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This morning’s worship service was led by Ecumenical Women’s young adult delegates from Church Women United and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Focusing on Millennium Development Goal #1, “Eradicate Poverty and Extreme Hunger,” the young adults worked with an extremely difficult Bible text, 2 Kings 6:28-29, through song, prayer and reflection. Check out the following videos from worship below.

Our Call to Worship/ Welcome

 

Singing “Canticle of the Turning.”

 

Furthermore, we ask you to reflect as well on how to deal with difficult Bible texts like 2 Kings 6: 28 -29. Please send us your comments and we’ll be sure to share them with our delegates!

 

A variety of views about the text were then shared. One woman suggested all the characters in the story were selfish and that this reflected on the selfishness of all those who have privilege. Someone else commented that despite the horrific manner in which she went about it, the woman who cooked her son was acting in a form of solidarity with the other desperate woman. Another delegate stated that there is something powerful about dwelling in anger, in being angry at the desperation of many of those girls and women living in extreme poverty, and that there is hope in action. Another young adult commented that desperation makes people do things that we cannot even imagine, but that righteous indignation at that desperation empowers us to help end systems of injustice. Chaplain Dionne ended the conversation and raised our spirits in proclaiming “the joy of the Lord is our strength!”

Luwiza Makosa is from the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe and a member of World Student Christian Federation delegation.

 

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Dear all

Greetings to you all. l am a young girl aged 22, l am born and bred  Zimbabwe. l am really honoured to be sharing some of my experiences here at the UNCSW 57th session. l want to also take this opportunity to thank World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) for giving me this opportunity to be part of its 2013 CSW delegation and represent other African young girls.

This session has provided a platform for various organisations to share ideas and strategies which are feeding in to the  2013 UNCSW priority theme.  l strongly believe that the shared information here at the CSW is of value addition to all the work that we are all doing back home. I have been attending worship services every morning and these have reminded me of how women of faith are committed to help the women and girls who are  are being abused in all forms of violence. My opinion from this is that  women’s victory is inevitable. Women are strongly taking up the legacy that women from the the Bible left.

The theme for this year is “Elimination and Prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”. Today l was able to attend at least three sessions which were discussing on use of video in video advocacy-strengths and weaknesses, effective ways on ending violence against women and girls and the last session was on the future young women want: putting women’s rights at the heart of the post-2015 Development. However the session which really struck me was that of when l had to meet and discuss with women from various organisations about what young women want to see happening in their countries with priorities and recommendations.

I strongly feel that the media has a played a fundamental role in moulding the society on what they think about gender, hence my contribution from a youth perspective of a woman of faith would be to say that both state and non state actors have a role to play in redefining the gender perspective that has been portrayed by media which has at most seen woman being portrayed as agents of sex.

I am of the opinion that because of this platform on the CSW there are very high chances of creating good synergies with various organisations noting that most of the issues that were raised in the discussion were similar.

I also want to urge everyone that this fight is not solely a women’s issue instead it calls for the attention of everyone. The book of  Esther 4:14 states that, “we will not remain silent at such a time as this……………” so shall we until we have attained our goal.

I also want to urge everyone that this fight is not solely a women’s issue instead it calls for the attention of everyone. The book of  Esther 4:14 states that, “we will not remain silent at such a time as this……………” so shall we until we have attained our goal.

I do believe in the zero tolerance of violence against women and girls.

 

An Inter-generational conversation between two delegates to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, Jennifer Bailey, a Church Women United and National Council of Churches and Fulata Moyo from the World Council of Churches.  Jennifer and Fulata discuss the corruption of sacred texts by some advocacy groups at the United Nations and the diversity of faith perspectives on gender rights.

IMG_4974Rana Chamadi, World Student Christian Federation Delegate, Member of the Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon writes about her experience on 3 March, 2013.

Today was a long day: We waited two hours in line to get our UN passes, went for a quick lunch, took the subway all the way across town to get to the Bible study at “the box of God” then came back to the hotel and spent the evening preparing the first ecumenical women worship service on Monday morning. It was really tiring but also very inspiring to be among this group of young educated women who are working hard to make the voice of unnamed women heard.

“If peace was defined as an absence of violence against women, no country would be considered peaceful”. It’s these simple , yet powerful words,  that marked me today. Our WSCF delegation met with other groups of young adults for a contextual Bible study. It’s during this meeting that I heard this important statement and it made me realize, that despite the fact that the women we met with came from various places and were very different, we were all the same when it came to the issue of violence and women’s rights. We are all aware of the issues women are facing, all we need to do is get the message through at the CSW to make an impact then work on the implementation of the change. The change is in our hands, at the “grass roots” level, and that is a big responsibility. These coming two weeks will only be the beginning of our journey of advocacy for women’s rights and I hope I’ll live up to my duties.

 

Check out this video of a performance of The Daughter of Jepthah, a retelling of the Bible story from Judges by Rev. Kathleen Stone.  It was performed in the chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations on Thursday, October 25th, 2012.

 

The ancient story of the rise of Jepthah to a judgeship (Judges 10 and 11) in Israel is attested to by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:39) as a story worthy of the label “faithfulness.” Yet, the unresolved effects of harsh judgement upon Jepthah because his mother was not his father’s wife (a harlot) (Judges 11:2), his degenerate rampant raiding of villages (Judges 11:3), his eventual official warrior/leader status in Israel (Judges 11:5-11), his ability to sacrifice his own daughter (Judges 11:29), along with his rise to judgeship (Judges 12:7)? From womens’ eyes in the 21st century, all these “qualifications” must be questioned.

And so we did. In this retelling of the ancient story during the World Council of Churches’ expert consultation on the upcoming CSW 57 topic “violence against women,” we perused the effect of men’s decisions on the lives of women. While the story went on around them, three dancers represented the lives of women, their bodies, minds, children and community suffering disproportionately. A Greek chorus also provided commentary.

When Jepthah’s messenger (11:12-28) shares with the King of the Ammonites the extensive reasons they must go to war, we find Jephthah harboring three hundred years of injustice which the King of the Ammonites must acknowledge and respond to or even more violence will take place. We know that violence will disproportionately affect women and children. When does it end?

Jepthah holds onto his vow to sacrifice whoever comes to him first when he returns home IF God will make his battles a success– His vow is made not from God’s request (such as Abraham) but his own need to win battles at the expense of his daughter’s full life. He destroys twenty villages before arriving home to find that he must now continue to live violently, making of his daughter a sacrifice.

In Hebrews, Jephthah is named as a faithful ancestor. How deeply should we question such traditional interpretations and definitions of actions of faithfulness? And when do women’s eyes begin to transform traditional interpretations? We know that this definition of faithfulness violently humiliated men, women and children. Is that what faithfulness is about?

Please check out the following sermon preached this past Sunday at Sparta United Methodist Church in Sparta, NJ by Kathleen Stone, Chaplain to the Church Center for the United Nations.  It is specifically speaking about two texts from last Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Mark 12:38-44.

I’ve entitled this sermon, confessions from a woman’s eyes.

I feel a little bit that by the end of this morning, in the best of light you might look at me like I’ve uncovered the missing “r” that the monk discovered.   You see after all these 2000 years, and the 100s of years of painstaking transcription, writing down each letter with such precision, the monk discovers that an “r” had been dropped by some early predecessor who had worked painstakingly in the night to illustrate the scriptures.  You see, it was supposed to be “celebrate”….not celebate.

Now, lest you think I’m thinking this would be good news and everyone would be happy, imagine the traditionalists, imagine the church structures, and imagine all the conflict that this discovery would bring forth.

But, just to be straight up.   Here’s what I’m trying to do these days.   Scripture has been interpreted for 2000 years mostly through the eyes of those who really do not know the story of women unless they were married to them and even then, well……husbands, boyfriends, sons…..do you find yourselves sometimes just not understanding women at all?   Women’s experiences of life, the social, economic and political world around them and what they do about it really are somewhat outside men’s experiences of the same.

I remember this amazing poet I used to listen to quite regularly and he and a female storyteller did a seminar together.   In that seminar, they discussed what happens between men and women in relationship….And with great humor, David Whyte – the poet said…..you know…..the woman comes in and says…. “Dear, we need to talk about this” and the man responds, “Again?   Didn’t we talk about that last week?”

So, I ask you for a moment to think and feel along with me.   I know this can be challenging but give me and the God who has freed me and liberated me to tell my truth, for this moment, give me a hearing…….

These two texts were simply the texts assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.

Widows — Ruth and Naomi, as well as this unnamed woman in the Gospel story, they were all widows.   In ancient Israel, a widow, was the proverbial metaphor for someone who was utterly marginalized by the society in which they lived.  They are poor, not from their own merits, content of their character or any other reason than the written and unwritten cultural, legal, social, economic policies that impoverished them and told them they are without any power.   They are not powerless or voiceless because they have no voice or no inner power or have nothing to contribute to society.   They are not helpless or dumb or uneducated from the skills they need to live in that society …… they are impoverished and exiled because the society has dis-enfranchised them and determined that they are not worth a hearing, not worth a roof over their head, not worth food on their tables…not worth anything. They are not poor because they deserve it, are owed it, did it wrong, made the wrong decisions, etc.   They are poor because the policy of the land made it so that …….unless the widow was attractive enough for a man to remarry her, she remained destitute, and vulnerable to atrocities. 

This attitude was in ancient Israel (and in some places around the world still) considered normal; not many questioned this aspect of the social world.   The Prophets challenged it sometimes.   But mainstream temple politics certainly did not.  It was most often not raised up as a question in men’s literacy classes.   The widows themselves, I’m sure, critiqued the injustice, but most merely had to put their heads down and somehow manipulate their circumstances as best they could so that they’d be able to have another meal and a roof over their heads…..  These were women……seriously cursed not by God, but it could be taken out on God…..they were women seriously cursed by the social world in which they lived. …. As they both grieved for the life and perhaps love they had lost and had concerns for their survival at levels I don’t know whether many of us in this sanctuary can relate to.

Let’s look at the texts now that we have a bit of context.   We have a bit more of Ruth and Naomi’s life in text than the Widow in the Gospel text.

In Ruth and Naomi’s case, the horrendous nature of the political and economic and social consequences of being marginalized come forth into their lives….    First of all, they have to migrate.   Naomi determines to go back where she thinks she has a bit of a community from the past.   But, Naomi arrives back into Israel to gossip from the townswomen who do not quite recognize her, and question whether she is Naomi.   I wonder if grief and the hardship of widowhood and migrating across the desert had all taken their toll.    The women of the community (which I assume are all married)  had bought into the ways things were…..had bought into the horrors of a system of social, economic and political exclusion – probably saying things like  “but for the Grace of God, go I” and then saying, “What are you going to do;  look at her,  she’s so far gone”.  But, for whatever reasons, the community support systems that Naomi had wished for are just not there.  Naomi is no longer beautiful or young and I’m assuming she has some deep well of grief and anger that she needs to work through just because of that; but this next injury where her sisters from the past gossip and exclude her again — God, help us.

The incredibly loyal daughter in law Ruth thus must figure out a way for them to survive.   So, she goes out to glean the barley in Boaz’s fields.   Gleaning, for those of you who don’t know, was a legal way that the impoverished could have food in ancient Israel – like a food bank,  this was the leftovers…..they would follow behind the official harvesters and glean whatever little bits were left.   Whole loads of poor people often gleaned in the fields.

For a while this gleaning works for Naomi and Ruth, but in today’s text, the fields are harvested and so, like we heard, they have to figure out something new to survive.   Naomi, wise in the ways of the world, determines to use the one power the two of them have left,   Ruth’s youth, appearance and beauty…coupled with the power of sexual attraction…..  Naomi traffics Ruth – dressing her in very attractive clothing and perfume, Naomi tells her to lie down with the twice her age old man Boaz in the middle of the threshing floor.   This way, they might both have a chance of surviving.

Now let me stop here.   Tradition hasn’t usually looked at this text in the way I’m going to look at it.  Traditional interpretations seriously white wash Boaz.   The tradition says:   Boaz is a savior type figure who saved Ruth and Naomi and whose descendants eventually birthed Jesus.   We know, certainly, that without Boaz, the life of Ruth and Naomi would have most likely ended, unless they found another way to survive. ….…. . But from my vantage point, Boaz isn’t really worthy at the entire label of savior.   He simply uses his economic, political and cultural power as a landowning politically privileged male of significant social stature to get what he wants.  He neither really cares whether women who are still left in the fields have anything to eat…. nor figures out ways that there could be a more systemic address to feed the widows where they would not be so impoverished.   He simply figures out a way to save the one he wants, Ruth, who has done such kindness to him to lie down with him, an old man….. and realizes it’s probably a package deal with Naomi.

This is the moral dilemma with having power.   And this is what I want to talk about…..For I believe this is the challenge in both this story and the widow’s mite story.   When you have economic, social or political power, you can use it simply to get more of what you want or you can understand the systems and pressures that create the power imbalances and the totally unjust judgments of society……and do something about that…..notice it….tell the truth about it…..work to eradicate it.  I prefer to think the 2nd of these is Gospel Good News work.

In the Widow’s mite story, Jesus is pointing out not so much the Widow’s two cents as the Widow’s two cents in comparison to the Sadducees and Pharisees who’s relatively small but great contribution allowed them access to the power and privileges of the temple.  They were sure they were “in”, “righteous”, “the ones whose appearance seemed so clean” while at night they devoured widows’ houses.   How we could spend a long time on this when we think about bank bailouts, the housing crisis, the ways were made to participate in a system which is just not good for poor people, which does ok for the middle class but which does very well for the rich……….from birth to death…..

Recent elections?  Yes, we can use the power we have to get what we want, to make us feel important, to make sure we have the privileges we think important…..  Or we can use it to make sure that the systems change so that no woman or man or child ever has to compromise their fullness of life, the abundant life,  by giving their proverbial last two pence to the religious coffers…..or that no man, woman or child ever has to give their body to the Boaz’s of the world in order to belong, be a part, to eat, to have shelter, to be forgiven, to have a place…..everyone should have these things…..PERIOD.

What is the role of the Church – the Body of Christ – in such a world……..  

We can take a look at the Body of  Jesus’  in this middle of this culturally, politically and economically disastrously powerless world for widows, for those disenfranchised…those society has deemed not so important………He sits down where he can see what’s going on and he waits, and listens, and watches and from all of that, he slams the Pharisees and Sadducees – tells the truth about them and then…finds a widow, this unnamed widow – the one with nothing – no looks, no marriageability, no power in society and impoverished and notices her. …..There’s nothing pretty about what he gazes upon.  It’s painful.   She’s putting her last two pennies in the temple treasury….Don’t you want to shout, “STOP!”   But, he watches her.   He gazes upon her.     And then?   He raises her up.   He notices her love, her faithfulness, her hope, her story, her generosity, her richness and in pointing to the system of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he then condemns a system that would require her to give her last two pennies to the Temple treasury where she will receive nothing in return from their economic, political or social distribution of power…no power to sit up front, no belonging, no food, no redemption….nothing…..    He watches her.   The great Jesus who had crowds of people gathering around him, in the center of Jewish economic, social, political power, the Temple which was in the center of an unjust Jerusalem and he gazes upon the one who is “nothing” in the eyes of the world…

I’m not pretending to have answers about what the Church should do, but Jesus’ action here would be a good start.   I’m sure there was discomfort in the room when Jesus pointed out this concern in the Temple and to raise up a Widow’s tuppence as the better gift?   Where do we need to point out the concern in our life together, dear people?   And how would this truth-telling and compassion truly embody the good news Gospel?

By Sarah Medina, Policy Intern at The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission

At our last meeting of Ecumenical Women, we opened up with a devotional about “power” and gave many examples from the Bible that we thought exemplified power. One statement was made about God’s power being shown through us and our relationships with the people around us. Power was also seen in the story of Rahab, when she refused to hand over the spies to the king of Jericho. We also spoke about the abuse of power and how this does not reflect how God wants us to use the power He gives us. We need to use the power God gives us in a way that allows us to give Him the glory.

The good thing about power is that we can share the power God gives us. We must give power to those around us through allowing them to use their voices to stand up against the injustices we face. However, in order for everyone to be able to stand up against these injustices, their voices need to be heard. One of the problems that arise from this situation is language barriers. Not everyone can understand everyone else’s native language, which may, in the end, limit the effect and power of a person. Ecumenical Women believes that everyone- including women- has been given power.  Once we receive that power, we can share it with others, testifying wherever we go. But because some women are limited to how they can share that power with others, we must take a stand.

Everyone, no matter what his or her native language, is entitled to be heard. This is why we at Ecumenical Women are discussing interpretation options for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 57 Conference. We believe that every voice has power, should be heard, and has the ability to hear from others who are speaking in other languages. We need to provide interpretation where needed for our delegates in as many languages as is possible at the conference.

For more information on the CSW 57, go to http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/57sess.htm

Presbyterian Side Event at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women

During this side event women from rural contexts share their stories connecting experience to issues, Global North to Global South, and the Bible to advocacy, with small group opportunities to learn more and determine actions we can take during the Commission on the Status of Women and at home to address poverty and hunger and work for just development. The side event was organized by Presbyterian Women, Young Women’s Leadership Development, Women’s Leadership Development, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in the PC(USA), and the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York.

The event began with a Bible study led by the members of the Poverty Initiative.

Stories from East Jerusalem, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the United States (North Carolina, Illinois, and Oregon) were shared. The stories focused on issues around employment, hunger and nutrition, infrastructure, human trafficking, and domestic violence.

After the presentations, participants gathered in small groups to discuss intersections between the Bible stories, the stories shared by the presenters, and their personal stories. Each group was asked to identify key insights and action plans and to share one of those ideas.

With thanks for all who shared their stories and with prayers for God’s continued guidance and strength, the participants went forth to work to overcome poverty and hunger and to work for just development in the context of the Commission and in their homes – Global South and Global North.

Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne

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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by Samuel Nyampong, Ghana. First publisched in Gender and Religious Education.

Women get children and are not able to think

The traditional perception of females in Ghana up to the latter part of the 20th century was that females could not undertake arduous tasks and were better suited for child ‘producing’ and domestic, trading and farm work. Intellectual and professional developments were the preserve of men. A Ghanaian proverb explains it better: “Obea to tuo a etwere obarima dan mu” (When a woman is able to acquire a gun, it is the man who keeps it in his room).

A research on Position of Women in Ghanaian Society has confirmed that women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Given the male dominance in traditional society, some economic anthropologists have explained a female’s ability to reproduce as the most important means by which women ensured social and economic security for themselves, especially if they bore male children.

This ingrained perception about females gave justification for fathers to give their daughters to early marriage so they (fathers) would reap the benefit of receiving a dowry in the form of drinks, cash, cattle and other material goods prescribed by Ghanaian traditional customs. Early unprepared marriage has plunged many girls and women into difficulties which have entangled and imprisoned them with no hope of emancipation. Today the Constitution of Ghana guarantees equal rights for males and females.

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