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The movement to end female genital mutilation

Rosemarie Doucette

Rosemarie Doucette

by Rosemarie Doucette, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

There 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. 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 female genital mutilation 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 female genital mutilation is a requirement of Islam might be corrected. The group of Imams who have made this commitment has grown from two to over 200. Health care providers will approach the eradication of female genital mutilation 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 female genital mutilation 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 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 female genital mutilation 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.

Thanks be to God at CSW57

Hayley Bang

Hayley Bang

by Hayley Bang, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

The day before attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, 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 the 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 the unfairness of a male dominant society where not only men but also women oppressed other women.

So, for me, the opportunity to be a part of the Commission on the Status of Women 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 were led by The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. 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 into determines whether you have more rights compared to the other gender. It is not limited to one particular area in the world, but it is 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 in different cultures to end the violence against women. However, we have one and the same purpose, we are united as one during the Commission on the Status of Women. We are shouting and acting together with one voice to end the violence against women. The Commission on the Status of Women 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 for the people that I met during this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, 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.

“I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me”

by Candace L. Strand, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations

Candace L. Strand

Candace L. Strand

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens 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 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 17 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, by the way, I did not mention that I am a college graduate with two bachelor degrees. I am presently a senior under the 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, regrets, 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.

Eliminating violence against women is God’s work

Mary Hansen-Joyce

Mary Hansen-Joyce

by Mary Hansen-Joyce, ELCA seminarian and delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

I am honored and pleased to submit my thoughts and impressions about the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Four classmates and I were invited to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as The Lutheran World Federation delegates during its first week. We are seminary students at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, taking an elective year-long course in Human Rights that is based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We five female students of diverse ages, ethnicity and backgrounds chose to attend Commission on the Status of Women because of our individual interests in women’s issues.

As I attempt to say in this space what my experience has been, the words “universal” and “solidarity” stand out. Our unique personal stories and interests are obviously diverse, yet undeniably universal as female children of God. When we come together to share our stories and experiences, as well as our shared prayer for the violence to end, we find solidarity in our commitment to work toward the end of the violence. With one voice, united and emboldened through the history of ecumenism, we seek to remain strong and vocal about the reality of violence again women.

The numbers are staggering to me. Seven in ten women worldwide are affected by some form of violence in their respective cultures and communities. One in three members of every church community in the United States is affected in some way by domestic violence. Women and girls are dying daily because of the violence that has been embedded for generations in the culture and the religious traditions of their communities. No country is immune. This can, and must be, changed.

The facts are often overpowered by culture and faith traditions, social stressors, economic pressures and political tactics. There is clear evidence that the welfare of all individuals is improved when women and girls are educated and treated equally.

Nevertheless, it will take continued courage and determination, which is why I hope that this year is the first of many years that I will travel to New York City for the Commission on the Status of Women. As a result of attending the event this year, I am bringing back the book “When Pastors Prey” (published by the World Council of Churches) to be considered as part of the seminary curriculum in the future. I am bringing into my future ministry as an ordained pastor the undeniable need to remain connected to these issues, and the women and men involved in them. I also bring the belief that anything I can do to inform both men and women, and engage in dialogue and ministry with my community toward the elimination of violence, is God’s work.

Bringing a message home

Maria Murerwa is a young adult delegate from the ELCA to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Click here or the picture above to listen to Maria share insights from her experience at the Commission on the Status of Women, and how she can bring back what she learned to her congregation.

Many Stories, One Voice

CSW- Joanna H.

Joanna Hertzog

by Joanna Hertzog, ELCA seminarian and delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

I came to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with my own stories of the way violence and abuse has separated my family. I came with the stories of women I have met and the stories of women I have never met. I came unsure of how my voice, as a Lutheran seminary student, would fit in the midst of the voices of leaders from around the world.

It was during the General Assembly on Tuesday that my uncertainty about where my voice fits was made clear. The representative from Australia during her statement said, “Living free from violence is everyone’s right. Working for freedom from violence is everyone’s responsibility.”

It was at that moment that I took notice of who was sitting beside me: a woman in her twenties from Uganda and a woman in her forties reading a newspaper written in French. I looked at the rows of women and men from around the world: some in black suit coats, some in bright colored scarves, some young and some old.

I realized that I was surrounded by thousands of powerful women from around the world – all of who are speaking out with one loud and powerful voice to end violence against women and girls. I am here with women who are fighting for freedom from violence and oppression. I am here with men who are speaking out with their mothers, wives, daughters and friends. Each speaking in her mother tongue. Each bringing her own stories. Each beautiful in her own way.

And I knew that it didn’t matter where my voice would fit because it was the power of all our voices brought together as one voice. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that continues to move and breathe that unites all of us, despite our differences, as one body — as one voice. It is out of the promises of the gospel that we stand together, hand in hand, no longer focusing on what separates us but on what unites us. The 57th Commission on the Status of Women is a testament of how the Spirit is moving with one voice to end violence against women and girls. As the church, let’s continue to boldly proclaim the radical gospel that all have the right to a life free from violence and oppression.

One prayer

Linda Forsberg is an ELCA pastor and a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women this week. The Commission on the Status of Women is an annual gathering that seeks to evaluate progress on gender equality. The 2013 event is exploring the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women.

Click on this image or click here to listen to the Rev. Forsberg discuss why she came to the Commission on the Status of Women, 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.

Maria, a nurturer

By Sarah Dreier, Legislative Representative of International Policy for the ELCA and The Episcopal Church

Maria spoke very little English, and I speak no Korean. But the wisdom that shone in Maria’s eye instantly inspired my trust. So I climbed into her van, along with two of her employees (sex industry survivors) and her young son, and the five of us drove into the heart of one of Seoul’s red light districts.

“Stay alert — we will need to run if the men catch us!” Maria conveyed to me in broken English.

As I stepped timidly out of the van (which Maria had parked in a narrow alleyway), I watched Maria scamper from one window to another, each of which displayed a young woman. She handed each prostitute a hair barrette with the phone number for Maria’s women’s shelter hidden inside. Maria and her phone are inseparable; she knows that she may only have one chance to connect with the sex workers who call her, eager to escape the indentured servitude of the red light district.

The next day, Maria welcomed me into her home. It was a safe haven she shared with those she has rescued from the sex industry, and with the newborn baby who had been abandoned by his mother. (Like many women and girls, this little baby’s mother had been broken by the confluence of forced drug addiction, physical abuse, and emotional degradation; she disappeared shortly after her son was born.)

Maria and I sat in a quiet little room and prayed together. We held hands and meditated in silence, even as the sounds of a crying baby and a busy house swirled around us. Maria looked profoundly content and grateful.

And I thought of another Mary, the mother of Jesus, amid the hustle and commotion of Jesus’ birth: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Like Mary, Maria is a nurturer, dedicated to caring for the women and girls who have suffered the tortures of gender-based violence and abuse.

I’ve met many other nurturers in my travels: the sisters of a Lutheran friend and colleague who generously welcomed me into their crowded Nairobi home; the women of the Episcopal Church of Cuba who cared for me when I fell ill; the former Sudanese refugee — herself expecting a child — who shared her own challenging refugee story with me and with members of Congress in hopes that we may protect those who remain in conflict zones. These generous women have nurtured me, a stranger, and it saddens me that our world does not afford them the same courtesy of safety and support.

Gender-based violence is a pernicious global phenomenon that takes many forms, including domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, forced prostitution and sex slavery, female genital mutilation, forced child marriages, assault on the basis of sexual orientation, dowry crimes and honor killings, infanticide, and gender discrimination. An estimated one in five women experiences rape or attempted rape and up to 70 percent of all women will experience gender-based violence from men in their lifetime (for more information, click here). Women in developing countries experience particularly high levels of violence, where cycles of poverty, hunger and insecurity make them more vulnerable to violent assault and abuse.

Next week, world leaders will convene in New York City for the 57th Annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. This year, they will focus on eliminating and preventing all forms of gender-based violence. Activists will call on world governments to commit to ending violence against women and girls through translating international promises into concrete national action, and by strengthening norms that combat violence.

“We all must do better to protect women and prevent this pervasive human rights violation,” says Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, announced in preparation for next week’s gathering.

This year during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, I will remember the women Maria has saved and supported, and how their lives have been affected by gender-based violence. The Commission on the Status of Women can serve as a reminder that we must all work together to nurture those who have nurtured us and to protect those women and girls who, like Maria’s survivors, are in desperate need of care, support and safety from violence.

Maria and her family of survivors crowded around the entrance to their shelter. Watching their smiling faces as they waved goodbye, I was amazed that something as nurturing and life-giving as this community of women could conquer something as abhorrent as the sex industry.