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Handkranz-Kopie_480pxReflecting 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 our fifth story, this one about how EW member organization Medical Mission Sisters works to help girls and women in India’s Dalit community organize for better education and greater freedom. This work directly relates to fulfilling MDG #2: Achieve Universal Primary Education. The story is from Smita Parmar.

On November 24 three hundred and eighty three children gathered at Swabhiman Bhavan to celebrate the Children’s Day. They were of Dalit Community, (Dalits were formerly known as “untouchable”)  They are economically weak, socially backward and politically voiceless. Prior to the celebration, we spent one and half months’ preparing the children with input as well as practice. Out of these 383 children 113 were from the Musahar (Rat eaters) community. We MMS and the staff focus on the development of the Musahar community. Education until today has not become a priority for them since allmost all the adults are illiterate. MMS have managed to get 23 girls below the age of eighteen years and admitted themin a residential school for Dalit girls run by the Government. Four girls have managed to reach up to 7th standard. It is very important for girls to stay in the hostel lest they will be married off since child marriage is highly prevalent. We conduct two coaching centers for those above six years in one of the three hamlets. It is difficult to get instructors from high castes to teach in Musahar hamlets.

MMS stays in contact with the Musahar hamlets through Self Help Groups (S.H.Gs). There are seven active S.H.Gs of which six are women’s groups. One of our health workers goes around during the day to men (who work in the brick kilns) to get their wages or else the money will be spent for liquor and meat. It is with great hope that we were able to form one men’s group. Musahars, unskilled as they are, work as agricultural laborers. Paddy harvest provides them with the hay that keeps them warm during cold winter days besides the wage in kind they get. The rest of the year they work in the brick kilns. During rainy seasons, and in heavy winter, they quit the work and take out loans from the land / brick kiln owners. These loans are readily available as this is the trap by which these laborers can be turned in to bonded laborers. Our attempt to get them other jobs like security guards failed as they are not free to leave due to their indebtedness .

We entered the Musahar hamlet about eight years ago. Women showed interest in saving the money and we could easily form a SHG . At one time one family could save a pregnant woman who had hepatitis, with the help of the entire money saved in the box. People are generous and cooperative when a matter of life was concerned. As the days went we noticed their box was often empty. Finally the group vanished. One and half years passed. One Musahar man was beaten up by a man of Dusad community. It was at this time MMS intervened to bring justice to the victim. The Dusad who was higher in caste  was punished by the local court and had to pay a penalty to the victim. This was unbelievable and shocking for many. But the unimaginable event brought new courage and confidence to the Musahar community.

When we put were about to put  up a shed for the children’s coaching center, the land owner and his  gang came and agitated over the matter. They were ready to file a police case against MMS. Missionaries are welcome to build a hospital, but not a shed for education; it could be made by the Government (which they know will not easily happen).  The reality is if the Musahar children progressed in studies and got job, there will not be cheap labor available as the case is now.

Even without the shed, classes went on and the children who attend daily coaching have proved their talents and leadership through a variety entertainments, speeches, etc. on 24th Nov.  We continue to give hope to these insecure people and trust in God that one day they also will be able to live in freedom and dignity.

Peng Leong, volunteer at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, met Theresa Symons during the International Women’s Day March. She interviewed Theresa about her ministry. Here’s how Theresa responded:

I am working as the Executive Director of Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Welfare Centre) in Malaysia.

The primary focus of our work is with women and children experiencing crisis situations such as domestic violence, pregnancy crisis, abuse and other forms of crisis.  We also work with women who come from impoverished backgrounds especially those living in rural areas  with minimal access to basic services such as education, healthcare, water, sanitation and decent wages. I oversee 5 residential services and 6 preventive programs in different parts of Malaysia.

This is my first CSW and it was an awesome experience for me.  It was so good to with many women from different parts of the world, sharing the same joy, challenges and passion in advancing the status of women and girls; especially in the areas of human rights and basic necessities such as education, water and sanitation, health and decent wages. It was good to hear stories, to exchange best practices, to network with like minded women and to know that there is a wealth of information and resources available in different parts of the world.

I leave the CSW a different person from when I first came – equipped with more information, made some new friends and learned how to use human rights documents for advocacy and systemic change. I praise God for this opportunity and privilege to be here.

The picture shows Theresa (r) and Peng (l) at the International Women’s Day March.

Peng Leong wrote this article.

The Ecumenical Women’s worship service at the Commission on the Status of Women on Friday, March 2 focused on the World Day of Prayer. This year’s worship materials were written by women from Malaysia.

Theresa Symons, Executive Director of the Good Shepherd Welfare Centre in Malaysia, provided a Reflection on Malaysia during the Ecumenical Women’s worship that took place in the chapel at the Church Center for the United Nations. She noted the changes and the progress that Malaysia has seen over the past two decades.

She also reflected on the challenges face by the 4 million migrants who have come to Malaysia.

These women migrants do not have a voice, poverty has silenced their right to be heard. My heart aches.

But, she affirms that there is a ray of hope:

I see people braving prison sentences in order that the voices of the helpless are heard. I see people of different races, religions, culture and economic status walk the streets, demanding for fair general elections. I hear people affirming that human rights are women’s rights. I see people helping each other.

She concludes with a vision and a prayer:

May Malaysia be a land where truth, justice, and compassion prevail for all who come to my shores.

Amen!

[youtube http://youtu.be/ruD660UePGk]

 

Watch more videos from the World Day of Prayer Ecumenical Women worship service:

Call to Worship

Prayer of Intercession

Gospel Reading

 

Lieta Mariano speaks on Rural Women in the Philipines

During the side event titled “Rethinking Development Frameworks” sponsored by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development official United Methodist Women delegate Lieta Mariano speaks on the realities rural women in the Philippines are currently facing.

[youtube http://youtu.be/gNCXg2RhAqo]

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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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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