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On Tuesday morning I asked God to keep me open to any opportunities to network that might come my way that day. That afternoon I was asked by Salwa/Sally Kader, President of U.S. Federation for Middle East Peace, to speak as the Christian voice in a dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths. The dialogue was held yesterday in the North building of the UN. We simply shared our faith journeys and expressed how our faith calls us to be people of peace.

We had a wonderful time. I immediately connected with my Jewish dialogue partner, June Jacobs, CBE, who is a delightful woman. She received this honor from Queen Elizabeth for her work in human rights and inter-faith relations. She spoke of leaving London as a small child to live with relatives in Massachusetts at the beginning of WWII. Her parents feared England would go the way of the rest of Europe and so sent the children abroad. She is the former President of the International Council of Jewish Women, and sits on several boards dedicated to Jewish culture and peace.

The woman who was to speak about her Islamic faith could not attend. So, Shagufta Omar of the International Islamic University in Islamabad stepped in from the audience. She shared several texts from the Koran that address the rights of women, including the right to education, prohibition of infanticide, right to refuse a marriage, and the right of inheritance and the right to keep her possessions after marriage.

We were reminded by poet Herminia Littleton, a women from the the Philippians, that when members of his congregation asked Mohammed for guidance he often told them to “Ask Aisha”, his second wife. Aisha also taught Mohammed’s followers after his death. Ms. Littleton, whose mother was killed by the Japanese during WWII, described her own childhood journey of moving from hate to forgiveness. She reminded us to “Open the window of your heart and let the spirit go in and out.”

It has been an incredible privilege to be here and share faith and ideas with so many powerful, resourceful and peace loving women and men.

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

Women get children and are not able to think

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

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

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

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By Simon Khayala, BD student St. Paul’s University, Kenya and a youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

Despite the Beijing Declaration that “Women empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision making process and access to power are fundamental for achievement of equality development and peace”, women still feel discriminated. Based on a one-sided interpretation of culture and scripture, discrimination of women is often reinforced by the churches. 

Traditionally the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3 was used to blame women. Eve, the first women, seduced Adam into eating the fruit from the forbitten tree. Hence all women today have inherited that blame. Women were seen as inferior, weak, disobedience and easily tempted. But if we read through Genesis 3 carefully, we will realize many positive things about Eve. Aspects, which the churches neglected far too long. 

Genesis 2:18 (RSV), says “…it’s not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”. The Hebrew word azer (helper) does not mean any form of subordination as it was always preached. In fact, azer has divine attributes (Heb 13:6, Psalms 10:14). The Bible discribes God as a helper to us. In John 15:26, Jesus tells his disciples he will send them a helper, the Holy Spirit. This implies that Eve was in the correct image and likeness of God.

In Genesis 3:6 we see Eve as a rational being. She is able to reason out to see that the tree was good for food and to be desired to make one wise. The Hebrew word raah (to see), also means “understanding or awareness”.

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Who does not want to be wise? All of us desire wisdom. To me the mother of all human wisdom is Eve, because it was until she ate the fruit that we acquired a higher status to become like God (Genesis 3:22). 

Eve was also the provider. Where was Adam when Eve was looking for food? In fact, Adam is portrayed as irrational being, because he never questions where Eve had found the fruit, but just ate it. This may imply that it was a tendency of Eve to provide food for Adam. Being the provider Eve again is in the image and likeness of God, because our God is also the provider (Psalm111:5).

 

Therefore our perceptions towards women on the basis of the story of the fall of man should change. Women may indeed have a unique gift which men don’t have.

by Onleilove Alston

Note: Though DWU works on issues affecting domestic workers in the U.S. the issues faced by its membership are shared by women worldwide. The exploitation of women workers is an international human rights issue. According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the U.N. :

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD   for the display of his splendor. THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; THEY will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:1-4

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (the Domestic Worker) Bill of Rights passed”.

“Without God we can’t do anything”.

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors”.

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell Leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work
will be valued equally”.-Mission of Domestic Workers United

During the spring of 2006 I started to closely read Isaiah 61 and began to gain spiritual encouragement from meditating on God’s care for the poor and oppressed. I began to study this scripture whenever I had the chance. In 2007 I started to work with New York Faith & Justice after meeting founders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Anna Lee and Peter Heltzel at Pentecost 2007. In the Fall of 2007 New York Faith & Justice did an in-depth Bible Study on Isaiah 61 and from this study I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness”, and “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated”. This new insight revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. Instead of just preaching the gospel to the poor, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities! If you are a person of privilege instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if like me you come from the ranks of the poor you are called to rebuild and restore your community. This re-reading of Isaiah 61 is further supported by my work with the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program. The Poverty Scholars program brings poor activist from across America to Union Theological Seminary to take part in an educational program of conferences, theological reflection and action planning centered on re-igniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

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by Haeley Park, Intern with WCC UN Liaison Office

It was when I first entered into college when, all of sudden, I felt like I was brainwashed with Christianity. I was born into a devoted Christian family and grew up in a church environment all my life. I obeyed God’s calling by coming to the U.S. to become an international lawyer, when I was only thirteen years old. Life in a foreign country without family or friends was very hard, but I always was filled with joy, with presence of God’s protection and love.

For first time in my life, I started questioning about faith, Christian beliefs, Bible, and God since entering college. I kept on examining what it means to be a Christian and its position in the world. I was immediately thrown into a spiritual battle field and had bloody struggles. I developed criticizing and cynical views of Christians whose deeds seem to be contradicting between inside and outside the church. I kept on judging Christians and called them hypocrites.  I was in an extreme denial against God and His people.

God had sent me to the World Council of Churches’ United Nations Liaison Office as a summer intern, probably to humble me. The spiritual battle continued to rise to its peak as my wonderful supervisor who is now like my beloved sister, challenged me greatly about faith, Christianity, theology, justice, life, purpose, and beyond throughout the summer. One of many hot debates we had was about the position of women in the Bible. I was upset at the fact that bible contradicts gender equality principles and teaches women to be submissive and obedient to their husbands while my supervisor claims that the Bible does promote gender equality. To prove myself, I had to dig into the Bible for examples:

“You wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News…They [women] trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands… For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, when she called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do”(First Peter 3:1-2, 5-6).

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savoir…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:22-24,33).

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (First Corinthians 11:3)

I could not conclude anything regarding this matter, so I put it aside from my concerns. Then a few weeks have passed since the topic has been discussed. Then the unsolved question was unexpectedly solved yesterday morning. There is a worship service every Thursday morning at the Church Center of the United Nations, and I attended as usual.

Haeley picture EWIn the program, one pregnant woman who is a professional dancer, worshipped by dancing while carrying her baby inside her stomach. That was the most beautiful dance I’ve ever seen in my entire life and each movement she made literally pump my heart. It completely revealed mother’s love for the child and I was able to feel the sincere passion and loving heart for God through her dancing. I then realized that God gave a unique gift to women, to be a mother who is loving and caring. After all my questions and doubts regarding the gender references from the Bible, I learned that it’s not about commanding or obeying one another. Rather, it is about loving each other with what God has given uniquely to men and also to women.


Jocelyn Tengatenga

Photograph by Kimberly Llerena.

by Jocelyn Tengatenga

The imperative to act on gender equality and development is an integral part of the mission of God. God’s mission and vision for humanity is one of peace, prosperity and justice. We believe that because women and men are made equally in the image of God they are equal players and equal beneficiaries in God’s bounty. This is the new life as God intended it to be, a life of equality which is spelt out in Galatians 3:28, “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus”. It is therefore a calling on each one of us as women to be involved in the fight for liberation from all forms of oppression and marginalization. We can only do that if we are united and collectively speak out. As women of faith we have been silent for a long time and now is the time to raise our voices together and join hands in working towards a better tomorrow. As Mercy Amba Oduyoye said, 

“As a woman who feels the weight of sexism I cannot go again and again to the stories of the exodus, exile and to other biblical motifs in which the “least” are recognized and affirmed, are saved or held up as beloved by God or at least are empowered to gnaw at the fundaments of the structures of injustice until these fundaments cave in on themselves.”

Read the rest of Josie’s speech here.

Ecumenical Women delegates to Commission on the Status of Women were given the opportunity to translate Ecumenical Women’s input into the agreed conclusion into prayers of confession, petition and thanksgiving during morning worship on Thursday, February 28th.

This document contains excerpts from the draft of the agreed-upon conclusions. Ecumenical Women suggested additions and changes to the draft agreed upon conclusions, followed by prompting questions. Then three short sentence prayers were created from the thought around those agreed-upon additions: a prayer of confession, a prayer of petition and a prayer of thanksgiving.

We hope you might pray these prayers with a deep and committed heart for the sake of the disproportionate number of women suffering abject poverty. On Monday, governments began to determine the language needed within the agreed-upon Conclusions. By augmenting the agreed-upon conclusions in such a way as Ecumenical Women have desired, it is just possible that we will begin to rebuild an economic system which has at its core a desire for more resources for development, more decisions for development, and less injustice in the financial mechanisms, in the hands of those who are unable to access them under the current mechanisms: the poor.

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 (IPS) – When women activists lash out against gender discrimination, one of their longstanding complaints is also directed at the U.N. Secretariat, where senior level posts are still largely a virtual monopoly of men. Despite a 1997 General Assembly resolution calling for 50:50 gender parity in decision-making jobs by 2000, the elusive goal is long past that deadline. A coalition of some 600 women’s groups and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) is now complaining that the pervasive gender discrimination in the U.N. system may also be responsible for the lack of an executive director at a key body dealing with women’s issues: the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Since its former executive director Noeleen Heyzer was appointed executive secretary of the Bangkok-based U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacifi c (ESCAP) last September, UNIFEM has remained headless, but functions under an acting executive director, Joanne Sandler. ”We need an appointment now”, says Ana Agostino, coordinator of the Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who points out that the six-month-long delay is unacceptable. She said that women’s groups were expecting an announcement during the current two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concludes Friday. But there are no indications it will happen.

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