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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 »

Ophelia Dahl, in her 2006 commencement address to Wellesley College, contextualized her work as a humanitarian and activist with a quote from Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains, an account of the British abolitionist movement. “The abolitionists succeeded where others failed because they mastered the one challenge that faces anyone who cares about social and economic justice: drawing connections between the near and the distant.” I have struggled to define what exactly it is that I should be doing as an activist to find my part, and my voice, in the global struggle for human rights.2,191 Days and Counting

In a conversation with Islamicist Reza Aslan, about the challenge presented by the history of religion, the Christian theologian Jack Miles asked, “Is there a way to tell the stories that we tell on this planet so that they become intertwining stories? So, that they become a common story in which everyone can have an acceptable place?” It is somewhere between these two challenges, of drawing connections between the near and far, and telling an intertwining story in which everyone has an acceptable place, that I have come to see my responsibility as an artist and activist. Throughout my first week at CSW I listened to stories about caregiving from across the globe and sought a common story. For every story I heard from far away I have remembered a story from my own life as the daughter of two caregivers.

This weekend I attended a benefit exhibition for Iraq Veterans Against the War and heard stories from veterans that are part of our common story. The exhibition, titled 2,191 Days and Counting, was co-curated by Maya Joseph-Goteiner and Chere Krakovsky and considers “a broad range of reactions to the two wars: grief, rage, despair, cynicism, and even compassion.” The opening started with cocktails and general carousing, but then the mood changed decidedly when the performance half of the evening began. We were introduced to some of the men and women of IVAW. Immediately, I flushed with embarrassment. In all my conversations at CSW about women’s rights, caregiving, and peace, I had neglected to consider women’s rights violations in the American military and the burden of care placed on the families of veterans. Read the rest of this entry »

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Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Today the women of Papua New Guinea (PNG) invite us to come with them to the Land Of The Unexpected; to come together with the confidence that In Christ There Are Many Members, Yet One Body. The women of PNG ask us to unite as one in Christ as we join with them in celebrating a unity where love is genuine, where good overcomes evil and where we are of one heart and soul.  Learn more about the World Day of Prayer, and international movement of women.

“It is better to build boys than to repair men.”

Ecumenical Women’s excellent workshop on positive masculinities and gender partnerships began with the above quote, repeated by both Ezra Chitando and Fulata Mbano-Moyo. Recognizing that repairs are still sometimes necessary they invited us into the process of Contextual Bible Study, through which texts of oppression (the example they used was 2 Samuel 13:1-22 – the rape of Tamar) can become springboards for liberating change.

Doreen Boyd spoke about positive masculinities and positive femininities at Ecumenical Women's panel

Doreen Boyd spoke about positive masculinities and positive femininities at Ecumenical Women's panel

Doreen Boyd with the United Methodist Church in the Caribbean, reminded us that the process of liberating women and men is inextricably linked: “For every woman who steps towards her liberty there is a man who discovers the path to freedom.” For example, as we women claim our right to be taken seriously intellectually men may find that they are allowed to express themselves emotionally.

The process of working towards gender equality is too important, and too large, to be left to only half of the world’s population. Men need to relinquish their undeserved male privilege and we women need to admit the existence of negative femininities as well as negative masculinities – and welcome male companions in the struggle for justice and equality. Working together offers us the best possibility of men and women both growing into the full richness of our shared humanity.

One sign of hope was found when Chaitanya Motupalli, a seminarian from India, spoke of his desire to be to his family all that his mother had been to him. Role models such as this would indeed help build boys who could play their part in creating a world where women and men could both flourish.

I managed two hours of the High Level Roundtable Monday afternoon till the heat in the gallery got to be too much. One message that came through from many of the nation states who were speaking was that changing patterns of care-giving and responsibility between the genders will take more than governmental action and legal change. It needs a sea-change in cultural understanding that reaches into the hearts of families and transforms them from within: a sea-change that awakens men to their responsibilities in the home and frees women for their duties in the world.

This reminded me of an event in a very different context – a college chapel in Cambridge University. I had used a Janet Morley psalm in a service exploring different ways of talking about God – one that starts “I will praise God, my Beloved, for she is altogether lovely” and continues using passionate female imagery for the divine. I had expected this to resonate with the women present – and it did – but the strongest response came from a male student of engineering. He said it was the first time he had encountered language which allowed him to begin to adequately express his relationship with God, and that it liberated him from understanding divine power as purely masculine.

Theologians as well as governments, law-givers and UN delegates have their part to play in changing the world we live in. We need more language which speaks of our father God as care-giver and new hymns which sing to God our mother as the source of power and life. In this way our faith can help both women and men to find new ways of being and new ways of relating which liberate them both.

by Kathleen Stone, CCUN Chaplain

Morning worship is extremely important for the Ecumenical Women delegation. Being able to effectively ground the day in a firm Biblical faith along side a commitment to address injustices facing women around the world is an incredibly important skill. Both practically and theologically, claiming biblical stories together every morning is powerfully energizing, and has become a focusing tool for those who then spend the day at the United Nations. Doing so every morning during the Commission ushers amazing power to change the ideologies that limit women’s choices and power.


This year, Ecumenical Women’s Opening Worship at their orientation told the story of Ruth and Naomi. Through dancing, singing, original music, drumming and storytelling, the original, creative telling powerfully moved those gathered. Ruth, as Naomi’s caregiver in a world made for and by men in ancient Israel, was revealed as a powerful, fierce caretaker of Naomi in an unjust world. The storytelling emphasized the fact that Ruth and Naomi’s ONLY chance at survival was for a young, beautiful, loving, fierce, generous woman to sexually and illicitly sleep with a man who was old enough to have been her father. This year, the worship space displays an original participatory artwork commissioned by Ecumenical Women. The artist, Ms. Mary Button ( chose to imagine the moment when Ruth clung to Naomi, thereby saving her life. Ecumenical Women place extraordinary import on the representational nature of those who are delegates so each morning prayers for women around the world from the delegates are written on strips of paper which are made into beads and are then sewn onto Ruth’s dress. Because the situation facing Ruth and Naomi is still prevalent in our world and because women’s overwhelming burden of caregiving is so often overlooked in social, economic and political policy making, this story was extraordinarily relevant to the theme of the Commission.

Many thanks to the performing artists who contributed to the service: Dajhia Ingram, dancer; Cassondra Kellum, voice; DeWanda Wise,  actress; and Grace Pugh Hubbard, keyboard.

Since our orientation to the Commission on the Status of Women on Saturday, many of our delegates have been thinking about the power of scripture, both in its perpetrating violence against women and in its calling for solidarity and compassion.  We thought we would share this clip, featured on UN Radio which features a Lutheran pastor in South Africa named Solomuzi Mabuza, who uses a dangerous scriptural story about rape to educate men about stopping domestic violence in a South African context:

The Bible story The Rape of Tamar is about a young man who violates his half-sister. South African pastor Solomuzi Mabuza uses this story to teach young people about violence against women. Rev. Mabuza is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. He believes that since apartheid has been defeated, South Africa should also work to ensure equality of women and children. UN Radio’s Matthew Graham caught up with Rev. Mabuza during his recent visit to UN Headquarters.

Solomuzi Mabuza recently contributed to Ecumenical Women’s Advocacy Guide, Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church.

Click here to listen to the story – which also talks about  male nurses in South Africa.

by Mary Gindhart
The Grailruth_naomi

The hustle and bustle of getting to New York for CSW faded when I arrived at the Opening Worship organized by Ecumenical Women as the story of Ruth and Naomi was enacted.

This familiar story was being re-told as we gathered to prepare for two weeks of advocacy on the CSW theme: The Equal Sharing of Responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.

My heart was touched, I thought of women all around the world struggling. I looked around at the women who were present. I saw the dance movements, I heard the spoken words and chants. I felt strength, support and calm that we could face the challenges of the next two weeks at the UN together.

The communion service was a corporate expression of our oneness in faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to a new covenant in which all are cared for, both the caregivers and those needing care, both the men and the women. Both the elderly and children. Both the black and white, the brown, yellow, blue and green.

By Ellen Clark-King

There are few things sadder to a Christian feminist – well, to any Christian – than hearing of the Bible being used as an agent of oppression rather than of liberation. There were two moving and appalling examples of this spoken of at the Ecumenical Women’s orientation day here in New York today.

The first instance came from Malawi where a widow, who had just seen her husband die after nursing him through liver cancer, was told that she should not be saddened, nor seek another husband, because, paraphrasing Isaiah 54, “God is your husband now.” With one deft move a text of God’s love for the desolate and the widowed was turned into a life-sentence of celibacy.

The second and even more shocking example came from Swaziland where, as in much of southern Africa, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a haunting daily reality for many people. Here women are taught that the Bible says they must not refuse sex with their husbands and, because it is a result of Christian wifely obedience, that: “It’s a good death if I catch AIDS in the matrimonial bed.” A marriage partnership which should be based on mutual love and respect is turned instead into an abusive relationship in which awoman’s life is held cheaper than her compliance.

Feminist Christians in the affluent west sometimes feel the work is done:these stories remind us that it has only just begun!

Knotted GunEcumenical Women began early this morning another year of historic advocacy at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  The morning began with a rousing Opening Worship. 

Women from all over the world listened, watched, and responded to an artistic retelling of the story of Ruth and Naomi.  We performed together a ritual of rememberance, saying together:

God of our ancestors, God of us all
This morning, and throughout this week,
We remember women.
We remember those who have woven
and now weave the threads of history
We remember those who gave and give to the world.

We remember…
Those who make music,
who do labor, who mother children, who struggle, who laugh, who have wisdom, who make art, who have visions

We remember…
Those who have survived horrors, who told the stories, who made a way out of no way, who fought for freedom, who knew the truth and lived it, who died because they dared.

We remember…
Those who bear the cup of life;
Who pour it out to heal the ground on which we stand
Those who bake the bread of life
Who bid that we taste and see who good it is.

Remember with Ecumenical Women today, the next two weeks, and for ever the women who struggle for the hope of a better world.

In preparation for the March meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-53) at the United Nations, Ecumenical Women has launched an advocacy guide: Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church: Ecumenical Women’s Guide to Advocacy.

The resource prepares delegates from faith-based non-governmental organizations for effective action at the annual United Nations meeting.

Including a brief history of advocacy by women of faith at the United Nations, the guide provides an overview on how to advocate for women’s rights at the UN, gender-equality action strategies for congregations, and theological reflections on gender equality written by women and men from around the world.

DOWNLOAD Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church: Ecumenical Women’s Guide to Advocacy
DOWNLOAD Ecumenical Women’s Addendum, CSW-53
DOWNLOAD Press Release

Read the rest of this entry »

Ecumenical Women’s chair, Assistant Director of the Lutheran Office for World Community Emily Davila, was recently published in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics.  Her article is titled “A Human Rights-Based Approach to Advocacy: the Role of the Church.”

In her paper, Davila states,

As people of faith, we have the freedom to use language about human rights and poverty that emphasizes the dignity of the human person, tells the story and the conditions of persons living in poverty, as well as communicates the necessity for collective response. We must approach the future of human rights careful not to forget the achievements of the past, and support new and emerging regional and national human rights initiatives, especially those led by the Global South.

Today I’m blogging live from the Transformative Lutheran Theologies conference in Chicago.   We’ve got 156 women and men thinking deep thoughts and asking tough questions, both about church structure and society, as well as identity, love and suffering.

This morning Caryn Riswold, a professor from Illinois College and future Ecumenical Women delegate (we’re excited!) talked about her life as a religious academic who is trying to bridge the gap with feminists.  Third wave feminism recognizes that women have an intersection of identities simultaneously at work: race, class, gender and nationality.  She has found that for the most part, third wave feminists have glossed over religion, finding it irrelevant or just another impediment.  So Riswold is carving out a space where they connect, and asking: what do Christians want to do with feminists?  And– what do feminists want to do with Christians?

Quoting sociologists, Riswold argues that as society we create products and ideas, which then take on a life of their own.   This means that we are producers of our reality, and that God too is a cultural product.  Therefore to assume the image of god is fixed is to miss an opportunity– because really, our image of a patriarchal God has not kept pace with the times. From Luther she takes the understanding of a God that humbles, and the belief that human enterprise must be humbled.  After all we humans are failures, we can’t even create a peaceful world.  She argues that we must reset the balance: where there is privilege, sew humility and where there is poverty, sew empowerment.   After all, she says, the God of creation is a redeeming God, and he trusts our power as creators.

by Rosangela Oliveira

Today is a historical day in United States of America. I did not vote for Barack Obama: I am Permanent Resident of the United States, not a US citizen. I did vote for a candidate that in many ways resembles the message of change that Obama represents. I voted for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (“Lula”), the President of Brazil. It feels good to have Lula in Brazil and Obama in US. Both bring to the table issues of justice and the elimination of discrimination. As a Latina in United States, it is an issue that I believe must be attended to.

People gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to watch the historic inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama

People gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to watch the historic inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama

But I’m missing all the inauguration and excitement of the moment in New York City. I’m writing from a plane on my way to Brazil. The Amazonian region of Brazil, in the city of Belém, Pará, will be at the center of the world social movements. I’ll attend the World Forum on Liberation and Theology focusing the issues of water, land and theology.

Then, I will join United Methodist Women delegation to the World Social Forum, together with leaders from Methodist youth and women leaders in Latin America. We will be a total of nine women and young women.

The World Social Forum is a plural space full of hope – “Another World is Possible”. Civil society, religions, social movements, grassroots communities, and people get together to share hope and build together alternatives that can impact our local and global world.

As a GBGM Regional Missionary I come to these Forums to be at the global table that is still able to dream and send a strong message of social change. I expect to be part of a global network of solidarity for economic justice, peace and equal rights. I am here motivated by my Methodist tradition of faith, which ecumenically, extends the love of Christ to the whole world and creation. I am here to expand my concept of mission, as stated in the purpose of United Methodist Women, through being together with women of the world to learn their issues and concerns, and express solidarity. I am here to deepen my understanding of some specific struggles such as the Amazonian Region and its indigenous peoples.

I pray that this experience help me to be more faithful to the mission call.

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