By Mavis Duncanson, Association of Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand, CSW Delegate
Wednesday (3/16/16) started with worship where I heard the story of a rice farmer in Korea. At a time of economic hardship global aid agencies sent large volumes of rice at a low price so that the people could eat their staple food. Which meant the price the farmer could get for his produce was seriously deflated, at the time that his fifth daughter was born. Only a son could inherit his property, and he needed a son to grow up and work the fields, yet every child was another mouth to feed, and he wanted his children to have a warm, secure life free from hunger. He made the difficult, so difficult decision to allow his beloved daughter to be adopted far away to the United States of America. She was loved deeply by her adoptive parents and well provided for, growing in grace and stature and telling this story as she led in worship on Wednesday.
Later in the day women upholding faith, family and motherhood shared what they had done to make a difference for those less fortunate. With seemingly boundless love and energy teams of people are ensuring that dolls are being sewn and dressed, booklets coloured in and bound, foam shapes cut out so that children can learn to distinguish circles from triangles, stars from squares. The passion and enthusiasm were undeniable. Provision of washable sanitary towels to girls who previously sat in their bedrooms on a piece of cardboard and training of midwives to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality will undoubtedly have a positive impact on gender equality. Yet I couldn’t help wondering to what extent women like me, women of privilege, sending item after item to children perceived as being in need might not undercut development of local solutions to local issues or put local manufacturers out of business.
In a third event a speaker from the floor reminded me that violence takes many forms, and that corporate violence taking land and testing agricultural chemicals is often backed up with the power of legal strategies and even military intervention when women and girls stand up for the right to clean air and water in their communities. In my own country Aotearoa New Zealand we know the long term effects of alienation from land for tangata whenua (the people of the land). How can private corporations be held to account when their need for product development undercuts local economies and directly impacts health and education?
As I reflect I realise that all this undercutting can be framed as coming from a positive motivation: to avoid starvation in a country in dire economic circumstances; to provide special items to needy children and find personal joy and fulfilment; to develop fertilisers and pesticides that can make agriculture more efficient. But it can also be framed as philanthropy without partnership or corporate exploitation. Thinking of our pivotal scriptures this week the starting points were entitlement to inheritance and sharing of resources. Moses affirmed the rightness of the daughters of Zelophehad having the inheritance that was theirs. They were the ones to decide what crops to grow and stock to raise. And the widow of Zarephath did not receive a delivery of bulk discounted oil. Rather she poured out what she had and found that it was more than sufficient. So somehow we need wisdom to distinguish paternalism from partnership, self-fulfilment from solidarity. I pray for that wisdom.