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Reflecting the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) for women and girls,” over the coming months Ecumenical Women will be posting stories about our individual member organizations’ efforts to implement the MDGs. What follows is the second of such stories, comprised of excerpts from a recent report by World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women (WFMUCW) President Ann Connan (see picture below). In the the report, she discusses her organization’s ongoing work towards achieving the MDGs.

At the 2011 Assembly a new Action Plan was developed, furthering the work on the MDGs. There were three components: personal; church/community; and government.

Today I’d like to challenge you as members of this Council to reflect on what you have done to improve life for the inhabitants through these 8 areas – and I’ll show you what some of the Federation women are doing. The theme for the West Africa Area Seminar held in May in Banjul, The Gambia, was Food Security and Women’s Empowerment. Fuel efficient and reduced-smoke-emission stoves were promoted. We learned that although men have the larger farms with mechanical help the women are the rice-growers – the staple food crop – with no technical help.

At the Methodist Agricultural Project women raised fruit trees and produced jams from fruits and vegetables they grew. In the Solomon Islands the church-run hospital providing the only health care in the west of the nation had insufficient fertile land to grow enough food to feed patients more than one meal a day. A series of above-ground garden beds, fertilizer and a chomper were sent by a Federation group in Melbourne.

Handcrafts, as we all know, provide a great source of income for women; and sales of handcrafts are an important part of Area Seminars to help lift families out of poverty and to fund fares to meetings. For the past two years the British Unit of Federation has been working in partnership with a small charity Children Unite who campaign on behalf of Child Domestic Workers around the world. They have helped the charity to raise awareness of the International Labour Organisation’s convention on the protection of domestic workers, which has not yet been ratified by the UK. Hundreds of women have signed rubber gloves, forming an unusual petition. Just as rubber gloves protect our hands from harsh chemicals, so the ILO convention could protect child domestic workers from abuse and the loss of educational opportunities.

Over the past 6 years Victorian Federation groups in Australia have sent over 6,000 backpacks to 7 countries in the Pacific where there are partner Churches of the Uniting Church. Although most of these countries have universal primary education, the quality of schooling is very low. Backpacks contain exercise books, writing and colouring tools, healthcare items, lunchbox, drink bottle and either a ball or skipping rope…

…The Church of South India Women’s Empowerment Centre in Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh, one of the poorer areas of India, trains and employs women in crafts, sewing, making church vestments and communion wafers…

They also continued to educate on the issue of HIV/AIDS and preventable diseases, while all African Units are actively involved in Health Education, provision of mosquito netting and practical help to families suffering from HIV/AIDS…

… The British Unit gathered in Mansfield for a one-day conference entitled Hope for Creation, looking at MDG 7. A highlight of the day was a live Skype conversation with Julie Edwards, a British mission partner, who is sharing her expertise in environmental education with the Methodist Church in Fiji and the Pacific Conference of Churches. The work is of urgent importance in the Pacific, where some countries, such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, are predicted to disappear in the next 50 to 70 years.

Women in India are tackling the issue of recycling. The South Asia Area Seminar featured a 3-R Workshop: Re-use; Re-cycle; Re-duce. Women are making sanitary napkins from tailors’ cotton waste and distribute these to young girls who traditionally miss school while sitting in sand during their menstrual period. In Ghana women use the packaging from bulk bottled water to manufacture shopping bags…

… “We commit ourselves: to ignite the Deborah in us and pray unceasingly for healing [for the world]; to encourage the proper interpretation of Scripture for the enhancement of the dignity of women; to work towards replenishing the earth’s resources; to be persistent in the accessibility of quality education as a tool for emancipation.”

Reflecting the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls,” over the coming months Ecumenical Women will be posting stories about our individual member organizations’ efforts to implement the MDGs. What follows is the first of such stories about how the Lutheran World Federation is working to combat climate change, which is related to MDG #7.

Over the last two weeks, representatives from national governments and civil society are gathered in Warsaw, Poland, for the 19th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Parties discussed the framework for a new global agreement that includes actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as actions to help the world’s most vulnerable people and communities adapt to a changing climate that is already impacting lives and livelihoods.

Even as the delegates gathered in Warsaw, a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines, taking lives and changing the shape of communities, perhaps forever. Although a single weather event like Typhoon Haiyan cannot easily be attributed to climate change, this unprecedented storm is what scientists predict will become all too common if we fail to act soon to curb emissions.

The tone of conversations in Warsaw was set on the first day of the conference, when Commissioner Yeb Saño of the Philippines made a heart-felt and impassioned plea on behalf of his people for swift and strong action to combat climate change. As part of his statement he announced that he was beginning a voluntary fast until such time as the global community made significant progress in responding to the global climate crisis.

Commissioner Saño’s speech inspired delegates from around the world to fast in solidarity with the people of the Philippines and for all those devastated by a changing climate. The Lutheran World Federation delegation in Warsaw, made up of young adults from around the world, together with other ecumenical youth formed a “fasting chain” that lasted until the end of the conference – this past Friday, 22 November, with at least one youth/young adult delegate fasting each day. Check out the LWF Youth Blog for more information on the Federation’s delegation.

Blessed-Virgin-Mary-Virgin-with-angelsEcumenical Women is currently updating our list of worship resources! If you or your organization have developed additional relevant worship resources, we’d love to link to them as well! Just either email us at ecumenicalwomen@gmail.com or comment on this post. Here are our two new additions:

Scripture and the Millennium Development Goals – This guide sheet was created by the Victoria Edmonds of the Salvation Army to guide our October 2013 monthly meeting. It suggests a number of different passages from Scriptures there pertain to each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

International Day of the Girl Liturgy – This morning prayer liturgy was created for the 2013 International Day of the Girl by the G.I.R.L.s of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia. For more information, click here.

On 31 October 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, reported to the UN General Assembly that “harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief.” You can read the report in its entirety here, while we will highlight a few of the general observations in the report below:

While allowing for a possible lack of “practical synergy” between the human rights of women and the human right to freedom of religion or belief, the report states, “…human rights norms must be interpreted in such a way that they are not corrosive of one another but rather  reinforce each other. Upholding a holistic human rights approach has direct consequences for human rights practice, in particular for those numerous persons who are exposed to combined forms of vulnerability in the intersection of different human rights norms.”

Going further, Mr. Bielefeldt also writes, “Freedom of religion or belief, in conjunction with freedom of expression, helps open up religious traditions to systematic questions and debates. In discourses on religious issues everyone should have a voice and a chance to be heard, from adherents of conservative or traditional interpretations to liberal critics or reform theologians. However, by also empowering groups who traditionally experience discrimination, including women and girls, freedom of religion or belief can serve as a normative reference point for questioning patriarchal tendencies as they exist in different religious traditions. This can lead to more gender-sensitive readings of religious texts and far-reaching discoveries in this field. In virtually all traditions one can indeed find persons or groups who make use of their freedom of religion or belief as a positive resource for the promotion of equality between men and women, often in conjunction with innovative interpretations of religious sources and traditions. This accounts for the possibility of direct synergies between freedom of religion or belief on the one hand and policies for promoting the equal rights of women on the other. Impressive examples of initiatives undertaken by women and men of different religious persuasions clearly show that synergetic efforts in this regard actually exist and should not be underestimated.”

Although such “synergetic efforts” are clearly possible, Mr. Bielefeldt also notes with concern that “such harmful practices as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour killings, enforced ritual prostitution or denying girls their rights to education are defended in the name of religious traditions.”

As noted, the highlighted portions above only cover the report’s first section of general observations. We highly encourage you to review the report in detail, including Mr. Bielefeldt’s practical recommendations at the conclusion of the report.

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