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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!

by Leigh Rogers posted with permission by Onleilove Alston

In the New York Times, Stanley Fish writes on the complexity of political correctness in academia. He notes that the liberal slant on many college faculties can be extreme.

In discussing a new book on the subject, Fish cites Cary Nelson’s, uber-PC example:

“His own example of absurdity (it occurred in his home department) is a faculty appointment that was derailed when it was discovered that the candidate, then teaching in New Zealand, had written a letter to a newspaper criticizing the practice of going barefoot in public places on the grounds that it promoted the spread of disease. A department member decided that the letter “was an attack on the Maori people and thus racist,” and even when it was determined that it is not the Maori, but “white hippies, who go barefoot in New Zealand, the majority voted against pursuing the candidate in order, says Nelson, to prove “themselves to colleagues of color.”

Though it sounds unrelated to interfaith dialogue, a lot about this subject has affected my participation in discussions with others of different faiths, especially within academia.

As a privileged, white, agnostic-Christian-raised participant in faith dialogues, I always felt like I wasn’t an asset to the group. Our interfaith dialogue group had plenty of white pseudo-Christian girls; instead, there always seemed to be a push for “diversity,” which meant a recruitment of those from more seemingly obscure faiths (Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Jainism, Shinto) whose members were often people of color.

Even though I eventually became a leader of my collegiate interfaith group, I often felt like I was going to be “fired” from my role in order to meet quotas of diversity that others could fill with their religious and ethnic backgrounds. It always seemed to me like the diversity people were looking for was only the religious or racial kind. Those are obviously important for an interfaith group, but what about diversities of political viewpoints, cultural values, gender, or sexual orientation?

Of all the religious groups we recruited to attend our interfaith dialogue group, there was never an active push to recruit those attending Campus Crusade for Christ. The reason? I believe it stemmed from the fear that the discussion would turn into a proselytizing session by those who believe they can lead us to heaven if we believe in “Him,” and thus need to “save” as many souls as possible.

I was briefly a part of Campus Crusade for Christ and had many friends and acquaintances that attended. No one from Campus Crusade really took my offer to attend our interfaith dialogues seriously. But for me it was unlikely it would turn into a soul-saving rally. And yet, within the dialogue group, there seemed to be an unspoken fear of messianic religion and of the presence of political and intellectual difference of opinions on non-religious matters.

While we were perfectly fine and accepting of religious difference of belief and opinion, we were not so tolerant of strict political difference. Evangelical Christians convey more than evangelizing fervor to other faiths; they also convey a sense of secular conservatism that has a checklist of values meant to keep the cause pure.

Evangelical Christianity believes that it is the only means of salvation and that other religions are hocus-pocus. This, of course, was a problem for us. We seemed to have a preempted the tacit rule that all religions were not just valuable in their own right but also other roads to salvation. This made us contradictory to our own cause. We valued the general statement of “diversity” but weren’t willing to step out of our comfort zones in case we had our own liberal biases threatened.

We in fact did have a Pentecostal Christian as a regular attendee of our interfaith dialogue group. He regularly stepped out of his comfort zone with us, and I learned a lot from him as a friend and participant in our discussions. One day, in the student union, I sat with him after one of our meetings he explained to me why he attended the dialogues, even though he felt persecuted as a convicted Christian.

“I go for the educational aspect, to learn about other religious traditions,” he said. “I also go because it makes my faith stronger; when I learn about other faiths, it tests my own faith and instead of feeling threatened by other faiths, I can respect them as I strengthen my belief in my own.”

“It is a lack of one’s own faith that makes one threatened of other faiths.” he said. My friend has now recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.

As a Pentacostal Christian, you don’t merely need to believe that Jesus is your personal savior to go to heaven, you must also be baptized twice (once in the holy spirit and another in the name of Jesus) and have an out-of-body, tongues-speaking experience. So, for him to find value in other faiths while having such conviction in his own could be a real challenge.

As people interested in interfaith dialoguers, I hope we can channel my friend’s mentality and showcase a diversity of diversities: the welcoming of not just religious and ethnic tolerance, but also political and intellectual tolerance of viewpoints. If we work from a fear of disagreement, of offending an objective PC truth then we won’t be able to find the center of our personal beliefs and where we might meet as a group of diverse individuals.

As one tweeter said, “In groups where everybody agrees, not much deep thinking will be done.”

Leigh Rogers is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and works in communications for a women’s faith organization in New York. She blogs at Faithful Democrats and AJGita.

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.

Nepali human rights defender Saathi Roundtable, explaining how a new strong international agency for women could benefit women locally:

“If we wash with a bucket of water and start from our feet, the water is wasted washing only our feet. But if we pour the water over our heads, we can wash our whole body.”

The United Nations is a galvanizing force in setting new international standards and commitments to protect and promote women’s human rights especially those at risk of violence, or facing poverty. But the UN’s capacity to support national implementation of these international agreements is woefully underfunded and inadequate. This has limited the potential for women around the world to fully enjoy their rights in practice.

The four small UN agencies exclusively dedicated to women’s issues lack the necessary status, funding and country presence to enable the wider UN system and national authorities to fully implement their obligations. Other, larger UN agencies, sometimes can make a difference, but advancing women’s human rights and gender equality is usually a small part of their mandate. And none of these agencies are adequately supporting the important work of women’s human rights defenders.

In September 2009, after years of persistent campaigning by women’s human rights advocates around the world, all 192 member states of the UN General Assembly finally adopted a resolution agreeing to the creation of a consolidated and stronger UN agency for women.

According to Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director of Center for Women’s Global Leadership, USA, “the General Assembly has at last taken decisive action to create a new gender equality entity on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Beijing women’s conference in 2010. It is a great victory for women’s rights as well as for the coalition of women’s and other civil society organizations. Now we must ensure that it is a robust and transformational body, capable of advancing the realization of women’s rights on the ground, urgently and effectively.”

In order to achieve this, the agreed new women’s agency urgently needs sustained political commitment from all governments and immediate, substantial funding to ensure its effective establishment and success.

Take action! Show your support for a new strong UN women’s agency!





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 at new places (something for which I most often use If Only), 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”


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 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.

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

Not to seem too self-centred, but I decided to write my last post for the Ecumenical Women at the UN this year (please, do not shed too many tears, you will always find your way back to me I’m sure) about a tribe which I belong to.

NO, not the shoes- addict anonymous. Seriously people, focus with me.

I’m talking about the women bloggers, those mysterious women who sit behind their computers; writing about politics, fashion, society, literature, violence, religion and the list is endless. From the Iranian Civil Rights activist tweeting live about the Green Revolution in Iran, to the photography-lover immortalising street scenes, women are all over the Web, getting visibility and shaking society.

It all started when I first published my own blog, and quickly discovered how my own country, Lebanon, was ridden with female bloggers, gathering momentum around their work, debunking the age-old myth of the Female Incapacity to Manage a Computer (known as the FIMC syndrome). I also pleasantly discovered that the Egyptian young women were the majority of bloggers within the Egyptian youth.

Now graphic designers, marketing specialists, humanitarian workers, journalists and women from different backgrounds and interests can create their space online thanks to blogs, in a creative, cost effective and interactive way.

Simple, to the point. Like women (I’m warning you boys, no sniggering will be tolerated)

Being the tedious women’s rights advocate that I tend to be, I had to research the women’s status in the blogosphere. How many of us were there out there?

Sadly, I soon discovered that women were NOT the Queens of the Blogosphere, and that, as in just about any other fields, there was still a lot of work to do to encourage women to benefit from the opportunities blogs offer.

In October 2009, Technorati, the main search engine for blogs, released its “State of the Blogosphere” report, which showed that 67% of bloggers are men, a number that has increased compared to last year’s results. It is all the more interesting to note that women rule the social networking websites, like Facebook for example, but represent only less than one third of the bloggers. Are we witnessing an online version of the sociological phenomenon of women considered being more “sociable” than men? It seems to me that these results just strengthen the common – and observed- belief that women tend to pay more attention to relationships whereas men focus more on work and “intellectual” things.

However, it is also worth mentioning that this discrepancy in women’s presence on networking websites vs. blogs doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t use their social networking profiles in the same was they would with a blog, i.e, to promote their products, writings etc…

Another reason that has been expressed to explain the lack of women in the blogging community is that women are “intimidated” by blogs and how to create them (here comes the FIMC syndrome again). I personnally don’t think this is the reason behind the statistics.

The other interesting point this study raised was the educational background of bloggers: indeed, bloggers tend to be more educated than the rest of the population, with 75% of them having college degrees and 40% graduate degrees. If so, could the lack of women bloggers be a manifestation of gender inequality in terms of access to education? UNICEF nicely informs us that, of an estimated 101 million children not in school, more than half are girls. Enough said don’t you think?

So first of all, to be able to blog, women and girls should be granted the right to attend school and study (or in other words, to simply fully enjoy their BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS). And if they do study, and become highly educated, in order to be able to spend time cursing Blogger and WordPress, they would have to have time. And time my friends, is a luxury for women, for who could possibly still be bothered to blog after working all day, taking care of children, housekeeping and remaining sane? Remember, working women still spend about an hour more doing household chores than their male counterparts.

And this is how you end up with two third men bloggers vs. one third men: gents, when you’re blogging, your partners are cooking/cleaning/tending to kids/probably cursing you.

So I guess blogs, as products of the global society, shows us what we already knew: women are marginalized, kept away from a tool that could help them express themselves and give them a voice, and frankly, it’s getting tiring.

So yes, we have to enable women and girls to have access to education and training.

This is tremendously important.

You know I’m not stopping there don’t you?

Well, I’m not. Educate and train men as well. Train them to change nappies (that’s your child too you know), to cook and to clean (No darling, hiding dust under the carpet is not a known cleaning strategy).

But most of all, for the love of God, train them not to expect a medal for doing it.

My personal favourite women blogs:

Maya’Amalgam (Comics) –

Kolena Laila – (Ladies, participate in their campaign)

Feministing –

Garance Doré –

Blog Her:

The Sister Project:

In preparation for the 54th session of CSW, which will review the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, Ecumenical Women submitted a statement to the UN Secretary-General.

It reads,

[We] affirm that God’s world was meant to be one of abundance for all persons, with fundamental rights and dignity for both women and men.  Women, however, are disproportionately robbed of this abundance.  We are called to challenge the gender bias of institutions and seek justice for those who are blocked by institutional barriers.

On workshops and conferences, EW learnt how Beijing 1995 had concrete impacts on women’s lifes. But despite these success stories, many goals of the Platform remain unfulfilled even after 15 years.

In it’s statement EW highlights five areas that are crucial for gender equality: Patriarchal understandings of gender, power and leadership; Violence against Women; Economic Barriers; Education and Training; Vulnerability of Marginalized Women and Girls. A greater commitment in these areas is necessary in order to meet all the Millennium Development Goals. Therefore EW urges the Commission, the UN, and it’s member states to undertake concrete steps for institutional change.

Ecumenical Women likes to hear from you. Read and comment on the statement!

A bible study by Simon Khayala, Youth Pastor, Kenya

1 Samuel 1 – 2: 21

Hannah like many women in the bible is afflicted with a misfortune which actually besets both husband and wife, but is typically attributed to the women: I am talking about infertility. No biblical story tells of an infertile man, but there are many of the misery and social disgrace of the childless women. This is not strange to most African traditions; infertile men are never known, because the communities they belong to, do everything possible to cover up their status. One of their brother or cousin normally is allowed to sleep with the wife of the infertile man secretly to seer children for the brother. This is done secretly and only a few elders know; but before such a decision is arrived at the women bear all the blame.

In Hannah’s time to live in a childless marriage meant not to live up to the creator’s demand to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Hannah’s time therefore entails years of futile waiting and disappointment, but also public humiliation and shame. In her situation she was deeply depressed and prayed to the Lord, wept bitterly and made a vow (1. Sam 1:10-11)

What we learn from Hannah

Hannah prays before the face of God at the temple without an intercessor. She makes her vow independently without asking her husband. By doing this she violated the Law of Moses (Num 30:7-8). Thus full participation of women in the rituals and God’s acts of liberation confirms that society’s enforced regulations and orders do not last forever.

Hannah is courageous; she addresses Yahweh, the same God who had caused her barrenness (1 Sam 2:5-6). She is wise because she knows exactly who to address.

Hannah is independent; Hannah makes personal decisions. She made a personal decision of praying to Yahweh and she doesn’t need an intermediary to connect her to her creator.

Hannah is positive minded; her vow was an extremely risky vow to take, she vows that the son of her womb will be preserved for obedience only to Yahweh. What if Samuel became a scoundrel and disregarded the ways of the Lord? Hannah had no time to think about negative things but positive ones. She has a strong faith, she believes Eli, she does not doubt; that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Hannah is open; she pours all her painful feelings to the Lord. She is also sober and that is what she told Eli she is, when he mistaken her to be drunk. The word sober means “one of strict conduct”.

Hannah is thankful and faithful as well; in offering her thanks giving, she is aware of the amazing sequence by which her barrenness has eventuated in birth. Her offer of the boy is faithful counterpart to her vow. 

Jan Victors, Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645

Jan Victors, Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645

The story of Hannah highlights a certain ambivalence regarding the role of women. Women face two possibilities depending on whether they take Hannah or Peninnah as their model. They may act like Peninnah, Elkanah’s second wife blessed with many children (1 Sam 1:2), who is both victim and accessory to the rule. She supports the patriarchal and insults Hannah in her misery. This violation of female solidarity is a very bitter and the same time very realistic to Hannah’s story. Domination and suppression are not just enforced from outside but carried out by the very people who should know better.

A call to the church

The church is urgently called to hear the cry of the childless women and the difficulties encountered in marriages as one of it’s calling; because like Hannah they are not useless but have some special gifts to teach the church. The society on the other hand should come to grips with it’s cruel treatment of the childless women. What these people need desperately is a ministry of reconciliation through encouragement and incorporation.

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

As the world turned red and celebrated World AIDS Day 2009 yesterday around the theme « Universal Access and Human Rights », I would like to raise awareness about the plight of women living with HIV who would have liked to become mothers, only to be forced and talked out of it, or only to discover that they had been sterilized. Yes, you’ve read correctly.

Sterilized. Forced to. Or made to feel guilty about their natural desire to have children. Or without no one bothering to inform them about the already-performed sterilization.

Have I left enough space for you to ponder on the extreme barbarity of such an action? Yes? Right, let us now move to a more detailed examination of this unspeakable phenomenon.

Forced or coerced sterilisation is defined as the use of intimidation, fear, pressure duress or deception to get “consent” for the sterilisation procedure”. It is – and it goes without saying- a gross violation of a woman’s Human and Reproductive Rights. Indeed, it simply goes against Article 16(e) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), that states:


States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights;”

Depending on the interpretation and the circumstances of the sterilization, such an act could also be filed as an inhuman and degrading treatment, a kind of treatment no human being should ever be put through, as stated in Article 7 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (CCPR). What’s that I hear? The voices of the “Yes, but the CCPR is not legally binding for non-signatories States blah-blah-blah”. People! The right to not be subjected to torture or any ill treatment is common law, meaning UNIVERSAL, meaning EVERYONE and EVERY STATE is bound to respect it. End of story.

Many HIV positive women, from Chile to Namibia, have been forced, coerced or tricked into sterilization, or simply not informed about what the doctors were doing to them. Because the judgement and prejudice surrounding HIV positive women wanting to have children is so strong, women who come to hospitals to be cared for or to give birth find themselves sterilized when they go out of the clinic. The way of doing it can be different: either health professionals make them feel guilty about having more children because of their status, arguing that their children will be HIV positive, or doctors, to keep the appearance of legality, make women sign forms in a language they don’t understand, or when they’re on their way to the labour room. Hence women signing to an agreement for their sterilization because they trusted whatever the doctors were telling them was written on the form. In many cultures, doctors are seen as semi-Gods, and people simply tend to consider their words as Gospel. Stigma and Discrimination only multiply after the sterilization, as the ability to have children is often one of the most important criteria for a woman’s status in many societies.

Use Your Holiday Spirit to Fight HIV and AIDS - Photo by Lara Zankoul

However, it is not only doctors and health professionals who are to blame for these actions. Indeed, attention has to be paid to governmental laws that validate such practices. The International Community of Women Living with HIV has filed a complaint against the government of Namibia for the forced sterilization of 15 women. The proceedings have started on October 20th 2009, and the issue of the trial will no doubt have a strong impact on the regional and global practices regarding this issue. Earlier this year, a positive Chilean woman who had been sterilized without consent went to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to defend her rights.

Her right not to be discriminated against, her right for equality, her right to decide for herself how many children she wants to have.

Oh, and by the way, it is still important to be reminded that mother-to-child transmission (vertical transmission) of HIV is almost entirely preventable where services and medication are available. However, there is still a lot of work ahead to reach the level in developing countries where prospective positive mothers have access to treatment, and where their Human Rights are respected.

It astounds me to have to state the obvious, but People Living with HIV’s Rights are Human Rights. Do you hear that, governments? Atta boys.

Now change your laws.

Devotional prepared by Onleilove Alston for the Poverty Initiative

Luke 19:29-41 (New International Version)
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry

29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Martin Luther King Jr. Trumpet of Conscience (1967)
“Nonviolence and Social Change”

“The dispossessed of this nation—the poor, both white and Negro-live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against the injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty…

“…There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”


In Luke 19:28-41 we read the familiar but unusual passage about the “Triumphant Entry” from which we derive our Palm Sunday celebrations. Jesus does not enter Jerusalem in the same way as the religious and political leaders of his day; instead he enters on a donkey. To spite this extremely humble entry the people crown him their King and praise God for him. Though Jesus was not declared King by the Roman Empire peasants bestowed this title on him, and every Palm Sunday thousands of years later in churches across the world we echo their words.

This short but powerful passage gives us important insight into the agency of poor people to name themselves and to claim for themselves dignity outside the confines of the principalities and powers of their day. Throughout history we have examples of poor people who arise and claim dignity for themselves.

Could the Triumphant Entry be but one example of the many instances in which poor people organized themselves-peasants in Jerusalem organized around Jesus their declared King, slaves gathered in hush harbors and in 1968 poor people of all races from across America organized around the Poor People’s Campaign-beginning with a Mule Train from Marks, Mississippi (sound familiar).

The Poor People’s Campaign was the last project of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and much like the poor of Jesus day who risked persecution by proclaiming Jesus as their King because they had nothing to loose but bondage to the Roman Empire, the poor of Dr. King’s day risked it all to converge on the nation’s capital to challenge the American empire because they had nothing to loose but bondage to an economic system that robbed them of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

God places the desire for freedom within all of his children and just as he provided the donkey for Jesus’ triumphant entry, if we step out in faith with the freedom and power that Dr. King prophesied about in 1967, we too will have everything we need to obtain the liberation provided by our creator.  As the gospel songs of old declared-“God is no respecter of persons what he did for others he can do for you too.”

Questions for Reflection

  • What do these stories of triumphant entries tell us about the nature of God and his desire for justice and liberation?
  • Do you see a connection between the donkey in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the mule train in MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign?
  • In what ways do we allow our fears of not being enough or having enough (money, talents, etc) stop us from doing God‘s work of justice?
  • This Lent what is one small way can you step out on faith and trust that God will provide you with what you need to be an advocate for justice?

Prayer: God, give me the faith and courage to step out and stand for justice trusting that you will provide me with all I need to do your work. In the name of Jesus our liberator – yesterday, today and forever, Amen.

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