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Beth Olker, member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) delegation writes:
UN Women has recently begun #heforshe, a “Solidarity Movement in Gender Equality“. This movement is being heralded as a transition and solidification of the feminism movement as one whose supporters and benefactors are not only women. The effort affirms that “gender equality is not just a women’s issue” but call it a human right’s issue which demands support from all people.
Raimy Ramirez comes from the Student Christian Movement of Venezuela and is a part of the World Student Christian Federation delegation to the UNCSW57.
If we are in a crowd and hear a voice that rises above the others, we can think that probably this stronger voice, is a woman´s voice and a Latin American woman´s voice. Our stories, our experiences have made us loud people. We can not afford to speak quietly, because our lives need to be told loudly, because although we do a lot of noise, they are not always heard.
Parallel events of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, have helped screams emerge not only from South, but also from East, West, North and Center to be heard. We have gathered women around the world in a place where the voice finds an ear to be heard. However, are those voices shouting stories and demanding justice, getting to where they should be heard? Do these voices have relevance in the discussions that take place within the “solemn” United Nations compound?
Many… have not.
The challenge is to empower those spaces where decisions are made, where over the needs of women laws are legislated, where few speak and many suffer. For this reason because even the ears of the people who choose not to be open, we have to keep screaming loud and keep in mind the need to keep walking, because although “the pace is slow, is still underway.”
For this, Nelly del Sid, Honduran women shouts loudly for defending their right to build a country without foreign military. Here is why Magda Lopez , colombian, speaks loudly when she speaks in favor of the right of women to participate in the peace process in Colombia. Here is why Cuban women, speak loudly when sharing with the world that their contribution was essential for the eradication of illiteracy in Cuba. Here is why in El Salvador, young women raise their voices in defense of an environmentally just world. This is why women in Venezuela scream in defense of a process that is sustained and will continue because of the hands of fighter women. Here is why a small delegation of young women around the world, identified themselves with a label that says “WSCF” are making so much noise!
by Rochelle Rawls-Shaw
Presbyterians from the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand prepared to lead this morning’s Ecumenical Women (EW)’s worship service at the 57th Session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) for over a month.
As we met and got to know each other on conference calls, we shared our nicknames and their origins; we identified our special talents (or talents we wished we had). We shared what friends or family would say to describe us to a complete stranger. Our conversations were a great beginning for a group of women who were blessed and being used to bless others who would gather together for worship.
The EW worship committee who assigned each organization a scripture passage associated with women in the bible and guidelines for worship services during CSW. We received the story of the woman caught in adultery – John 8:2-11. This story became the focus of our liturgy. Exploring the story, we began to experience the Divine Momentum leading us.
The momentum built when we were introduced to Pamela Tankersley from Presbyterian Women of Aotearoa New Zealand. She had prepared a liturgy for International Women’s Day (March 8) based on our scripture and in remembrance of the brutal gang rape that occurred in India on December 16, 2012. She entitled the liturgy, “Laying down the Stones.”
The momentum continued to build as planning members suggestions to the liturgy. A prayer of invocation was added to the call to worship and assignments made to the various parts. Our team included talented singers who would lead congregational songs and a soloist who would sing “Safe Within Your Arms.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn for the service: “Christ Would Not Cast the Judgment Stone.”
We planned that the worship service would involve people who were not even present at the Church Center for the United Nations. Planning team members were invited to bring at least 15-20 stones with them to New York. A planning team member from Puerto Rico had members of her congregation bring stones to church that she brought to CSW.
This morning dawned and we made our final plans. We placed larger stones around the communion table and gathered the stones brought by the planning team members into baskets. As worshippers entered the chapel, each received a stone.
There was something about the stones.
A single red candle was lit. The service began. I strongly felt the Divine Presence.
After scripture had been read, songs had been sung, and words had been said, the worshipping community was invited to bring forth their stones and put them down around the table as symbols to remember the violence that our sisters have endured, to express our intention to put aside our complicity in that violence and to renew
Reflecting on the service, Laetitia Wells observed, “As the women brought their various stones to the table, I was moved during worship when I heard the loud sound of the stones hitting the table. Symbolically I felt that WE were taking a definitive STAND against violence against women and girls. Hearing the loud sound of the stones allowed me to think that we were eradicating the horrors that come with violence against women.” Jill Bolander Cohen commented, “This was a deeply spiritual and moving experience. It was really something watching women and men lay down stones which seemed to release something–something that weighed them down.” Jaime Staehle said, “Working together with women from all generations, walks of life, and places in the world was quite meaningful and really helped the theme of the service blossom.”
There was something about the stones–something special about being able to release some things that have burdened us all our lives. The Divine Momentum presented the opportunity for us to release them during our worship here today. Thanks be to God!
Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
- A Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Participants in March 3 Ecumenical Women’s orientation for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women remembered our sisters whose voices are and have been silenced.
In worship, we remembered.
In prayer, we remembered.
In art, we remembered.
As we marched in silence from The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission to the Church Center for the United Nations, we remembered.
Remembering, may we act.
Photo by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
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?
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.
- Key insights from the side event From Story to Skills: Advocating with Women in Rural Areas
- Action plans from the side event From Story to Skills: Advocating with Women in Rural Areas
Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
The day before the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) officially convened, hundreds of women gathered in Salvation Army’s palatial auditorium for the CSW NGO (Non-governmental organization) Forum. I was one of these women.
I am here as an employee of the advocacy ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), member of the Lutheran World Federation. But today, I write not as an employee who is here to support Lutheran presence and encourage advocacy after CSW… today, I write as a woman humbled and inspired by other women.
Advocacy, at the very heart, is driven by stories—stories about the lives of real people in real places facing real challenges. When we share our stories, we help organizations decide what to prioritize, we give our elected officials insight into the lives of their constituents, and we—purely, honestly, and intentionally—influence policy and public perception. Events, like CSW, are valuable in that they bring people face-to-face to share stories and create organic conversations about the struggle and the hope in working towards a world that is just and safe for all women.
My role here as a communications director presents unique challenges and responsibility—specifically because I am often floating around events taking pictures and video. I am honored by this role of documenting these precious moments of worship, education, conversation, and human connection. These pictures and videos are invaluable in telling the world the important stories shared here. During my very brief time here, I want to contribute hundreds of quality photographs that women can use in their personal reflections, spiritual growth, and advocacy efforts in their communities and capital cities as they go forth from this event. Yet I am not always able to simply sit and listen. I am often not a part of the conversations, I am on the “outside” recording them. (The camera, unfortunately, often creates a wall between me and other women, because cameras can make people feel uncomfortable and make the moment feel unnatural.) I sometimes feel that I cannot give the speaker at the microphone my undivided attention, because I am thinking of lighting, angles, flash, battery life, background noise, and contrast. Frequently I am moving from group to group to capture images of these women, rather than dwelling in their powerful presence.
In jest, I told a friend and colleague that I feel like a “Martha at CSW”, referencing the New Testament story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who played different roles when in the presence of Christ. Martha was busy, fluttering around the house, preparing for and facilitating Jesus’ visit to their home. Mary sat with Christ, dwelled in his presence, learning and conversing from her friend and Lord. Yet it was exactly through this role, as a photographer, that God reached down and touched my heart… when I was “Martha”, my Lord—in his mysterious and beautiful way—transformed me into “Mary.”
In the vast auditorium during the NGO CSW forum, my role permitted close proximity to the global leaders that were speaking from podiums of prestige on stage. One of the esteemed panelists was Layla Alkhafaji, a leader in bringing democracy and equality in post-Sadaam Hussein Iraq. Ms. Alkhafaji’s credentials are extremely impressive: she was a member of the first Iraqi parliament and now is the Director of International Relations for the Al-Hakim Foundation, promoting intellectual excellence, religious dialogue, and cultural understanding. She shared how her organization works to encourage religious leaders to be involved in the Islamic Day for Anti-Violence Against Women, and teaches people that violence against women “is not accepted in any religion, including Islam.”
Yes, indeed Ms. Alkhafaji’s work, vision, and accomplishments are remarkable. Yet her personal story is as heartbreaking as her resume is notable. From her place on the panel, Ms. Alkhafaji described to the audience that under Sadaam’s regime she was “scrutinized, arrested, tortured, sentenced to execution” (a sentence later converted)—not for terrorism, but for being “outspoken” and refusing to join Hussein’s Baath party. In painful irony, she was arrested on International Women’s Day, and spent ten years of her life (as a young woman—like me) in prison before escaping to Toronto in 1993. She saw the execution of twenty-five women, telling the crowd, “I witnessed that and carried that with me to Canada.”
A few hours later I was near the first few rows—designated for “VIP’s and Speakers”—snapping photographs of these leaders, when I encountered Ms. Alkhafaji posing for pictures with women who were inspired by her. I clicked my camera’s button to capture a few for Ecumenical Women’s website and, to my great surprise, Ms. Alkhafaji gently summoned me to her. She kindly asked me if I would email her the pictures and handed me her business card. I was humbled to receive her contact information, shook her hand and thanked her for her work as a global leader, and went back to taking pictures.
After another speaker, Ms. Alkhafaji and I crossed paths again. We were able to converse this time, and I shared that I work in communications and grassroots advocacy for the ELCA. She looked at me with her gentle eyes—eyes that had witnessed horrendous violence and murder, and yet eyes that once belonged to a girl-child… her gentle eyes that recognize foreign soil (and a nation I’ve never visited) as home, and yet reminded me of my own mother’s gentle, beautiful eyes. She earnestly said, “I want to work with you—I want to work with Christians in the U.S. I want to work with Christians in Iraq, and the Christians here—we need everyone. We must work together.” And then, in one of the most humbling moments of my life, Ms. Alkhafaji asked to take a picture with me. In that moment, I wasn’t the photographer—I was a woman, standing beside another woman. I wasn’t Martha, I was Mary. For that moment, I could dwell in the presence of a strong, hopeful, and purposeful woman. I was in the conversation. This was personal, this was moving, and this was humbling.
The line separating us—me, a lonely and lowly photographer, and her, a global leader and honored speaker, disappeared. The wall separating American Christian and Iraqi Muslim was gone. No lines, no walls—just two women. This moment of a sincere call for interfaith and international collaboration to help all hurting and vulnerable people is forever captured for me.
The photograph of me, Kate, aside her, Layla, is a well at which I can revisit the spirit of this powerful moment. It is a well at which I can gather my thoughts and my prayers for peace, equality, and justice. I can invite others—my family, my friends, my church, and my elected officials—to meet me at this well. At this well, I can share Layla’s story, I can offer my story, and I can listen to others’ stories.
As I leave CSW tonight to return to my life and work in Washington, D.C., I ask the God of my mothers and fathers to bless, protect, and strengthen all women and men who gather here to listen and share. I pray for courage, perseverance, and wisdom as we go forth and work for peace, equality, and justice in our world. I thank God for these moments of unity, collaboration, and dialogue.
And I thank you, dear sister, for sharing on this blog, and for reading a piece of my story today.
Kate Gaskill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
🙂 And I’m currently working to post all those pictures! It’s a slow process, but I’m hoping to have all Ecumenical Women photographs and video that I worked on posted to the Ecumenical Women Picasa by Friday, March 2
(www.picasaweb.google.com / username: ecumenicalwomencsw56 / password: uncsw56)
A new side event has been announced:
Enhancing Women and Girls’ Leadership: A Perspective from Rural Communities
28 February 2012
Chapel, Church Center for the UN
8:45 am – 10:15 am
Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee
WIPSEN-Africa’s Projects on Gender and SSR
West Africa Women Election Observation Team
Young Girl’s Transformative Leadership
Co-sponsors: The Lutheran World Federation and Ecumenical Women at the UN
For the women of the North America Hunger Caucus, the focus was on connecting small stories to the big picture.
Members shared facts: Under US nutrition guidelines, 2 packets of ketchup count as a vegetable. 51% of children in Oregon go hungry. 70 years ago, one in seven Americans were skilled farmers; now it’s one percent.
These facts paint the picture that nutrition has an impact on every issue affecting the lives and livelihoods of women. For that central, essential reason, we will focus our efforts this week on adding language to the Agreed Conclusions that addresses nutrition guidelines and policy.
You can watch video clips from this session on our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EcumenicalWomenCSW56!
H.E. Marjon Kamara, Permanent Representative of Liberia to the United Nations and Chair of the fifty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women welcomes everyone to this year’s session.
Note that the volume appears to be low
Harriet Tubman. Eleanor Roosevelt. Maggie Kuhn. Naomi Rose. Merdine T. Morris.
On this day – who are the women who have served as advocates for whom you give thanks?
Advocacy took central stage at the Ecumenical Women‘s Orientation. The afternoon workshops focused on advocacy and with good reason.
The “agreed conclusions” will be the primary outcome of the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The 45 Member States of the Commission will create a set of concrete, action-oriented recommendations for action by governments, intergovernmental bodies, and other relevant stakeholders. These recommendations will call for implementation at the international, national, regional and local level. They will address the primary theme for the 56th Session of the Commission: “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”
We come to the Commission – representatives of the Ecumenical Women member organizations and other NGOs – to advocate for concepts, themes, and language to shape those agreed conclusions. In the case of Ecumenical Women, we do so guided by faith in Jesus Christ and the policies of our respective organizations.
As we advocate, we follow in the footsteps of our sisters who have gone before – we stand beside our sisters who live the struggle.
For whom do we give thanks this day and everyday?
I met a delegate from Myanmar. Her name is Naw Lee Myar. “How did you come?” I asked. “Your- country is non democratic and you cannot get a visa easily.” She explained she was sponsored by the Asian Rural Institute and the United Methodist Church. She could not believe that God provided this opportunity since she had no means at all. She is so appreciative. I feel so ashamed for taking so many things for granted. I am grateful to have met this wonderful sister who is working with women in the rural area of what was once known as Burma. I hope to listen to more of her stories. I hope we all will.
Volunteer at Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations
Naw Lee Myar is in the gray with the blue lanyard.
By Alvaina Daniels, WCC UN Liaison Office Intern
As the situation in Darfur continues, sexual violence remains in the forefront as a means of war and humiliation. As a result, survivors of sexual violence are not only ostracized by their families and communities but left to struggle alone with the long-term effects of this brutal victimization. Though they may find temporary sanctuary at a refugee camp and IDP settlement, survivors are still vulnerable to attacks during the day and night as the perpetrators wait outside the gates. At night, the perpetrators kidnap girls and bring them outside the camps to rape them. Sexual violence against women and girls is a very important issue, but more focus must be brought to solutions and the fact that though one may survive an attack, the emotional and physical scars run deep not only within the survivor but one’s society.
Article 1 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Although rapes in Sudan do take place in private, many take place in public view in front of the victim’s family and community. If the rape is in private, the victim will most likely hide it from her relatives and community, in hopes of not being ostracized. However, when a woman is raped publically, her community has witnessed the rape and considers her as tainted. If she is married, her husband most likely will leave her. If she is unmarried, she will not be considered for marriage. As a result she is left without the economic support and physical protection of a husband, which is important to Sudanese culture, and left more vulnerable to further attacks.
Pregnant women are not spared from rape in Darfur either. Amnesty International received several reports of women raped during pregnancy, which often leads to the loss of the child and physical and psychological injury of the mother. Women and girls often become pregnant as a result of rape. Since some in their communities do not believe pregnancy can occur from unwanted sex, the victim must choose either between her communities or her child as the child is considered “the child of the enemy.” In either case, the victim is presented with the traumatic aftermath of ostracism from society and the psychological and physical injuries that may pose problems for future pregnancies in addition to her reproductive and general health.
Surviving an attack is not the end to the suffering of women in Darfur; their husbands, children, relatives, and communities are ALL affected by this violent act. But most importantly, the survivor is the one who carries the shame and burden of an act that is beyond her control. We must all remember that the act of rape is something that affects us all and no woman, man, or child should have to experience the pain of such suffering. It is our duty to not only bring our sisters to safety, but to support them in the healing process and after. Rape survivors need more than adequate medical care, counseling services, education, sanitary equipment, food supplies, and water from humanitarian organizations. We also need to call on UN member states and the Security Council to provide more than adequate security for the complete safety of women and in girls in
Sudan to help prevent their vulnerability to further attack. We must to stand in solidarity with the women and girls in Darfur and work with them to bring peace and safety to their home.
To find out more information or how you can help stop violence against women, you can visit http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/svaw/about.html.
[Athena Peralta, World Council of Churches Consultant on Poverty Wealth and Ecology, presented the below address during the United Nations’ General Assembly Hearing with Civil Society on the Millennium Development Goals, 14-15 June 2010, New York]
Tackling the roots of poverty
For Christian churches and the worldwide ecumenical movement, eradicating poverty is nothing less than a moral and ethical imperative. We believe that God’s will is for all humanity – regardless of gender, religious belief, race and ethnicity – to experience life in fullness and in dignity. Thus, together with many civil society organisations (CSOs), we at the World Council of Churches (WCC) applauded the United Nations (UN) in 2000 for taking leadership in the articulation and adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), foremost of which is the internationally agreed goal to halve the number of people “living” in poverty by 2015. Discussions on poverty eradication must continue to be a main concern of the UN, where broad participation of all nation-states and civil society could take place. As 2015 looms closer, there is an urgent need for the international community to revisit and deeply consider the structural, historical and interconnected roots of impoverishment and the required policy- and systemic transformations leading not just to the attainment of the MDGs but to the eventual eradication of poverty.
The WCC remains profoundly concerned that the global financial and economic crisis – which continues to wreak havoc on economies including in the Euro zone – has thrown tens of millions more people into poverty, swelling the ranks of the disempowered, hungry, thirsty, unemployed, sick and homeless, and further derailing the achievement of the MDGs. At this stage of the crisis, many countries are being forced to adopt stringent fiscal policies that imperil economic recovery as well as social and ecological protection – at a time when such protection is needed most.
If anything, the global economic turmoil has called into serious question the previously widely accepted role of deregulated and liberalised global financial and trade structures in reducing poverty: current evidence points to the opposite. Yet the international community appears not to have adequately absorbed these sobering lessons. Prevailing financial and trade paradigms are still driven, at core, by the pursuit of ever-higher growth rates and short-term returns at the expense of people’s economic, social and cultural rights and the health of our increasingly fragile ecosystems. Mere economic growth, however, has already been shown to be an unsustainable, inefficient – and in some cases, ineffective – way of addressing the global poverty crisis.
Against this light, the WCC reiterates its calls for governments and international institutions – with the democratic participation of all peoples – to pursue economic policies as well as build economic frameworks that move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth; universal provisioning of common social goods; sustainable consumption and production; and investments in small-holder agriculture (which continues to be the main source of livelihood for people and women in poverty), social reproduction and ecological protection.
Critical to lifting societies and people out of poverty is a much more equitable distribution of assets (capital, technology, land, education, health care, among others). A wealth of studies reveals that the lack of access by the poor (especially poor women) to assets necessary to achieve socio-economic security as well as higher productivity and income is a “fundamental constraint” on poverty eradication.
Emphasising the pivotal role of MDG 8 (global partnerships for development) in meeting the rest of the MDGs, governments and international institutions must seriously respond to widening inequalities among and within nations and the global financial and trade structures that propagate and deepen these inequalities. Much more attention ought to be placed on developing policies and structures that enable wealth-sharing among and within countries.
Poverty eradication is of course a critical goal in and by itself. At the same time, the WCC has long argued that many of the violent conflicts that continue to rage in different parts of our world stem in large part from the socio-economic deprivation experienced by communities. Thus, measures to eradicate poverty and close socio-economic gaps are important pathways to strengthening social cohesion and achieving lasting peace at local, national and global levels.
We believe that mobilising the financial resources needed for poverty eradication and the achievement of the MDGs – particularly through creative forms of taxation inasmuch as taxes are the only sustainable source of development finance – is a matter of political will, yes, and also of moral courage. At the onset of the global financial and economic crash, governments in rich countries were able to put together trillions of dollars in a matter of months to resuscitate ailing financial institutions; and global military spending continues to increase, amounting to US$ 1464 billion in 2008 alone (SIPRI 2010). We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more import on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness. Clearly, the often put forward excuse of a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty is instead more indicative of a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care.
What the international community can and must do in 1660 days
Reshaping the unjust financial and trade structures that generate and reinforce poverty and inequality is a long-term undertaking requiring coordinated action and meaningful cooperation among and between governments and international developmental institutions, as recognised by MDG 8, beyond 2015. Yet this does not preclude the international community from taking immediate measures and initial steps towards deep-seated transformations. Therefore, the WCC calls on governments and international institutions to commit to the following actions at the MDG Summit in September 2010:
- Enact urgent financial reforms and support further high-level discussions with substantial civil society participation under the auspices of the Financing for Development process to build an international financial architecture that not only distributes socio-economic risks fairly but finances job-creating production, social reproduction and environmental sustainability; and in particular with a view to:
- Achieving stronger democratic oversight of international financial institutions, by making them subject to a UN Global Economic Council with the same status as the UN Security Council as proposed by the Stiglitz Commission;
- Creating and/or transforming financial regulatory institutions and mechanisms and implementing financial transaction taxes to deter speculation (whether on currency, food and other commodities) and capital flight;
- Supporting regional initiatives that decentralise finance and empower people in the global South to exercise control over their own development through bodies such as the Bank of the South, the Asian Monetary Fund and the Bank of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América;
- Strengthening tax systems by establishing an international accounting standard requiring country-by-country reporting of transnational companies’ economic activities and taxes paid and forging a multilateral agreement to set a mandatory requirement for the automatic exchange of tax information between all jurisdictions to prevent tax avoidance;
- Establishing a new global reserve system based on a supranational global reserve currency and regional and local currencies;
- Setting up a new international credit agency with greater democratic governance than currently exists under the Bretton Woods institutions;
- Setting up an international bankruptcy court with the authority to cancel odious and other kinds of illegitimate debts and to arbitrate other debt issues;
- Regulating and reforming the credit agency industry into proper independent supervision institution(s), based on more transparency about ratings and strict regulation on the management of conflict of interest; and
- Using innovative sources of finance, including carbon and financial transaction taxes, to pay for global public goods and poverty eradication.
- Resume the Doha Round of trade talks and review free trade agreements based on the objective of transforming multilateral and bilateral trade and investment rules and agreements in support of realising the enshrined rights to food, water, health, education, and gainful and decent employment; and in particular to:
- Implement workable common international regulations to end agricultural import dumping; and
- Establish international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.
- Channel resources away from military spending and odious and illegitimate debt payments to investment areas with potentially strong anti-poverty impacts, particularly small-holder agriculture, social development and ecological sustainability; as well as ensure that development assistance to poor countries is not diminished in light of current pressures to rein in fiscal deficits.
- Discuss and adopt new and more balanced indicators that factor in social and ecological costs and benefits, and therefore better measure and monitor global socio-ecological-economic progress.
The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) is requesting input from civil society on a thematic report on discrimination against women in law and in practice, and how the issue is addressed throughout the United Nations human rights system, including CEDAW. For more information on the role that civil society plays at the UN, please visit: Esango.un.org.
Any relevant information for this study is welcome. Your input would greatly enhance the quality of this report and ensure that it considers issues that may not have been adequately addressed, such as the situation of indigenous women, SOGI issues, etc.
This report will be submitted to the Human Rights Council at the September 2010 session. Read the Call for Input for more information.
Please send your responses directly to Cecilia Moller, Acting Coordinator of the Women’s Rights and Gender Section.
Telephone: +41.22.928 9265
Deadline: 15 May 2010, maximum 3000 words