Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors #CSW63

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

On March 22, 2019, the final day of the CSW, I attended a side event on “Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors.” It was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Botswana and Finland to the United Nations, the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion (co-stewarded by the UN Office for Genocide Prevention, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women), and the ACT ALLIANCE.

From the event description:

“The interactive discussions will assess the specific contributions of faith-based and faith-inspired actors, when partnering with governments and UN system entities, to deal with diverse forms of gender-based violence. The conversations aim to contribute to the wider discussion and mobilisation around the implementation of the landmark ‘Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.'”

The room was full, indicating the high level of interest in this topic. Mr. Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, opened the session via video. His exemplary work is documented with video and written statements available.

Muslims for Progressive Values President Ani Zonneveld spoke on hate speech and her work on empowering reform of education in Muslim societies. She suggested that rather than investing in funding travel to international speaking opportunities for high-level men, the same funds could bring youth to advocacy training camps for better net result.

The rights of LGBTI individuals were brought up as part of the commitment to leave no one behind. It is no longer acceptable to allow religious or cultural attitudes to infringe on the basic human rights of all. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and co-sponsored by UN WOMEN, UNFPA, UNAIDS and ACT Alliance.

I was honored to attend an earlier expert consultation, part of this line of work on preventing genocide, entitled “Preventing Polarization, Building Bridges and Fostering Inclusivity: The Role of Religious Actors” held in NYC earlier in March. This brilliant session brought academics and religious actors to the table, and a publication is planned.

A previous session focused on religion and ultra-nationalism. The dedication and effort of Simona Cruciani and others working on this initiative are phenomenal.

#CSW63 – Report on the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women

Report by TOU UN Representative Grove Harris
63rd Commission on the Status of Women, 11-19 March 2019

The Temple of Understanding’s events at CSW63 were well-attended and brought a heart-centered attention to the work.

Systemic Commitment Towards Peace, Justice and Transformation

The singing of Kristin Hoffman lifted spirits and encouraged our speakers to move right to the core. The synergies between speakers Eileen Llorens, calling for a debt audit and justice for the people of Puerto Rico, and Katherine Power, calling for personal practices of peace that inform action, fed the audience. We were gratified by the number of young people present and respect the voice of one participant who called out those who want to simply turn over the world’s problems to the younger generation. We all have to stand and own our parts and work for change.

Katherine Power, Eileen Llorens, and TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk

 

For inspiration, check out Imagine a Puerto Rican Recovery Designed by Puerto Ricans. There is also current New York Times reporting on unequal treatment and the reconstruction challenges still facing Puerto Rico, which include hunger, lack of medical care, and damaged bridges and other infrastructure:

“Puerto Rico was in financial distress and had crumbling infrastructure before Hurricane Maria, and many residents complain of government malfeasance that exacerbated the storm’s impact, echoing criticism from Washington. But Puerto Rican leaders say the delay to the Vieques hospital and thousands of other stalled projects is a reflection of unequal treatment from the White House and Congress, which last week failed to pass disaster relief legislation because of a dispute over how much money to send the island.”

 

 

The Fifth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

The service of remembrance was a sorely needed time for the community to come together in spirit. We at the Church Center lost many colleagues in the tragic airline crash in Ethiopia, and while our work and the CSW can be hectic, ultimate concerns call us to stop and pay attention to the losses in our midst. We also heed the practice of gratitude, which co-exists with grief. Music and prayerful remembrances of individuals who have passed on, recollection of our connections to the Earth, and honoring of all of our mothers, helped us join together for an hour of peace.

Conversations on Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership

It was an honor to join this group of women in speaking from the heart.

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk commented, “It was heartwarming to hear women in leadership positions being so forthright about their experiences of being ignored, put down or belittled by unwanted advances. As someone in a leadership position I agree that we can no longer accept this behavior as the norm. We must speak out more forcefully about our right to be acknowledged and call out all unacceptable behavior towards women worldwide.”

Our colleague Jillian Abballe from the Anglican Communion posted on Facebook afterwards, “This doesn’t feel like an event. This feels like a witness to the stories of amazing, powerful faith-full women, that I am so grateful to work with, to walk this path with, to dream with, to shake things up with. I feel healed by this conversation.”

Together, we can end “business as usual” and pursue transformation.

CSW63, March 2019: “Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership”

More details on the speakers at these sessions is available here.

Outcomes

The TOU attended many more sessions during the CSW for solidarity, inspiration, education, and collaboration. Resources and links are in this complementary blog post. We offered support to those civil society members advocating during the proceedings inside the UN.

Our colleagues at WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, reported on outcomes of the CSW in detail, explaining that:

The Agreed Conclusions represent a step forward in identifying and removing barriers to women’s and girls’ access to public services. The Conclusions contain notably stronger language on the need for increased investment in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure to support the productivity of women’s work, including in the informal economy.

Though discussions varied widely, the civil society movement and Member States joined together in their call for:

  • acknowledgement of the synergies between and among sectors;
  • a holistic, intersectional, and intersectoral approach to peace-building and security;
  • and a recognition of the implementation of such approaches as a precondition of sustainable peace. 

Member States highlighted concrete initiatives as clear and concise frameworks for the implementation of an integrated approach to economic and social development at both national and international levels. Examples of these initiatives include: the National Social Protection Policy in Zambiathe Social Cohesion Fund in Morocco, feminist international agendas, like France’s Feminist Foreign Policy and the 100% ODA Plan of the UAE.

 

And of course there is much more on Twitter:

#CSW63 WRAP-UP: SOCIAL PROTECTION AS KEY TO #MOVETHEMONEY FROM WAR TO GENDER EQUALITY AND PEACE

 

#CSW63 Wrap-Up: Resources

Collected by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

The Commission on the Status of Women in NYC is an incredible opportunity for connecting with others doing advocacy around the globe. So many of the sessions offer truly inspirational resources and are crucial for the systemic transformations we need. From systemic survivor-centered approaches to ending trafficking in sexual exploitation, to critique of the Vatican, to art as a form of healing, to an overarching strategy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals within planetary boundaries, to the concurrent environment assembly in Nairobi, incredibly diverse efforts to reshape our world in more just and sustainable ways are happening.

Sex Trafficking

Our colleagues at Mercy International Association released Inherent Dignity: an Advocacy Guidebook to preventing trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to realizing the human rights of women and girls throughout their lives.

This work gets at the systemic causes and promotes transformation. Listening to survivors is key to their systemic approach, which was beautifully demonstrated at their session at the CSW. Their advocacy guide, available in its entirety online, is a comprehensive and accessible tool to move us forward towards ending human trafficking.

From the forward:

A human rights approach to trafficking means that all those involved in anti-trafficking efforts – from law enforcement agencies to victim service providers – should integrate human rights into their analysis of the problem and into their responses. This approach requires us to be rigorous in considering, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on women and girls who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. It means embracing responses that empower and protect. Critically, it also means rejecting responses that risk compromising rights and freedoms. A useful example of this risk is the still-common practice of detaining women victims of trafficking in shelters. While there may be good reasons to seek to protect trafficked women from further harm, denying adult victims their right to freedom of movement in this way is not in keeping with a human rights approach.

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is a global wrong that implicates us all. But like so many challenges facing our fractured, troubled world, it is not amenable to a quick, technical fix. More than money or expertise, an end to the exploitation of human beings for private profit requires moral and spiritual leadership – it requires us all to stand up and say “this is wrong, this must stop”.

From 1.5:

Survivors of trafficking report that they were victimized from childhood to early adulthood, making them prey to traffickers. Their opportunities for decent work were severely limited, as were the supervision and support provided by their families, their safety at home and in the community, and their education. These precursors to trafficking all reflect a more sinister and structural oppression in which girls and women are made vulnerable to predators. Understanding systemic victimization over the life course is key to a holistic and preventative approach to human trafficking.

 

Catholics for Human Rights

Another CSW parallel event featured a panel of powerful speakers, a coalition of Catholics for Human Rights. It was followed by an afternoon forum for further discussion on abuses, harm reduction and healing. According to their press release, they discussed

the central role the Holy See has played in obstructing any progress by the CSW in many areas of human rights, including in sexual and reproductive rights, and how the Holy See as a religious body exceeds their powers at the CSW and at the UN. In part, this is manifested by not complying with treaties related to the treatment of women and children, as well as to condemning and denying rights of those the committee is dedicated to protecting, from women and children to LGBTQ people.

 

Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation

A side event on Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation: UN Initiatives offered a panel of women speakers on topics such as investing financially in women and encouraging women to register patents, on employment pathways such as “African Girls Can Code,” and on other ways that women need to “redesign the table” rather than simply sue for inclusion. At that session, Chantal Line Carpentier of UNCTAD mentioned an important strategic report about our way forward to sustainability, written for the Club of Rome, October, 2018. The report lays out four pathways – “same,” “faster,” “harder and smarter,” and finally simply “smarter,” a much more compelling option.

Transformation is Feasible: How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

Excerpts from the executive summary:

This is the world’s first study – to our knowledge – on how to optimally achieve all SDGs within all PBs through an integrated Global System Model. We find that a piecemeal approach to attaining the goals sets up trade-offs and conflict among goals. The pursuit of each and all SDGs is necessary, but not sufficient to succeed in the longer run, and potentially even counterproductive. A transformational approach to SDG achievement is needed. The elements of this transformation are presented in our scenario 4) but further analysis and modelling are needed to support the necessary changes worldwide.

It seems necessary to implement transformational and extraordinary policy changes, in order to achieve near full success of SDGs within PBs. These policies need to go well beyond the conventional policy toolbox. …

2. Transformative change is possible, through five strategies that seem to be powerful ways to reach most SDGs within most PBs. The five measures are:

1) accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade,
2) accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains,
3) new development models in the poor countries,
4) unprecedented inequality reduction, and
5) investment in education for all, gender equality, health, family planning.

The choice is the simplest way we have found to achieve all SDGs both social and environmental. They represent five “leverage points” to intervene in the globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting the global system onto a new path in the decades ahead.

Women, Girls, and Families

Not all sessions are as rigorously intellectual; blessedly, for example, there was a parallel event on art as a tool for self-esteem and healing for girls in Rwanda and Haiti.

The Temple was also present at a strategy session with UN Women, where we learned of their forthcoming edition of Progress of the World’s Women (June 2019) which will focus on the theme of “Families in a Changing World.” Note that it is families plural, which indicates a feminist perspective that there are diverse forms of families, all of which need respect and support. It is anticipated that the data shows about 25% of families are currently in the “nuclear” model. Other family forms include single-headed households, multi-generational families (more than two generations), and family structures impacted by migration.

Interfaith Climate Advocacy at UNEA

At the same time as the CSW in New York City, the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) took place in Nairobi. Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi and Executive Director of UN Habitat opened the session:

“The theme of this Assembly – ‘Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production’ – is both timely and relevant. Changing today’s unsustainable consumption and production patterns, including through innovation and creative approaches, is essential if we are to succeed in tackling the mounting environmental challenges facing our world.”

You can review her statement and those by other opening plenary speakers, regional and political groups, and national statements online.

The interfaith presence was strong through our colleagues on the Parliament’s Climate Task Force. The TOU has been consulting with the Climate Task Force as it gains in strength.

 

TOU at the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women #CSW63

The Temple of Understanding presents
A 63rd Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event

Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 10:30am
Church Center for the United Nations, 10th floor
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

[DOWNLOAD FLYER]

Systemic Commitment Towards Peace, Justice and Transformation

This interactive panel will focus on pragmatic aspects of women’s empowerment and sustainable development. Speakers include Puerto Rican women working towards a citizen’s audit of the debt, a chaplain working on ratification of CEDAW in the US, and a former guerrilla now grandmother speaking on personal practices of peace. All aim to equip communities and individuals to create justice and transformation, with a focus on gender justice. Inspiration and perseverance are fostered by song and solidarity. We conclude by offering multiple avenues for engagement.

Speakers include:

  • Eileen Llorens and colleagues, activists for a Puerto Rican citizen’s audit
  • Katherine Power, spiritual practitioner for peace
  • Rev. Dionne Boissière, Chief Steward of the Church Center at the United Nations
  • Kristin Hoffman, musician and peace activist
  • Grove Harris, MDiv – Moderator and respondent, Temple of Understanding

Co-Sponsors

  • Temple of Understanding
  • Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconcilliation y Reconstrucion (SERR)
  • Loretto Community
  • Religions for Peace-USA
  • United Religions Initiative (URI)
  • Feminist Task Force

 

Biographical Information

Eileen Llorens is an activist in Puerto Rico working collaboratively with many women on projects such as the citizen’s debt audit.  She is also passionate about health care.  She will speak in person, along with her daughter, and colleagues will be included via Skype.  We are reaching out to NYC-based Puerto Rican activists to join the session to help build solidarity for this essential justice work.

 

Katherine Power uses her very public inner journey from the politics of rage toward the practices of peace to lead us in expanding our own vision.  Her practices guide us beyond our repetitive head-to-head struggles into all the ways that new things come into being and old orders are passed away.

She did not set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, she moved from protesting the war in Vietnam to waging guerilla war to overthrow the government. A bank robbery undertaken to finance this “revolution” resulted in the murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder. After fleeing and living as a fugitive for 23 years, she surrendered to authorities in 1993, pled guilty to armed robbery and manslaughter, and served six years in prison.

Katherine Power’s current spiritual work arises from Buddhist texts and Christian hymns, from a Muslim preacher and Jewish ritual traditions, from the indigenous and the postmodern, from rhododendron flowers that spoke and from ancient tales, from science, myth, archetypes, wisdom traditions, and the lived life.

 

Rev. Dionne Boissière serves as the chief steward of the Church Center at the United Nations, where she ensures that the Church Center provides sacred space, worship, hospitality, community services and a forum for partners and civil society to engage in transformative education that seeks to empower and build the things that make for peace.

Rev. Boissière is the first woman of African Descent to hold this significant position in the history of this New York ecumenical and inter-faith landmark. CCUN exists to expand the ecumenical community’s capacity and access to the United Nations in order to bring greater voice to the broad moral and ethical concerns of the church in international affairs, peacemaking and global advocacy. Owned and operated by United Methodist Women, it is the home to over 50 denominational offices, religious and secular non-governmental organizations that are commissioned to liaison with U.N. officials and governmental delegates.

 

Kristin Hoffmann is a Juilliard-trained multi-instrumentalist, with a transcendental ability to take audiences on a journey of deep awakening to Spirit.  Her music has been heard on major record labels, film and television, and she has performed throughout the world, collaborating with creative luminaries on projects ranging from individual albums to grand symphonic productions.

A strong advocate for peace and ocean conservation, Kristin has appeared internationally at environmental concerts and conventions: TEDx San Francisco, The Emoto Peace Project concert in Tokyo, the Unity Earth global event series, at the signing of The Fuji Declaration, and with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. In August 2016, the symphonic version of her “Song for the Ocean” was performed at Sydney Opera House by a choir of 800 Australian children. Kristin is the vocalist and keyboardist for the acclaimed show, BELLA GAIA, a multimedia theater experience created in conjunction with NASA.  She is an inductee of the group Evolutionary Leaders and an active board member of FIONS (Friends of Institute of Noetic Sciences). “My goal is to spread love, light, peace and awareness into the world through the vehicles of music and energetic frequency.”

 

Grove Harris, MDiv is an eco-justice and religious diversity educator and advocate who brings diverse grassroots perspectives to an international agenda. She currently serves as Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding, where she has developed justice initiatives related to food sovereignty, human right to water, interfaith education, and women’s initiatives in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Grove was Consulting Producer for the short film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty, and Eco-Justice (2016), in which she is featured along with other speakers on women’s initiatives and food justice. Her past positions include Program Director for the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions and Managing Director for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School (1996) incorporated studies of organizational development and business management into the study of religion and ethics.

 


The Fifth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

Friday, March 15, 2019, 4:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

 


Conversations on Social Cohesion:
Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership

Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 12:30pm
UNFPA 5th Floor, Orange Cafe
605 3rd Avenue, NY
RSVP by March 15 to karam@unfpa.org


 

Standing against the Muslim Ban

The Temple of Understanding joins colleagues in horror over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban targeting Muslims. This is so outrageous that we all need to voice our objection to the court’s blatant Islamophobia. We agree with dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor that this is “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”

The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign of the Islamic Networks Group writes:

This decision sets a dangerous precedent by upholding a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries for religious discrimination. [link]

They call on the interfaith community to increase interfaith engagement, dialogue with our neighbors, engagement with Muslims and their faith, and coming together to uphold our values, including respect for “the principle of justice, religious liberty, and equality in word and deed.”

The Tanenbaum Center’s blog post “The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next?” links to their resources for countering religious extremism.

Valarie Kaur, Esq., founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, writes:

History will remember this decision as among the most shameful rulings in the history of the Supreme Court: It upholds a ban that indefinitely separates U.S. citizens from their Muslim families. It sends a message to the world that America will discriminate against entire groups of people based on their faith. It emboldens the Trump administration to continue policies that enact cruelty, racism and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees at the border and our airports. [link]

She reminds us to reach out, march, vote; Breathe and Push.

URI Community Responds to Supreme Court Travel Ban and offers ways to resist:

The best way to resist the harmful, isolating effects of fear and division is by reaching out and making a human connection. We suggest taking actions, such as:

  • Reach out to comfort a friend or colleague from a community targeted by this ban.
  • Raise your voice on social media.
  • Join with others in your community to demand policy change and show public support for Muslim families.

Photo: Steve Helber/The Associated Press

Citizens’ Debt Audit for Puerto Rico

From Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:

I have enjoyed meeting some awesome activists from Puerto Rico who are organizing a historic citizen’s debt audit. Puerto Rico is crippled by debt, some of which is illegal, and all of which needs to be transparent in its sources, expenses, and uses.  

Organizers write that “Citizens debt audits have been conducted in over 18 countries, including Brazil, France and Argentina, and these audits have produced concrete results without government participation. “

Their brochure lists irregularities and illegalities, including violations of the constitution, conflict of interest, excessive profiting, false representation, omission of risk factors and lack of legal authorization.

“Many PR creditors are hedge fund and US financial speculators, who bought bonds cheaply for as little as 5 cents but insist on a total re-payment – some for a return of investment of 1,900%! These are abusive profits for unscrupulous speculative investors in exchange for our public services.”

The video on their website is powerfully inspiring. with diverse citizens calling for debt audit NOW. 

http://www.auditoriaya.org/english/

The debt crisis, which includes “harsh austerity measures to ensure payment for a legally dubious public debt”, is a human rights issue, as is the environmental pollution, exploitation and privatization.

It is my privilege to listen to courageous women tackling systemic problems, and my responsibility to share their model towards real change, and the request to support it.

#CSW62 – 2018 Commission on the Status of Women

Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:

As always, this year’s CSW was intense and complex. The Temple of Understanding’s sessions were highly successful, and we anticipate sharing video from the panel in the near future.  A hallmark of the Temple’s spiritual work is joining heart, body and mind, and learning deeply from the wide array of international speakers inside and outside of the UN. 

Our CSW speaker Dr Veena Adige with two generations of her family and executive director Alison Van Dyk. One secret to a good panel is gathering beforehand to share refreshments and get to know each other personally.

 

Dr Veena Adige, our panelist from India, described CSW62 as follows:

The Kaleidoscope of the thousands of women who attended the CSW62 revealed that women the world over have similar problems, solutions and thinking. The energy, the excitement and exchange of ideas can be transformed into a better world for all. Though women who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of being left behind, the 50-50 in 2030 can soon become a reality. I saw that there was no discrimination among the delegates, there were instant friendships made, business contacts fixed and future plans made. There was laughter in the cafes in the UN but pin drop silence during the sessions. Temple of Understanding certainly paved the way to better understanding of people and situations. I enjoyed the whole program.

 

Listening to women peacemakers, who struggle for lasting peace based on justice.

 

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) holds introductory and strategy sessions when so many women members from around the world are in NYC for the CSW.

 

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk reported that:

There were two main concerns from women around the world at the CSW parallel events this year: the persistent practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] and the trafficking of young women. What I heard in workshop after workshop was like a déjà vu of the UN Woman’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 but with the uncomfortable realization that things have gotten worse, not better. It is criminal that women are still being subjected to the dangerous practice of FGM and that worldwide, women have to put up with a nightmarish situation of sexual abuse, condoned and coordinated by a cartel that is lethal and spans the globe.  Non-profit organizations are valiantly trying to stop these horrific conditions, but their work feels like a mere drop in the bucket. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why has this gotten so out of control?  

 

The assassination of City Council member Marielle Franco of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the CSW brought home again the need to defend our women human rights defenders around the globe.

Listening to Emilia Reyes after her meeting with the Philippine Mission. We protested the listing of activists as terrorists, and the government listened.

 

Our colleagues report on successful negotiations inside the UN. Using “family” allows for diversity and is generally much broader than “the family,” which implies a stereotypical nuclear family. This was a huge win in the negotiations. Conservative groups also reported success because sexual orientation language was dropped from the outcome document. Multilateral negotiations are battles of strategy and compromise.

Good friends Sakena Yacoobi and Audrey Kitagawa after the memorial service. It’s so important to have time and space to share values, pain, memories and spirit.

 

Peaceful protest is a civil responsibility and an act of solidarity.

 

The experience of coming to CSW is empowering for many women. Louisa Eikhomun, the Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa, writes in detail of her experience, and commends Women Thrive Alliance for making it possible for grassroots women to attend and raise their concerns. 

Photos by Grove Harris

#MarchForOurLives – Photos from NYC

The NYC March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 was huge, lively and both festive and serious. So many young people, and people of all ages, came together affirming life and demanding change in the U.S. gun culture and laws. Many called for a ban on assault weapons for civilians.

I spoke with a veteran watching on the side of the march who was dismayed to see the NRA characterized as a terrorist organization, although he agreed that their marketing tactics were problematic. He thought the polarized communications on both sides needed to be toned down. In this age of social media tweets, texts, and massive personal data harvesting and manipulation, we still need to talk to people one on one about our differences of opinion.

–Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

Sisters in the streets.

 

Marching was a family affair.

 

Veterans for Peace show up everywhere.

 

Values on display.

 

Root cause and solution.

 

Clarity.

 

A religious voice.

 

Values called out.

 

Friends marching in NYC.

 

Grandparents backing up the youth.

 

Calling on men.

 

“Enough” in Hebrew.

 

All photos by Grove Harris.

Women of Faith Speaking to Structural Change: Empowering Rural Women #CSW62

The Temple of Understanding presents
A 62nd Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event

Monday, March 12, 2018, 8:30 – 10:00 AM
Armenian Convention Center
630 Second Avenue, Guild Hall, New York City

Women of Faith Speaking to Structural Change:
Empowering Rural Women

This panel will address systemic problems and solutions that impact rural women and their urban counterparts. Access to education, to decent food, to land and other resources, including safety and respect, profoundly impact women’s enjoyment of human rights. The roots of sex trafficking, of violence against women, and the threats to (and murder of) women frontline human and environmental rights defenders are “cross-cutting” concerns; the panel will focus on solutions and solidarity.

Panelists reflect from their diverse faith perspectives on root causes and systemic change and on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Speakers include:

  • Donna Bollinger – Executive Director, RFP-USA
  • Dr. Veena Adige – Advocate for Education for Rural Girls, India
  • Dr. Angela Reed, RSM – Coordinator, Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN
  • Grove Harris, MDiv – Moderator and respondent, Temple of Understanding

Co- Sponsors

  • Temple of Understanding
  • United Religions Initiative
  • Mining Working Group
  • Religions for Peace USA

Biographical Information

Dr. Veena Adige is a journalist who worked as Assistant Editor of an English newspaper and later as Associate Editor of a fortnightly English magazine. She currently freelances for several magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four books and six ebooks.

She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Science and Mass Communications, two post graduate degrees in Public Administration and Linguistics and a Doctorate in Philosophy.

Deeply interested in women and children, she works with an English medium unaided school in a rural area near Mumbai, India, which caters to children of seven villages around. The school has 430 children, forty percent are girls. She is on the committee of the school and organizes social and extracurricular activities for the children, and participates in the meetings where decisions regarding the school are made. She organizes free medical (dental and eye camps) programs for the children, has initiated an activity whereby the children of the school interact with the senior citizens of an Old Age Home nearby. Also she visits the rural areas often to meet the people whose children are in the school to find out the difficulties, the problems and the challenges they and their children face. Through the school efforts go on to develop women, especially the rural girls. The school lays stress on giving the girl child opportunities for growth and development, making her equal to her urban counterparts.

The school was started as just a preprimary school when children had to be literally coaxed into coming to school, and it is now a full-fledged school, the first batch of SSC students (Tenth standard) appearing for their Board Exams in March 2018. She was in the committee when the school was in the preprimary stage and was conducted in the ground floor rooms of a hospital. Now the school building is a three storied one with more than four hundred students. Dr. Adige brought out two school magazines called EXPRESSIONS in 2016 and 2017 (as Editor), which give the activities of the school in detail.
Dr. Adige was responsible for starting a Children’s club in Nagpur, the only one in the world to have more than 25,000 children as members which is mentioned in the Limca Book of Records.

She has written several articles on women and children and participated in discussions, programs relating to them and was on the panel of child adoption when she was in Nagpur. She researched extensively on social worker Baba Amte who gave home to leprosy affected people and physically challenged ones when leprosy was a dreaded disease and has won several awards like the Magsaysay, Templeton, besides Gandhi Peace Prize, Padmabhushan, Padmavibhushan etc. And wrote a book on him for which the Ph.D degree was awarded in 2017 by the Zoroastrian University.

Dr. Adige’s husband, formerly a top executive, is also now in the field of social work and the school management. Her children are well settled. Her daughter lives in the USA and son lives in Mumbai, each with their families.

 

Donna Bollinger, Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA, has more than two decades of nonprofit leadership and development including faith based work in 36 countries. Born in rural western North Carolina, Donna has lived on the East Coast from Miami to Boston, as well as in Mexico, Morocco, and Switzerland. Working and living with those of diverse faith and cultures created a passion for religious liberty that welcomes those from all faiths and traditions to engage in dialogue and grow in mutual respect, understanding, and common vision. From grassroots community organizing to participating in White House consultations, Donna is comfortable in and understands the need for action and involvement from the local to the national level. Her demonstrated commitment to interfaith understanding and cooperation combined with a Master of Divinity and experience in financial management and grant acquisition has prepared her to fulfill the mission and needs of Religions for Peace USA.

Early in her career Donna served as a staff member for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and then the Ecumenical Gathering of Youth and Young Adults based in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the World Council of Churches. Here in the United States, Donna has worked extensively with Haitian, Hispanic, and Hmong communities. She has used her background in education and community development to address the challenges of public health, economic development, and interfaith cooperation.

Born and raised in the rural south, Donna served as a delegated to the White House Consultation on RAW – Rural American Women. With a commitment to the issues and needs of Rural Women both in the USA and abroad, Donna created and built Native Grace, a fair trade resource and retail center promoting just wages, the rights of women and children, and economic development.

Donna is a graduate and merit scholar of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors in education from East Carolina University.

 

Grove Harris, MDiv is an eco-justice and religious diversity educator and advocate who brings diverse grassroots perspectives to an international agenda. She currently serves as Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding, where she has developed justice initiatives related to food sovereignty, human right to water, interfaith education, and women’s initiatives in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Grove was Consulting Producer for the short film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty, and Eco-Justice (2016), in which she is featured along with other speakers on women’s initiatives and food justice. Her past positions include Program Director for the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions and Managing Director for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School (1996) incorporated studies of organizational development and business management into the study of religion and ethics.

 

Dr. Angela Reed, RSM is the current Coordinator at the Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN Office. Dr. Reed is a graduate of RMIT University’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, in Melbourne, Australia where she completed her PhD on Human Trafficking. While living in the Philippines, her research focused on giving voice to Filipino women who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Over the years she has integrated her professional background in education, social work and theology to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to research, service provision and public advocacy. Her primary research interest is on gendered violence and in particular human trafficking.

Through this intimate knowledge of the women’s lived experience, Dr. Reed co-edited the book I Have A Voice: Trafficked Women – In Their Own Words and proposed a new paradigm, the “life course” approach. She recommends a preventative approach to human trafficking in which 17 “optimal life course conditions” (OLCCs) are taken into account for protection, promotion, and development, in an effort to strengthen individuals and help make them less vulnerable to being trafficked. She has presented her research and developments at conferences; workshops; public lectures; UN events; embassies; and keynote addresses, including “What is the OLCC Approach, and how does it relate to efforts underway to prevent human trafficking” at a one-day workshop to begin formulating a comprehensive action-framework to prevent human trafficking organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame.

Prior to her research, Dr. Reed was a part time lecturer for the Master of Social Work courses at RMIT University and coordinator at a women’s safe house in Melbourne, Australia. She managed ’Mercy Care” a women’s safe house for 7 years where she encountered many women and children who were experiencing violence and abuse. Additionally, Dr. Reed was awarded with a Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Fellowship in 2008 where she was one of fifteen Australian leaders chosen from business, government, and community.

In 2015, Dr. Reed took up a role as Resident at the UN MIA Global Action office in New York and was appointed a three-year position as the Coordinator at the UN Mercy Global Action office in March of 2017.

 

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty – Presentation by Grove Harris

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018

Denise Scotto, Esq., Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative; Grove Harris, MDiv, Temple of Understanding; and Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd

 

Presentation by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations, Temple of Understanding

Thank you for the invitation to join this panel.

So much is interconnected in all the sustainable development goals, and the eradication of poverty requires efforts on many fronts.  My colleague Winifred Doherty has laid out efforts within the UN over years, with treaties and agreements.  Our convener Denise Scotto has affirmed the value of action from all. We each can act, and act now. All of the Temple of Understanding’s work contributes towards a common welfare where we all have enough. 

Ecological Justice is crucial – we all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and health free from chemical affronts, including pesticides.

Food Sovereignty speaks to local control over agriculture and food, including seeds and methods of production.  We call for a shift towards earth-centered politics and economics, and collective restraint of corporate exploitation.

The Human Right to Water requires an ongoing struggle to protect and increase community control and prevent exploitation and privatization of water, a common (and sacred) good.

Interfaith Education is important to regain curiosity and respect for our neighbors, and counter the “othering” that impoverishes our communities, our psyches, and our world.

Peacemaking, which practically defined requires food, water, and health, is crucial for ending poverty.  War only profits the arms manufacturers, and it devastates communities and the environment.

Women’s Initiatives are essential, as women are much more likely to be impoverished, along with their children, and gender justice can begin to redress this, for the good of the entire community. Poverty brings intense vulnerability and is systemic.

How can we get at the heart of systems and act for real change?

  • We need to break up concentrated wealth.
  • We need to focus on community flourishing.
  • We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
  • We need to protect frontline human rights defenders.
  • We need to act, aligning our spirit, our hearts, and hands.

We need to break up concentrated wealth.

The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few is strangling the opportunities of communities.  Redistribution is key, through creative changes in the system. Some examples (U.S. based) provide some hope for real change:

How about free higher education? In California, this could be funded by reinstating the state’s estate tax on wealth over 3.5 million.  This idea has been put forth by Chuck Collins in Common Dreams.

How about reclaiming the markets for debt? The Occupy Movement has been buying up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, freeing people with major illness from devastating debt burdens, and then asking them to contribute towards freeing the next person.  Can we do the same for educational debt?  What about Puerto Rico, where one man in Boston bought up most of the country’s debt for pennies on the dollar, investing for “profit” (in this case greed) rather than shared prosperity?

How about holding corporations responsible for contributing to climate change?  For example, New York City is suing the top five oil companies to recoup damages from super storm Sandy, holding them responsible for climate impacts and their prior knowledge of environmental damage. NYC is also moving to divest.

How about holding governments responsible? Youth are suing the U.S federal government in courts – and winning – over their right to a future without environmental degradation, and government’s neglect in not protecting that.

How about shinning more light on the lengthy and slow work at the United Nations in Geneva towards an international legally binding treaty for corporate responsibility for Human Rights? 

We need to focus on community flourishing.

Daniel Perell spoke of community flourishing in the opening statement he delivered on behalf of the NGO Committee for Social Development. Clearly, we must shift from individualism and defining success by profit for the few.  Our individual struggles must be collective ones, ending poverty on a community basis, with goods and services circulating locally as well as nationally and internationally, in ways that distribute technology and leap frog towards more environmental sustainability, while supporting local strength and advancement. Cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based service delivery systems must be enhanced.  Re-localizing agriculture is essential, along with other service provisions. For example, in the U.S. the crisis of care for dementia is beginning to be addressed by locally based, free caregiver support systems.  There is great need, and so great opportunity, and it can be approached in collective, supportive, grassroots ways.

Access to world markets and goods, technology and capital essential for economic miracles must be tempered by human rights, by full cycle design and upcycling. Community prosperity is key, and governments must benefit from the prospering of business, not just subsidize that private prosperity.  Protection of the risks of entrepreneurs and investors must be tempered – the most vulnerable suffer risks every day without protection.  We need social systems where no one is expendable and protection is available to all, from investors to the most vulnerable.

Riki Ott, who served the Alaskan community after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, found herself very useful, with her academic training in oceanography and the accompanying patience for reports and intellectual work, to the community of fisher people.  Her legal work brought financial rewards to the community, but those funds brought challenges of divisiveness and opportunity for some but not for all.  Her ongoing work to bring oil companies to task for the risks they run that inevitably lead to catastrophes and costs born by the environment and communities includes reaching out to law students, to train them to bring cases against all businesses that have not follow the due diligence laws already on the books.  Many do not have legally mandated emergency response plans and means in place.  In this sense, legal remedy for poverty looks like holding businesses accountable to existing laws, and can include work against the dark economy and illicit avoidance of taxation, profiteering drug and arms trading etc.

Poverty is not strictly economic – it can be cultural. Lack of human compassion, of human touch, and of welcoming community are part of what drive isolation and economic insanity.  People who survive eating sugar rather than real food, by being fed on advertizing rather than information or literature, shopping to fill holes in heart and soul, being driven to drugs rather than more balanced lifestyles, are impoverished. They are vulnerable to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, struggling without community solutions to problems that cannot be managed by individuals or nuclear families in isolation. We cannot face powerlessness alone, and in coming together with others we can discover some power and flourish in community.

Indigenous peoples are fighting around the globe to protect sacred lands and sacred waters.  They honor their spiritual commitments and interconnectedness and resist in community.  I watched live web cast of native people at Standing Rock facing water cannons at night in the freezing cold of winter, protecting their sacred waters, which also protected the entire watershed and the water used by everyone downstream.  While these people may not have the means to afford material comforts, they have a richness that cannot be denied.

We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”

There is much eager talk about partnerships to achieve the SDGs, and usually meaning between corporations and governments.  There is very little discussion of the dynamics of partnerships and the differing interests and accountabilities of the parties.  Corporations serve their shareholders via profit, and governments sometimes serve their citizens and other times serve their financial backers. In our interconnected world, none of this happens in a vacuum.

Dictionary definitions can lift up multiple layers of meaning.

Partner – one that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or sphere of common interest, especially a member of a business partnership or a spouse (emphasis added). Middle English, alteration of parcener.  Partner implies equal status.

 

Partnership is a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.  Mutual cooperation and responsibility is mentioned.

 

Parcener – (coparcener) one of two or more persons sharing an inheritance, a joint heir (emphasis added).

 

(All excerpted from the American Heritage Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 2000)

 

Our business partnerships can be subject to the same abuses that marriage partnerships sometimes involve.  Business needs more than capital and labor – all extractive industries take from the earth without replenishment. Natural resources are depleted – a common inheritance is taken from the public domain and misused as an invisible part of the model, for private profit.

Clearly there are large costs to be anticipated in negotiating major contractual partnerships, and globally a track record of dismal results from megaprojects and water privatization schemes.  And the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the American dollar does not protect our common inheritance of clean and accessible water, or clean air or clean soil.

Protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.

Legal mechanisms continue to be developed, and it is a cutting edge question as to how international human rights law can effectively protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.  Note the diplomatic sentence on page 10 of the NGO Mining Working Group Water guide, “There are significant gaps in existing national and international legal frameworks for pursuing accountability against transnational corporations for human rights abuses.” We must remain cognizant that many front line defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice.  For example, Berta Caceres of Honduras was murdered after numerous death threats for her work defending a watershed against a dam project. Her international recognition with a Goldman environmental prize did not save her life. And outrage over her murder did not save the life of others in her organization, murdered within the year.

What has been effective in this case has been the lobbying of the investors in the dam, who have withdrawn their funds.  Hopefully legislation introduced in the US House will have some impact, prohibiting funds for Honduras police and military. H.R. 5474, The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is held up in committee; it outlines a set of measures and is available online. Similarly, a second bill H.R. 1299, March 2, 2017 seeks to protect front line activists and farmers who have been murdered defending their water and land.

The Women’s Major Group has developed a method of highlighting these tragic deaths at UN conferences. A group of women put tape over their mouths, and as the names of those murdered defending water and land are read, a woman pulls of the tape and says “presente”.  This is an attempt to bring voice to the voiceless, and call for necessary change on violations of the rule of law. May all of us remember the impacts on the ground of the issues debated here at the United Nations.

I have colleagues in the room who regularly refer to their congregations around the globe to find out how they might usefully shine a light on human rights abuses.  There are times when such attention might further endanger the lives of those on the front lines.  There’s a useful manual about how to appropriately engage in solidarity.  For those of us lifting up the stories of others, it’s about respecting their circumstances and their wishes, and not making the story about ourselves.  We need to keep the focus our mutual concerns, which are the water and land and their preservation for this and future generations.

In conclusion, we are called to act.

We need to act, aligning our spirit, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet.

  • Be alert to ‘fake’ language that covers over privatization that will benefit the few at the expense of the community.
  • Use U.N. mechanisms to support calls for action at local levels.
  • Lobby funders of development projects that are trampling on human rights.
  • Fund effective interventions like self-defense training for girls and self-respect training for boys.
  • Collaborate with those more in the know. Religious activists can work with local community experts and with global advocacy experts.
  • Plan on grief, my own and others’. We need to support each other and understand that anger may be a response to grief.  
  • Align our values and passion with action.
  • Welcome others to this work.
  • Own our own vulnerability. Avoid rigid defenses, to be able to respond rather than react to ongoing assaults.
  • Take Sabbath time, meditation time, and prayer time to help renew, refresh, and maintain clear focus.
  • Each of us can own whatever privilege we have, and strategize about how to use it.
  • Listen. Listen. To the Earth, to children, to the sacred.  And to other people.