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The Commission on the Status of Women has decided on its multi-year program for the coming five years.

The themes that were agreed upon are:

  • For the 54th session in 2010: Review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the outcome of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly.
  • For the 55th session in 2011: Women and girls in science and technologies: increasing opportunities in education, research and employment. Review theme: agreed conclusions from the 2007 session on the “Elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against the girl child.”
  • For the 56th session in 2012: The empowerment of rural women, in relation to climate change and food security. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2008 session on “Financing for gender equality and empowerment of women.”
  • For the 57th session in 2013: Addressing stereotypes which constrain the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women, including in decision-making. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2009 session on “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS.”
  • For the 58th session in 2014: Prevention of violence against women and girls. Review theme: the agreed conclusions from the 2011 session, “Women and girls in science and technology: Increasing opportunities in education, research and employment.”

For more information, check out: Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Women’s United Nations Report Network, and the International Women’s Tribune Centre.

I am a third-wave feminist.  And sometimes, I have no idea what that means.

At the Ecumenical Women Orientation two weeks ago, we worked with feminist theologian Caryn Riswold to elaborate on what it is to be a third-wave feminist in today’s world.  Three generations reflected on whether the distinction of “third-wave” is even helpful. They worried about where the next generation will take us.  And, they expressed concern over whether feminism itself is dead.

Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation
Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation

Women spanning six continents reminded each other of the various perspectives that a global movement brings to feminism.  We noted with joy young women like Facia Boyenoh Harris of Liberia, who hosts a radio show for young girls, embodying a bridge between the second and third waves.  Privileged feminists of Ecumenical Women were reminded of the needs of a far greater population of women—those for whom reproductive justice is not an option; whose decisions are often made for them; whose bodies are made vulnerable to domestic violence, human trafficking, and crimes of war and terror.

Suddenly, we weren’t facing the nuanced standards of a privileged third wave anymore, riding on the shoulders of our mothers who fought before us.

2 Samuel 13 tells the story of Tamar, a young woman who is raped by her brother Amnon with the permission of her father—none other than King David, who the Bible so faithfully upholds as the greatest leader in Jewish history.  Because she is physically weaker than her brother, the passage tells us, Amnon is able to force her into having sex with him against her will. After this, we are told that because of the actions that he himself chose to perpetrate against her, he comes to hate her “with a hatred greater than the love with which he had loved her.”  So Tamar puts ashes on her head and she tears her robe in grief.  Her father David is angry but does nothing, and her brother Absalom encourages her “hold her peace.”

We never hear what happens to Tamar after this story. The horror of discovering this rape in the Bible is eclipsed only by the realization that even the author cares not what happened to Tamar after all was said and done.  Her life, her name, the “rape of Tamar” – these all serve in the text only as a function to explain why later her brother Absalom, who told her to stay silent, kills her brother Amnon, who raped her.  In the story, Tamar is property to be protected or violated. She is a figure whose violation represents not her own personal grief but her family’s public shame; a woman whose grief is but a footnote in the long opus to political power that we find recorded in the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

Woman at Work

With the DOW dropping to ever new lows on Wall Street even as we participate in the CSW at the UN, the undercurrent of all this talk about caretaking must be: how does the volatility of the global economy affect women’s lives around the world? Increasingly, there has been concern expressed by and among women’s organizations, networks and agencies about the impacts of not only the global financial crisis but also the food, fuel and climate change crises on women.

I was able to attend the NGO Consultation Day on the CSW this past Sunday, and participated in the workshop on how this emerging financial crisis might affect women. It proved to be quite informative, both in the basic facts provided about women and the global economy, and also about how UN politics affect the ways in which gender issues receive–or don’t receive–the budgeting required to improve the status of women around the world.

Below is an excerpt from the informational data sheet handed out at the meeting.

———

How is the global financial and economic crisis affecting women?

  • Women’s jobs [worldwide] tend to pay lower wages, in part because women tend to have a higher rate of part-time employment, and are often not covered by social safety nets. Moreover, in countries without social safety nets, the impact on women is even more severe. Read the rest of this entry »

by Amber Leberman, first published in The Lutheran (2 /2009)

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman inspires Lutherans to challenge their cultures

Zau Rapa calls them “dynamite women.”

Rapa, acting head bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, was referring to the 1,500 women who gathered Sept. 13-19, 2008, at the Baitabag Lutheran girls’ school outside the northern village of Madang.

Rapa saw God’s power as “dynamite” within them, which they took back to their villages after six days of worship, Bible study, singing and drama under the theme “Jesus Liberates Women in Papua New Guinea from Male-dominated Cultures.”

Bonnie Arua and other women from the
Bonnie Arua and other women from the Papua District lead those attending a September conference of the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea in song and dance at the closing night’s worship service.

Yes, that’s “cultures.” Plural. A Papua New Guinea folk saying puts it this way: “For each village, a different culture.” In a country the size of California, more than 850 languages are spoken.

Many of its coastal and island villages are only accessible by boat, and many highlands villages only reachable by plane. Such a diversity of cultures has bred a long history of intertribal conflict and violence.

Some of the women traveled three days by cargo ship to join their Lutheran sisters. They ran out of food when the journey took longer than expected. Others traveled days by truck on overland roads full of potholes. They represented 16 church districts and hundreds of traditional cultural practices. They united as Lutherans to confront a common challenge: the status of women in Papua New Guinea.

Rapa believes they’ll be the dynamite to ignite change in their villages—their cultures—of which the U.S. State Department says “women generally are considered and treated as inferiors” and “gender violence is endemic.”

The justification for violence against women begins with the bride-price, said Rose Pisae, secretary of the Papua District women’s organization.

Across Papua New Guinea, a new bride’s family is compensated for the loss of her agricultural and household labor. Pisae said a bride-price in her district (which includes the capital, Port Moresby) can bring the woman’s family as much as $20,000.

After paying so much in a country where the average per capita income is $900, Pisae said the husband’s family feels like they own the bride and can place demands on her, such as how many children she should bear.

Ibarias Yabon of the Madang District
Ibarias Yabon of the Madang District consults her Bible for further insight into the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea spent two hours each day of its convention studying John 4:4-42 for parallels to their own lives.

Pisae has two daughters—16 and 5. She also has a 12-year-old son. She admits she’s strict with her daughters, expecting them to cook, clean and mind the house.

“Now that I’ve come here,” she said, “I’m thinking that I should have my son do a little work too.

“I tell my two girls: ‘I will not accept the bride-price and I’ll make sure your husbands are good to you.’ I think a lot of women are beginning to understand, to say ‘no’ to the bride-price and to report any violence to the police or the community counselor.”

On Friday, March 6, women worldwide will unite in prayer for Papua New Guinea as part of World Day of Prayer. Women of the ELCA is a denominational representative on the World Day of Prayer USA committee.

Other dynamite women include Jane Henry, director of a Lutheran vocational center in Mount Hagen that trains women in music, theology, church administration, agriculture, nutrition, counseling and computing. Part of the training includes a six-week practicum in which the women share the skills they’ve learned with other women.

“I think the ladies who are here will go back and teach other ladies to speak out,” Henry said. “We can pray to God that it will happen in God’s way.”

Michael Wan Rupulga, a recipient of
Michael Wan Rupulga, a recipient of an ELCA international scholarship and lecturer at Martin Luther Seminary in Lae, Papua New Guinea, led a two-hour daily Bible study based on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42).

Another is Seba Benag, a midwife in Biliau who is training men to be present at childbirth and participate in early child care, despite taboos to the contrary.

Such taboos are something familiar to Bible study leader Michael Wan Rupulga. “I struggled along with my mother my whole life,” he said. “I know how it feels.”

The son of the second wife of a village “big man,” Rupulga refused to follow traditional highlands practices regarding the separation of sons from mothers at age 6, when boys become susceptible to the perceived uncleanliness of their mothers.

He was mocked by other men in his village for refusing to avoid contact with menstruating women. They would ask him: “Do you have your period too?”

He’s gone against his culture, he said, but asks: “What’s more important? God’s word or the culture? If there is a barrier, God’s word will break it down. It is like dynamite.”

Rupulga’s mother died in 1997, but she was the inspiration for him to do his master’s thesis at Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji, on Jesus’ reaction to the Samaritan woman. Rupulga received an ELCA Global Mission international scholarship to pursue his degree.

“If there’s anything in a culture that suppresses women, that hurts women, that makes women suffer their whole lives, it doesn’t come from God,” Rupulga said. “It comes from the devil.”

At the end of the week, Rapa told the women he was proud of them. “Go home and talk to your husbands about what you deserve and expect in your relationships,” he said.

Will their husbands be receptive?

“If their husbands are involved in church activities, it will be easy to relate what they’ve learned about here,” Pisae said. 

In preparation for the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, as people of faith it is important to take some time and space to ourselves and reflect.  This year’s theme — “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS” — encourages us to look to our own daily lives for the most basic examples of how labor is divided between men and women.  Who decides how such decisions are made?  How much flexibility is present in the sharing of responsibilities?  Who carries a heavier burden, and what kinds of tasks are allotted to which people?

As members of a religious community, the second part of this theme must give us pause.  It is the faith-based community who, in the past, helped in perpetuating a negative stigma of people living with HIV and AIDS.  Our role in this negative stereotyping requires repentence, characterized by a prounounced humility and tremendous courage in naming our wrongdoing.  It is our role, before acting out in advocacy, to ask forgiveness of those whom we have wronged.

We can follow the example set by ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, who spoke this past summer at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.  Watch him speak and act in this video to help envision how we ourselves might repent as religious leaders.

preached by Emily Davila, EW Chair, on the anniversary of World AIDS Day
Advent Lutheran Church, New York City

Like the shepherds so long ago, I must share with you what I saw.

Like the shepherds so long ago, I must share with you what I saw.

I woke up this morning on World AIDS Day with many emails in my inbox from around the world.   World AIDS Day (WAD) is a time of social networks, and we celebrate it in many ways – we post liturgy on websites, email, worship, remember, give money, wear ribbons.  Today is the day that we do these things all at once, all over the world.  By sitting here in these pews we are part of a chain of reflection and action.

AIDS is with us in the US, but from my work at the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at the United Nations, I have seen the immense and tragic effects of AIDS’s in countries that are poorer than ours.  Having traveled to far off places, like the shepherds sent on a mission that winter night, I feel I must tell you what I have seen, that among suffering I have felt awe.  This witness is what I am going to talk about today. Read the rest of this entry »

Pray the Devil Back to HellIn Liberia, thousands of women—ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim—came together to pray for peace, armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions.

Winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, the film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country. A story of sacrifice, unity, and transcendence, Pray the Devil Back to Hell honors the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia, and is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.

This remarkable film shows us a faith-filled example of how powerful peacemakers can be when they join together, and it is coming to New York, opening on November 7, 2008 at CINEMA VILLAGE (22 E 12th St.; 212-924-3363). A special multi-faith screening will be held and free tickets can be reserved by sending an email to NewYorkRSVP AT gmail DOT com with the name of your organization and the number of tickets you would like to purchase. Tickets for other nights can also be purchased at the cinema.

Watch the trailer below:

Note:  this prayer was used on September 25, 2008 at an Interfaith Service of Recommitment and Witness to the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City, NY.

Prayers for the Millennium Development Goals

In the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals, let us pray that god’s justice and peace will prevail in the World.

Leader:  Let us pray for the poor, hungry, and neglected all over the world, that their cries for daily bread may inspire woks of compassion and mercy among those to whom much has been given.
People:  Give us the will to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Leader:  Let us pray for schools and centers of learning throughout the world, for those who lack access to basic education, and for the light of knowledge to blossom and shine in the lives of all God’s people.
People:  Give us the will to achieve universal primary education. Read the rest of this entry »

News that Ecumenical Women constituents might find interesting, from all around the world.

Have a news story to share?  Email alison AT ecumenicalwomen DOT org.

The World Bank in collaboration with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recently launched the Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook. The Sourcebook contains 30 detailed case studies and over 300 highlighted projects sharing gender mainstreaming knowledge on a range of development interventions in agriculture from rural infrastructure to education.

In describing the sourcebook, the World Bank released an apt statement:

Women play a vital role as agricultural producers and as agents of food and nutritional security. Yet relative to men, they have less access to productive assets such as land and services such as finance and extension. A variety of constraints impinge upon their ability to participate in collective action as members of agricultural cooperative or water user associations. In both centralized and decentralized governance systems, women tend to lack political voice.

Gender inequalities result in less food2 being grown, less income being earned, and higher levels of poverty and food insecurity. Agriculture in low-income developing countries is a sector with exceptionally high impact in terms of its potential to reduce poverty. Yet for agricultural growth to fulfill this potential, gender disparities must be addressed and effectively reduced.

by Anna Karin Hammar and Jean Sindab
Into Action: A Resource for Participation in the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

As women we come seeking a reality to which we are called by our Savior. As women we come to affirm our life in Jesus Christ. As women we come to refute untruths, to challenge injustices, to confront oppressive structures that bind us. We, therefore, are called to declare the following truths:

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women should feel and experience that being a woman is of secondary value to the community.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that women are created women, the image of God, co-workers with God in caring for life, in struggling for the liberations of humanity and for a world order that respects each one’s dignity.

Read the rest of the litany.

According to an article published in today’s New York Times, women in a remote province of Afghanistan called Bamian, are beginning to gain back their rights.  From driving cars, to serving on local councils, to electing the first an d only female Governor of Afghanistan, the changes in these women’s lives are having a profound effect on Afghanistan as a whole.

You can read more at the Times, or even watch this fantastic video of the story.

“Prayer” by Julia Esquivel

You illuminate our darkness
And fill our sadness
With hope.

Because you are stronger than I,
I have let myself be a captive,
And your love burns in my heart.

The thirst for your truth
Has made me a pilgrim
From city to city
Until the day your Word
Is fulfilled,
And we are reborn
In your image and likeness

Captivate me, Lord
Till the last of my days,
Wring out my heart
With your hands,
Of a wise old Indian,
So that I will not forget
Your Justice
Nor cease proclaiming
The urgent need
For humankind
To live in harmony.

Read more of our Ecumenical Women Worship resources.

I originally wrote this post for Idealist in NYC, but thought Ecumenical Women readers might like it as well. Enjoy!

In a country where the larger part of our population is religious, and where our current president believes that social change should come about through religious organizations, Former NYU Professor James Carse’s message might be hard for some to swallow: religion, he argues, has very little to do with belief.

from Mrs. Maze, on Flickr

To Carse, religion is all about longevity rather than belief; it’s what unites people over millennia. Additionally, Carse dismisses attempts to find some underlying unity to all religions. This idea, I would say, is fairly unpopular among many religious people, either because they want to avoid being exclusionary or because they want to find a common thread in humanity’s search for meaning. As a current student at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, I find Carse’s arguments in this Salon.com article incredibly interesting and compelling.

But I bet a lot of folks would wonder: If we remove the idea of belief from the religion, would we lose our ethics as well? And with them, our propensity to act? Read the rest of this entry »

For some of our Ecumenical Women superstars, they’ll remember that the theme of CSW 51 was “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.” Well, when we came across this video at Britt Bravo’s blog Have Fun Do Good, we thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of the girl child.

The video isn’t perfect: it is a project of the Girl Effect, and aside from being partially funded by the Nike Foundation — whose track record isn’t glowing — we wonder if it isn’t a little too simplistic (what? a cow is really the answer?).  But in a world where pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 through 19, and where educated girls and women fosters the education of children… well, we’re willing to get on board.

Just some food for thought.  What do you think?

Twitter Timeline

RSS UN Gender Equality Newsfeed

  • Work of doctor who helped treat rape victims focus of new film
    The work of a gynaecologist who treats rape victims who have been subjected to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the focus of a film which has just been released. "The Man Who Mends Women", tells the story of Dr Denis Mukwege.
    UN Radio
  • Report lays out "baseline" for progress in gender equality
    Although women are outpacing men in achieving higher levels of education, they are still more likely to pursue the humanities as opposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That's according to the World's Women 2015, a UN report which looks at how women worldwide are faring in eight critical areas such as health, education, work, p […]
    UN Radio

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