Waiting for death, with no help from the church

March 2, 2009 at 12:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Fulata Moyo

Fulata Moyo

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women is discussing caregiving in the context of AIDS.  This theme is not well understood – and incredibly unequal because women are almost always the ones who care for the sick. Yesterday I heard Fulata Moyo from Malawi and the World Council of Churches talk about losing her sister to AIDS and her husband to cancer.   She focused on lack of care for the caregiver, unpredictable wait for death, and the use of sacred texts to maintain widowhood. What impresses me is that after her husbands death – she went around and told churches how to better care for the caregivers…

When people from the church came to visit me they only said that God would heal my husband.  The church told me over and over that God will heal him.   I did not want to tamper with that so I prayed day and night and did not sleep.  I was giving care to my husband but I also needed care.  Some Christian fundementalists visited the bedside and told me there were symbols on my outfit that were demonic so I burned that outfit.  I loved that outfit.

After he died the church people told me that God was my husband.  But after 6 months I had physical needs.  These are issues women face and they will not talk about it.  I asked my pastor, so God is my husband, what can I do? Our male pastors do not know what pastoral care for women is.  Most women do not talk about this but I do because I am one of the crazy ones.   If I had had daughters they would not have gone to school during this time because you also have to care for all the visitors that come to see the patient.  Praying was seen as the only way to be supportive, if the spirit was OK then the body was OK.  But I needed someone to cook the food.

After he died I went around and talked to churches in the region and shared my experience and called for a greater commitment to pastoral counseling.  My advice to people who are with someone who is dying:  ‘if you don’t have wisdom keep quiet, and don’t talk to a widow about being a husband of god.’

SMS and awareness raising about the African Women’s Rights Protocol

March 5, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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African Women’s Protocol

Though I am a few years late reporting this, I was excited to learn that women used an SMS campaign that spanned Africa to get governments to ratify the African Women’s Protocol of Rights. Though it took eight years of negotiation to create the protocol, now ratified by 23 out of 53 African countries– the real challenge remains getting the word out.

The protocol is significant because it is able to address cultural and traditional practices specific to Africa, such as polygamy, female genital mutilation (FGM), land ownership, and sexual cleansing. But once the protocol was written, the struggle for implementation and awareness was just beginning. It received significant media coverage, but to reach grassroots women, community organizers used flip charts to explain to women that they have rights.

“Assisting women to demand the rights of the protocol is challenging because most women are not literate. We have to ensure every woman knows about the protocol, it is a big issue,” said Rose Gawaya, Oxfam Global Gender Adviser, speaking to the Commission on the Stats of Women.

Oxfam has even conducted a study of awareness levels about the protocol since it entered into force in 2004.

The charter is gaining traction in some countries legal systems. In Zambia, the Protocol has been used to implement a new policy that requires 30% of advertised land to go to women in title.

Still, educating women parliamentarians about the protocol and the importance of rights policies for women is urgently needed. Even when women have political power, it does not mean they can enforce their rights.

In Mozambique, where 92 out of 252 parliamentarians are women, a bill on violence against women has been stalled in the legislature for one year. According to women advocates, no one is supporting it, and the women in power in the parliament do not have enough power to influence processes.

Many women’s rights advocates have the protocol at the center of their work, using it as a catalyst for policy change and teaching about human rights. “This is a tool that can be used in national development strategies because it is a legitimate tool for governments, but it was created by women’s movement and articulates struggles of domestic violence and widowhood,” said Gawaya.

Empowering women with technology, not UN negotiations

March 4, 2008 at 1:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This week 3,000 women are in town in New York for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.   They come from all ends of the earth, Liberia, Mauritius, India, Poland.  They cram into conference rooms and scramble to lobby their government representatives about negotiated documents about gender equality.  It is one of the few times every year that the world shows up on the UN doorstep to remind it what it is here for.  It is a beautiful, if not frustrating, chaos.  

This year I find myself wanting to pull these women out into a quiet office and show them just what the internet has to offer.  Instead of hosting a workshop on preparing for the Doha development round I feel like hosting a meeting on how to use WordPress.   I could call it “how to build a free website in thirty minutes.”  I think it would be a huge hit.  You can check out a professional looking website I did using a wordpress template for the Ecumenical Women coalition.  

 As a recent student of digital communications, I am discovering an entirely new internet.   You can learn anything on free webinars and blogs, you just know how to look.   At Eslgold you can take free web tutorials to learn english,  at Shuffweb you can teach yourself photoshop and simple design.   Need to get some people power?  How about having an international meeting over MSN chat, or learn how to organize people with SMS text messages using MobileActiv.   A woman’s peace group could watch the Security Council debate Sudan on a UN webcast, or I could listen to an entire plenary of conferences I could not attend, such as AWID’s conference on money and movements last year in Mexico.   Through the Global Youth Coalition on AIDS, I could take an online course on fundraising for youth projects.  

When I realize how much self-teaching is possible on the internet, I feel even more urgently concerned that only 20% of the world has access.   It makes me want to design a sort of development toolbox browser.   Many websites might think they are doing that, but I argue they are bogged down with information, and that the people who need them the most don’t know they exist.    

 Half the battle is changing attitudes and promoting web literacy.  Many people use the web in the same way every day; they are not going to pick up their free Skype phone until they see someone else doing it.  But even if my dream toolbox existed, it would still be a struggle to get the word out.  When analysts track reasons people in Global South use the web, they find that they go to websites to read about celebrities, send messages to their friends, or play games.   

But the UN CSW would be a good place to start.  We have to take the webtools to where the women are.  They are not going to come to a technology conference.  But they will come to a women’s rights conference, and we should meet them there.  

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