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What follows is a piece written by Kristen, a young adult delegate from EW member organization the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to CSW58. For more reflections of the ELCA young adult delegation, check out their blog.

The following are just four of countless stories of incredible women that come to mind when I consider the priority theme for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, “Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls.” I have first included a quick listing of the Millennium Development Goals, followed by four stories that stand independently and do not necessarily flow from one to the next. The stories are united in the concrete expressions and faces that bring the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals to life.

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I encourage you, the reader, to reflect on the women in your life who have also embodied the struggle for a more just world.
Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Global partnership for development.
The face of human trafficking for me sat across the table at a center for people with addictions adjoining a homeless shelter in eastern Hungary. As a volunteer at the shelter I tried to make conversation as best I could with my limited knowledge of the Hungarian language. Our conversations often involved travel since I was the odd foreigner they couldn’t quite figure out and one morning this woman, who I will call Maria, mentioned that she had previously lived in Amsterdam. Both naively and excitedly I latched on to this thread of conversation and asked her a dozen more questions, thinking that we might have something in common in having traveled abroad for work. She revealed few details other than the work that she had done was “very bad work.” Later I learned that there is a street in the red light district of Amsterdam named after the city in eastern Hungary that I too called home because so many women and girls were taken from that city. The tragic social and ethnic backdrop to this story is that most of the exploited women and girls are Roma. As members of an ethnic minority, most Roma women and girls face bleak prospects due to low primary school completion rates, employment discrimination, and high rates of pregnancy among teenagers. Driving west along a rural highway in central Hungary, I also saw several women standing alone on the edge of the road. I will never know where they were and are going, but I can only hope that they too were not setting out on a journey like Maria’s. I do not know how she was able to return home to eastern Hungary nor do I know for sure if she is still safe today, but I do know that universal primary education, health education for women, and equal access to employment in Maria’s neighborhood and many other just like it are essential to ensuring that more of her friends and neighbors do not suffer as she did. “Developed countries” as much as any other must to do more to protect and empower ethnic minorities who are all too often forgotten.

Universal primary education is a goal that is still unmet in the rural villages of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. I know this not from ever being there, but from helping first-generation immigrants to the U.S. Midwest complete job applications available only in English. Most of the clients requesting this service are men and rarely do they list more than a few years of schooling in the education portion of the application. Witnessing the social structures of this particular immigrant community, where girls as young as middle school are expected to care for their younger siblings while their parents are away at work, would lead me to guess that girls in these remote villages receive the same if not less education. I also see this reality as we work to tailor adult English language courses to the needs of the women who attend every session but cannot read or write in their native Spanish. The evidence of the empowering effects of education is clear. Improving school retention rates in rural areas must be a priority for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Education rates among ethnic minorities such as the Roma in Europe, who are often subject to multiple discrimination, must also be closely monitored. In rural eastern Hungary most villages are largely homogenous, with either Roma or non-Roma residents but rarely both. The living conditions in the Roma villages are almost always worse and shockingly few children complete primary school. Without equal access and attainment at this early age, Roma young people will never catch up with their non-Roma peers and ethnic tensions over jobs, demographics, and social services will only worsen. I had the privilege of working with 20 Roma students through a program that supported their university education. Sadly they are the exception, not the norm, but their stories demonstrate that small steps, one student at a time, can make an enormous difference that could one day transform the country in which they too are citizens. When I asked one student how she had come to the university to study, she explained that like many of her peers living in a small village she had little intention of continuing her studies. However, a kind neighbor invited her to attend a visit day at a high school in a neighboring city that prepares students for university. That day she was welcomed so warmly she decided to attend. Four years later seeing her friends apply to local universities she couldn’t help but do the same. Concrete actions such as this simple invitation on the local, national, and international levels are essential to reaching many more students like her, especially those living with the labels of ethnic minorities and growing up in tiny rural villages, so that they too can study beyond the primary level.

One of the women I most look up to lives in eastern Hungary. While the economy values her work as a pastor at a humble salary in forints, it does not recognize her contribution to society as a single mom and primary caretaker for her aging mother who still lives in her rural home with a large garden. “Developed countries” as much as any other must rethink the way that we honor and value caregivers.

An interview with Maria Cristina Rendon, Program Assistant in the Lutheran World Federation’s Department for Theology and Public Witness and Reverend Elitha Moyo, Coordinator of the Gender Justice Project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. Elita and Cristina, both who are also Ecumenical Women delegates to the 58th UN Commission on the Status of Women, discuss how CSW relates to their gender justice work on both the international and grassroots levels.

image001by Maria Murerwa, delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.   You can find part one of this post here.
There were so many highlights for me during CSW I find it hard to choice which ones to write about. As a young Rwandan woman, I was so proud to have my country represented and for me to be able to attend their events. Rwanda is doing amazing work in promoting gender equality. Professor Shirley Randell spoke on the “global perspective on violence against women: in the case of Rwanda.” Her presentation focused on education programs that are provided to women, girls, boys and men at the grassroots level about how they should be part of ending GBV. They are educating girls in secondary schools to start to envision and plan for their future at the same time providing literacy programs for illiterate women. Programs like these will help empower women and hence preventing GBV.There have been economic empowering opportunities for women in Rwanda. Before the 1994 genocide, women had to have permission from their husbands to start a business, but today many women especially young women are taking part in entrepreneurial opportunities without the consent of husbands, fathers, bothers. Even though women contribute to the growth of the country and its economy, they still find it hard to get things like loans compared to men, except the paydaynow loans without credit checks. However, I must say that I am so proud of my country and how much has been achieved. The government is very supportive of gender equality in Rwanda; in fact it would have been almost impossible if it wasn’t for the government support and the large group of female legislatures (56 percent). Women are now part of decision making at the local, national, and even global levels.

While most men still wrestle with the concept of gender equality and gender balance, a network of Rwanda “MenEngage” believes that a  “new positive masculine identity is needed, one that does not depend on superiority over women.” I am happy to know that men are getting together to form a movement that is fighting the ideas that lead to GBV.

More on creating positive masculinity, The Men’s Story Project is an organization based in California that works with men on break the silence. When I first hear what this woman was doing was quick to judge because it seemed like it was taking the focus away from the reason we were there, VAW not men. However, the more I listened and with the videos of the men telling their stories, I was so glad that someone was working with me. We saw some videos of men telling their stories through poems, songs acts, and this made them talk about things that might have hurt them when they were children, violence that happened to their mothers, something that may still happen to them or things they have done to others due to social, economic class or sexual orientation. This project is a good reminder to society that violence against women (VAW) does not only affect women, but also their children, and those children can grow up to be violent on other women in their lives.

This was an amazing experience for me. I am very grateful to have been part of it, thanks to the LWF Women in Church and Society desk and the Lutheran Office for World Community for giving me this opportunity and thanks to all the women and men who are working hand in hand to end this horrific epidemic. Violence against women should be eradicated, and it will take girls and boys, women and men working together. Let’s all together break the silence, take a step towards education and don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t” because you are a woman. Together we can…

image001by Maria Murerwa, delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

I have been very blessed this year to attend this commission on the Status of women (CSW 57) and the Ecumenical women orientation and events.  I am always blown away by the people I meet, the work they do, the energy and the fact that most of the women and men come with a common goal of empowering women. This week, I have attended many great NGOs  Parallel events that have been eye opening and hopeful; however there is a still a lot of work to be done in to end gender based violence. I went to so many events that are worth sharing. I will highlight a few which include, ending female genital Mutilation (FGM/FGC), Ending violence against women in Rwanda, and creating positive masculinity (the men’s storytelling project.) This year, the theme is “Ending all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls.” Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights. It cuts lives short, causes women to be silent and leave in tremendous pain and fear everywhere around the world.

This conference brings together women and men from all corners of the world to the United Nations headquarters in New York for two weeks to address and find solutions for issues that affect women. The same time CSW is happening the Ecumenical women join in forces together with CSW.  Many issues are discussed in hopes to find solid solutions for them. Some of the topics but to mention a few included, ending early child marriage, violence in widowhood, ending impunity of sexual violence, violence against women living with disabilities, violence against rural and indigenous women, Military sexual violence, elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM), mental health communities, violence against clergies in the church, violence against aging women, gendercide and many others.

It is unfortunate that at least one out three women worldwide have faced violence.  Women are here to break the silence and find solutions to end violence against women.  This conference serves as a platform for women to break the patriarchal male centered system that is feed by cultural, social and religious practices that exists in most societies.

I attended two separate parallel events that addressed the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the world health organization (WHO) FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” One event was on Anti-FGM legislature in African and local communities’ reactions sponsored by the women’s front Norway. This organization is working with the Nyaturu tribe in Northern central Tanzania (Singida area) where Ms. Chiku Ali, one of the panelists grew up. Ms. Chiku has been working on this issue for so many years now in Singida. The Nyakuru tribe practices the right of passage which includes, FGM, tooth extraction and cutting a mark on the forehead.

There have been many declarations to barn this practice since 1967. One famous declaration was the “Arusha declaration” this was followed by so many campaign. The idea was good, but the practices did not stop. People especially the elderly, continued the practice silently when the government used force to stop FGM. When children who were not mutilated got sick, the people believed that it was a curse from the ancestors because they are angry at the authority for stopping FGM.  Ms.Chiku luckily survived this horrendous practice thanks to her father. A devoted Imam who made “a mistake” (as Ms.Chiku jokingly said) to send his young daughter to boarding school. Young Ali asked her grandmother and mother about this practice and why it was important for her to have it, but their answers did not satisfy her. Ali’s best friend died from an infection cause by FGM. This made Ali so upset that she decided to talk about the issue with her father. Ali did not want to go through what her friend had gone through, and so did her father. And so because her father said didn’t permit it, Ali was safe from FGM .

The second event had powerful speakers whose stories were heart sinking, but yet so hopeful for a future without FGM.  For the second event was on FGM / FGC: how to can faith communities help to end it? Sponsored by Mpanzi, 28 Too many, LWF and Tearfund.  I will focus on an amazing woman who is a survivor of FGM and how she is using her voice to break the silence against this practice in her native land Kisii, Kenya. Ms. Jackie Ogega is a co-founder of Mpanzi , an organization based in Kenya which works to promote peace and development in rural African communities through education, women’s empowerment, health and livelihoods. Ms. Ogega is also an author of a new book called Pervasive violence, which was launched on March 8, 2013. This book is about her story as a survivor of FGM. In her remarks, she highlighted the dangers of this practice to a girl/woman’s health. She is not afraid to share her story because she knows that it can help other women tell their stories and be part of ending FGM for the generations to come. Ms. Ogega believes that in order to end this vicious practice, we need education. She thanked her mother for giving her opportunity to education, which helped her not to make the same chose for her teenage daughter.

I found her story very inspiring especially because she is not embarrassed to say it happened to her. So many women would have been very uncomfortable to even talk about this matter because it is so personal. Well she is not, in fact she acknowledges that FGM/FGC is part of her “identity but it does not hold her back” and knowing her it definitely does not define who she is either. I think that her story will inspire other women to tell their stories and advocated to end it. As the saying goes, “charity begins at home,” Ms.Ogega has started with her own daughter by not allowing this practice to happen to her.

FCM/FGC continues to be a form of violence against women around the world and it is time that we broke the silence and we need to bring both girls boys to speak about this. I was especially moved by speech of Nora Muturi Ms. Ogega’s daughter who reminded us that this practice is not only in Africa but even here in America and it takes many forms. I thought that you will be happy to know that a resolution to “Ending female genital mutilation” was passed as of 2012 by the UN General Assembly. So yeah to that…We all have a story to tell, don’t let anyone tell your story because you are who you are and your story is unique because.

by Rosemarie Doucette, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

Rosemarie DoucetteThere was an awesome energy last week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women!  Clearly times are changing for the better as issues of inequality, injustice, and violence were brought to light with grace and power.   Women across differences of faith, race, gender identity, ethnicity, and education united in the effort to bring truth and justice to those places where they are most needed.  I was very impressed with the progress made in Mauritania in the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM).  Putting all girls at risk for their physical health, the deeper psychological damage that is done is often harder to assess and there are few resources for addressing it.  While this is a harmful practice, it is nonetheless an integral part of the tradition of many cultures so its eradication must be approached with sensitivity and options must be introduced.

I was encouraged by the work of speaker Mariem M’Bareck of Mauritania who has worked extensively with both the religious community and health care providers in order to educate and mobilize people from within their own communities instead of alienating them through a campaign waged from outside of their culture.  First Mariem met with a few Imams who established that the Koran does not require FGM of any female, of any age, for any circumstance.  The Imams, respected as wise religious leaders, will educate the people in their communities so that over time the misunderstanding that FGM is a requirement of Islam might be corrected.  The group of Imams who have made this commitment has grown from two to over two hundred.  Health care providers will approach the eradication of FGM from a health standpoint, highlighting the extreme and lifetime health risks involved while teaching women and men that the reasons used to justify it are based on misconceptions, superstitions, and myths.

Another piece of the situation is that the women who perform the cutting will be left without a livelihood.  It is important that their financial and social needs be met by the community because they are most often uneducated and this will be a difficult thing to process, that their service to the community will no longer be needed.

Finally, and perhaps the most uplifting and easiest transformation to make following the eradication of FGM will be to provide young girls with new rituals to mark their passage from babies to young girls and from young girls to young women.  For thousands of years young the passage of boys to young adulthood has been marked by circumcision, preceded and followed by communal celebrations and privileges.  Girls, on the other hand, were more likely to be cut in private and would have to spend even more time in healing.  Their passage to womanhood was generally not celebrated in community.  In the new light of hope, equality, and human rights, communities where FGM is being eradicated are now replacing this practice with healthy ways of celebrating and marking this life passage, thus ensuring better physical and psychological health, and more social equality.

HBphotoby Hayley Bang, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in American delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

The day before attending CSW57, I read a news article that stated in 2012, one South Korean woman was killed by her intimate partner per three days. Around 120 women were killed by their intimate partners in one year.

“男尊女卑 女必從夫” has been the key concept for the gender hierarchy of Korea. The first four letters literarily mean men are higher than women, and second half means women must follow or obey their husbands. I was also a victim of this concept which still is exercised unconsciously among Koreans and the first generation of Korean Americans. I always questioned why men and women are not equal and especially questioned about the unfairness about male dominant society where not only men but also women oppressing other women.

So, for me, the opportunity to be in part of CSW57 is a great opportunity to learn about women’s rights on a global scale. I was very nervous and excited about it. I was able to attend different side events and events that led by the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches, and I learned a lot of new things about different cases of violence against women. I was impressed by the quote that “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” However, I was sad about the fact that we still talk about women’s rights rather than just human rights, in a sense of gender inequality. It is sad that what gender you are born determines whether you have more rights compared to other gender. It is not limited to one particular area in the world, but it was a global problem. Yes, we are all different, yet women were similarly oppressed by the other gender and also by other women.

However, I do not give up there. I believe in unity in diversity yet variety. I know that we need different approaches to different cultures to end the violence against women. However, we are one and in the same purpose, we are united as one during CSW57. We are shouting and acting together with one voice to end the violence against women. CSW57 was the place to gather those voices together, and act together, yet gave us wisdom and knowledge about how to contextualize in each culture to end the violence against women. Thanks be to God about the people that I met during CSW57, the experiences I had, and more importantly thanks be to God that God is working in us, with us and calling us to be God’s people and to look after each other.

366by Candace L. Strand, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.”  As I reflect upon my life as an African American woman who may have been a statistic of domestic violence myself during 1977 to 1983, I give God the glory, honor and praise for my deliverance.  When I think back to that part of my life I know that it could have been worse.  But God and the mercy and grace factor stepped in.

I had two wonderful daughters to raise while I went through the mental and drug abuse situations.  I was married twice.  In the first marriage I was young and ignorant.  There was fighting and an adulterous situation was present.  Sex was often forced. In the second marriage, I came to know the Lord and our relationship went south.  At first the drug issue was a part of my life, but when I became saved my ways changed and my companion’s life did not.  There were women in the home when I was not there in that drug atmosphere during that time. I prayed a lot during that time period of my life.  Life was hard financially and things were cutoff in the home.  My two daughters and I were without heat and electricity during those difficult times in my life.  Yet, I was very spiritual.  This seemed to compensate for the ending of that marriage and that season in my life.

Presently, I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have survived from that sadness and oppression.  I have remarried.  I have been married for seventeen years.  My husband is a Christian.  My daughters are grown and I have five grandchildren.  I feel so blessed. I had to be humble during those years.  I am still humble and I believe that the Lord took me through my adventure for a reason.

So many times life throws stumbling blocks into our path.  I would have never thought that I would have gone the way that those situations locked me into.  I was always a hard worker.  I had several jobs and I was also on welfare at different times too.  But God………..

Oh, but by the way, I did not mention that I am a college graduate with two bachelor degrees. I am presently a senior under the MDiv (Master of Divinity) program at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.  Thank you Lord!  As you can see, life goes on.

What’s next for me?  Well, the leading of the Lord is my guide.  I have learned that weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.  Through disappointments, sorry, pain and love, I have endured hardness as a good soldier.  I have learned that I have to take one day at a time.  Sometimes when I desire to be in a better financial state or be living in a better home or even be rich, I think about Jesus and the life that Jesus lived.  How can I complain?  God is good……Thank you Lord!  As a 58 year old woman I feel stronger and wiser each day.  Women are powerful too!  Peace………

 

Linda Forsberg, an Ecumenical Women delegate and pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, discusses why she came to CSW57, her own experience of violence and how all individuals, boys and men included, share in one prayer of preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls.

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

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

Zau Rapa calls them “dynamite women.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will their husbands be receptive?

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

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.

I spent the last week in Papua New Guinea – not something I ever expected to do! With over 800 languages, communication in PNG is fascinating. There is no internet and even phones are hard to come by, a few cell phones are here and there. Most people I met promised to write me – as in a letter. We will see how that goes.

I went to PNG as an invited guest to a Lutheran women’s conference. Colonized by Germans, more than one-fifth of the country is Lutheran. One of the key features of the conference was a bible study called “Jesus Liberates women in PNG from male dominated cultures”.

Growing up, Pastor Michael, a seminary professor, watched his mother suffer in a polygamous marriage. His father, a “bigman” would force ably take the pigs she raised so that he could enjoy a high status in the community, beating her if necessary. When menstruating, women were (and still are in some places) secluded, and some believe that even the food they touch is contaminated so they are no allowed to cook meals. After the age of 13, Michael was discouraged from spending time with his mother. Because of a tradition called the “Bride price” -similar to a dowry- women cannot divorce their husbands because their family is expected to pay the money back. By paying for their wives, it encourages a culture where many men consider their wives a possession. Even though she was often beaten by her husband, his sister was unable to divorce him because of the culture and eventually committed suicide.

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The Women of the ELCA‘s 7th Annual Triennial Gathering is set this year to be in Salt Lake City, Utah, from July 10-13. The theme, “Come to the Waters,” references the renewal and committment Christians experience in their baptism. With keynote speaker and author Sister Joan Chittister , upper-Manhattan Lutheran pastor Heidi Neumark speaking, and workshops on important social issues such as racism, activism, and politics, the gathering looks to be a faithful blend of personal spirituality and public action.

EW encourages the Women of the ELCA to go even further, and take up a strong interest in women’s rights on an international scale. While we applaud the good things the organization is already doing, we hope to see more of an investment in international activism around women’s and human rights. Are there any EW members out there heading to “Come to the Waters”? Take your knowledge and passion with you as you head to Salt Lake City!

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  • Report lays out "baseline" for progress in gender equality
    Although women are outpacing men in achieving higher levels of education, they are still more likely to pursue the humanities as opposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That's according to the World's Women 2015, a UN report which looks at how women worldwide are faring in eight critical areas such as health, education, work, p […]
    UN Radio

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