forbitten tree. Hence all women today have inherited that blame. Women were seen as inferior, weak, disobedience and easily tempted. But if we read through Genesis 3 carefully, we will realize many positive things about Eve. Aspects, which the churches neglected far too long. 

Genesis 2:18 (RSV), says “…it’s not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”. The Hebrew word azer (helper) does not mean any form of subordination as it was always preached. In fact, azer has divine attributes (Heb 13:6, Psalms 10:14). The Bible discribes God as a helper to us. In John 15:26, Jesus tells his disciples he will send them a helper, the Holy Spirit. This implies that Eve was in the correct image and likeness of God.

In Genesis 3:6 we see Eve as a rational being. She is able to reason out to see that the tree was good for food and to be desired to make one wise. The Hebrew word raah (to see), also means “understanding or awareness”.

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Who does not want to be wise? All of us desire wisdom. To me the mother of all human wisdom is Eve, because it was until she ate the fruit that we acquired a higher status to become like God (Genesis 3:22). 

Eve was also the provider. Where was Adam when Eve was looking for food? In fact, Adam is portrayed as irrational being, because he never questions where Eve had found the fruit, but just ate it. This may imply that it was a tendency of Eve to provide food for Adam. Being the provider Eve again is in the image and likeness of God, because our God is also the provider (Psalm111:5).

 

Therefore our perceptions towards women on the basis of the story of the fall of man should change. Women may indeed have a unique gift which men don’t have.

by Onleilove Alston

Note: Though DWU works on issues affecting domestic workers in the U.S. the issues faced by its membership are shared by women worldwide. The exploitation of women workers is an international human rights issue. According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the U.N. :

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD   for the display of his splendor. THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; THEY will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:1-4

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (the Domestic Worker) Bill of Rights passed”.

“Without God we can’t do anything”.

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors”.

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell Leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work
will be valued equally”.-Mission of Domestic Workers United

During the spring of 2006 I started to closely read Isaiah 61 and began to gain spiritual encouragement from meditating on God’s care for the poor and oppressed. I began to study this scripture whenever I had the chance. In 2007 I started to work with New York Faith & Justice after meeting founders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Anna Lee and Peter Heltzel at Pentecost 2007. In the Fall of 2007 New York Faith & Justice did an in-depth Bible Study on Isaiah 61 and from this study I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness”, and “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated”. This new insight revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. Instead of just preaching the gospel to the poor, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities! If you are a person of privilege instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if like me you come from the ranks of the poor you are called to rebuild and restore your community. This re-reading of Isaiah 61 is further supported by my work with the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program. The Poverty Scholars program brings poor activist from across America to Union Theological Seminary to take part in an educational program of conferences, theological reflection and action planning centered on re-igniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

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