2020 Watchword for Unity Women’s Desk:
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Psalm 25:16
How are Moravian Sisters working for Women’s Human Rights?
Greetings from the Unity Women's Desk in this season of Advent – anticipating the birth of Christ – full of hope and joy. Preparing to receive God’s gift of pure grace and love.
We are also in the lesser-known “season” of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence – working for justice on earth– full of pain and conviction. Humbly aware that earthly justice requires our work and God’s grace. Many of our Sisters around the world participate in this seasonal campaign that begins each year on Nov 25 and ends with International Human Rights Day on December 10.
“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18: 1-8
This parable, read as a call to demand justice for the vulnerable, was part of a Bible Study shared at a 25-hour Women’s Human Rights Advocacy Training session I recently attended on ZOOM, with Sisters Mary Kategile (Tanzania) and Colleen Cunningham (South Africa), both sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, Sisters Ruth Stephenson (Jamaica), Ana Maria Huaman Davila (Peru), sponsored by UWD, and 50 other women and men. The training provided us with tools to listen more carefully to those who have been marginalized and to empower them to speak for themselves. We will use the perspectives and tools we learned in this training to prepare the program for our Unity Women’s Consultation in 2022. Sisters Kategile and Cunningham have already used the material from these Human Rights training to provide workshops in Moravian communities in Tanzania and South Africa, and we hope to share them throughout the Unity.
What are Human Rights? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified Dec. 10, 1948, identifies five: Right to Equality, Freedom from Discrimination, Right to Life, Liberty, and Personal Security, Freedom from Slavery, Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment. All UWD Focus areas, including education, health, and overcoming poverty, but most urgently the issue of violence against women/gender based violence, address these basic rights. These are not “women’s issues,” but human rights issues that disproportionately impact women, and they align with our mission and our ministry to empower Moravian women. Right now - in 2020 - we have specific opportunities to keep young girls from being married off. Child marriage is recognized as a human rights violation, and one of our Moravian secondary schools in Tanzania is keeping a group of young Maasai girls in school so their families won't marry them. But the girls need scholarships to continue in school. A German foundation has provided scholarships for about 40 of these girls, but another 10 girls are still in need of sponsors.
Moravians have long worked for justice and human rights, and we can learn much from those already advocating for are marginalized in their communities. I am honored to share with you here the voices of a few Sisters currently standing with survivors and communities hurt by femicide, domestic abuse, isolation, child marriage, teen pregnancies, and unequal access to education and employment. These voices are from Peru, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa but could easily be from the USA or Europe. Each shares pain made worse by the pandemic, as well as hope in Christ. Each shares a conviction that we can alleviate suffering now and God calls us to do this. Finally, each expresses an urgent need to bring men into conversations that have often been whispered among women and to educate all children about their own human rights.
Rev. Ana Maria Huaman of Peru reflects on the Women’s Human Rights Training
“I thank the UWD for the opportunity to participate in this special training and that I am now part of this community. It is difficult for us as Latin American women to talk about this issue in the churches because we live in a macho society. In Peru, we have laws that support women, but they are not enforced. We even have a women's ministry, but cases of femicide still increase. That is our greatest concern and struggle as church leaders. This training reinforces and enhances my knowledge and skills on women´s human rights advocacy. I also learned about two important centers helping women in violence here in Peru. I’m happy to get in touch with Ofelia and Eva from The Lutheran Church and work together in the future. Many women in the church are afraid to report or talk about abuse because they hope God will solve the problem and they do not accept that there are also laws and authorities. Many leaders tell them not to report and that the husband will change. Our challenge as leaders is to help them and bring them to support centers. Our concern is we don´t have enough shelters for so many abused women and girls. We must say NO to mistreatment, beatings, insults, sexual harassment, threats, indifference to violations. We have a lot to do to change our culture and mind. Sister Ana Maria is a teacher, pastor, and UWD Provincial Coordinator in Peru. The UWD is eager to help connect our Sisters to local organizations already working in their communities.
Winston-Salem Congregations -Learning how we can help Eliminate Violence in our Community.
Above: Ann Radford of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC delivers a carload of personal items for women seeking shelter. 10 congregations collected 5 full cars of supplies.
October was National Domestic Violence Awareness month in the USA, and the UWD invited staff from a local shelter to lead a ZOOM discussion about domestic violence locally and how Moravians can help. 10 congregations then collected supplies for women staying at the shelter; they often escape dangerous situations with no time to pack. Our South African Sisters shared a similar project on Facebook and inspired us to do the same here. The UWD Back Porch Booking group also read the book No Visible Bruises to get a broader understanding of domestic violence. We were thrilled Sister Angelene Swart from South Africa joined our discussion, and she and several other women have started a discussion group in Cape Town, as she shares below. Sister Colleen Cunningham, UWD Sub-Desk Coordinator for South Africa, also organized a series of ZOOM events (see flyer above) for the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and invited speakers from the Women Human Rights training we had attended together.
SHADOW CONVERSATIONS by Angelene Swart
Above: The first "Shadow Conversations" meeting.
We, Lettice, Eleanor and Angelene, were greatly concerned about the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our women in South Africa and gathered information to assist women’s groups to be more involved, especially during the recovery period after the pandemic, in the protection and prevention of gender-based violence and the demoralizing consequences thereof for women. We realised that Women will have to stand with women more than ever before. The strict regulations put in place during the lockdown to contain the spread were necessary to save lives. Unfortunately our country, with her severe inequalities, was not well prepared for the backlash of lockdown regulations, especially regarding children and women. For a family with extended family members, restriction of movement, extended isolation in a single room, not enough food, no running water or toilet is beyond a nightmare, especially for women who also had to care for her children. Women were at high risk of being abused with no recourse to assistance as they had little or no access to socio-health care facilities or safe shelters during lockdown. Women could not go to work and thus had no income and were trapped in a situation of persistent abuse[…]Our silence has huge implications for the next generation. For us it was time to stop talking about GBV and femicide and take action. Enough is enough.
What action did we take? We gathered information from local NGO’s, newspapers, media, United Nations, WHO and interviewed individuals. We wrote up our findings. We sent a proposal to our Moravian Christian Education Department on an Anti Gender-Based-Violence programme and we are planning to present workshops with our Seminary. We started a book reading/conversations group “Shadow Conversations” on this issue to spread awareness, as GBV is seen as a shadow pandemic of Covid-19 pandemic. Participants proposed we also invite men, plan workshops, and continue the book. Our prayer is that this small beginning will not remain in the shadows but that our conversations will make a difference in the life of women. Sister Angelene is an Instructor at the Moravian Seminary in SA and founding member UWD Advisory Board.
A quick dance to wake everyone up and lift spirits is always a good idea. Above - the Shadow Conversations women doing the Jerusalema Challenge.
A BRIEF Report OF THE ACTIVITIES WE DID AT THE LICHIDE ORGANIZATION in Tanzania.
Above: Sister Peregia of Rukwa Tanzania shares her experience volunteering with the LICHIDE organization in Rukwa to eliminate violence against women and children. Second from left in the back row - visiting a school.
From Nov 9 to Nov 13, 2020 we visited 9 wards in the Rukwa region to look at MTAKUWWA (National Strategy for the Control of Violence of Women and Children) committees established by the Prime Minister in Dodoma in 2018 to reduce violence in the country. These committees are located at the ward and village level to provide education on violence against and abuse of women and children and to receive reports of women and children who have been abused and assist with any problems. In all 9 wards we visited children in schools who have anti-violence clubs. These children have been educated on anti-violence practices and they teach their peers to resist acts of violence in various ways like songs, slogans and dramas.
This project was adopted following a national survey on violence; Rukwa is the third nationally in terms of violence against women being beaten and abandoned and children being raped, child marriages, teenage pregnancies). The whole community can protest against acts of violence and track victims and help them with access to health, educational and legal services and if possible they get help finding the people who committed the atrocity. During this trip I learned a lot about how to be physically, mentally, psychologically and economically supportive of women and children. If I get the chance, I would like to join them in another new generation project to help low-income women and poor households to grow their economy. By Rev. PERAGIA LUDOVICK KINYONTO Moravian Pastor and UWD Scholarship recipient 2019
MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME IN TURKANA COUNTY by Ceci Tesh (Kenya)
Sister Ceci Tesh recently accepted an invitation to visit a remote village and explore ways to help the young girls there:
Turkan County in the former rift valley province is the second largest county geographically in the northwest of Kenya. Our main focus was a small village where we attended meetings with adults, youth and children in a newly established Church. In this village, the boy child is meant to take care of livestock while girls fall in early marriages at a tender age since they are seen as a source of wealth; this has led to the decline of growth and development of the area. We encountered a worrying situation whereby girls use goat skin as sanitary towels while others use absolutely nothing for protection. Other girls are not familiar with the menstrual cycle.These children have no access to education and the nearby school is in Lordwar which is 40km away thus bringing fear to the parents letting their girl to go.
Sister Ceci serves the Ray of Hope School with her husband Michael. She is in her second year at university earning her teaching certification, with a scholarship from the Unity Women’s Desk. She asks for continued prayers as she hopes to return to this village around Christmas.
My story of being knocked down, but not knocked out by Covid-19
(from employed to unemployed)
One of the unfortunate truths of the pandemic is that it has closed or severely restricted many organizations dedicated to protecting and serving victims and survivors of violence, precisely when they are most needed. Sister Judy-Rose Cyster, a dedicated human rights activist and educator, shares her own experience.
I am Judy-Rose Cyster, Chairperson of the District Youth of Cape Town South. I worked for the Human Rights Office at an international organization which provided pro bono legal assistance to refugees and marginalised community members, including raise awareness of Gender Based Violence, human rights, HIV/Aids, etc through workshops at detention facilities and shelters for abused women and children. Our work was imperative. We were sometimes the only people who instilled hope in those who needed it. My work was my life. Sadly, more than 40 of us in South Africa got retrenched at the end of July. I never imagined myself being unemployed. I never imagined that after 8 years everything would abruptly end. We were all skilled professionals, social justice workers, lawyers, teachers, travel and tourism experts, etc and now we’re unemployed. I was stressed and sometimes depressed, not for the fact of being unemployed, but for being worried about our legal cases and our workshop recipients, our project partners and host families. Retrenchments did not only affect us, but more people than the organisation could imagine.
Unemployment doesn't only affect one financially, but has a huge effect on your mental and emotional health and your everyday life. During this time, I had to make a really hard and emotional decision to chip into my savings; which when I was employed was something I promised myself I wouldn't do. I broke a promise to myself, but it needed to be done. With my savings, I was able to provide the necessities my mom and I needed and to start a very small business, which generated enough profit for our everyday needs and to continue our bi-weekly food drive/soup kitchen. I also started receiving requests to do specialised video projects. There were times I asked myself "how will we get by next week when the money runs out" and "POOF" just like that God created opportunities for me to earn an income. This was my "Hitting Rock Bottom" season and I needed to feel what I did, I needed to experience what I did, so that I could learn valuable lessons, so that I could grow stronger in my faith, so that I could let positivity in and make room for my blessings. Hitting Rock Bottom and coming out victorious felt like "I introduced myself to myself." After all these months, after everything, even when I didn't see or feel it, God never took His hands off me. I'm so undeserving of His mercy and goodness, but God is God and His plans and purpose for my life surpasses my imagination. So know this, there is purpose in what you are going through.. have faith, fight a little harder for yourself, be positive, stay prayed-up and know that God's promise in Jeremiah 29:11 is so unbelievably true.”
Please pray for each of these Sisters who has shared their thoughts and pray for their work. I had to cut about half of what each Sister wrote to share with you, but I will post the entire unedited reflections on our website in January. These are just a few of our many Sisters working to end violence against women and working for human rights. In Cuba, Uganda, and Tanzania plans are currently underway for workshops to eliminate this violence – and probably in many other Moravian communities as well.
Lift up in prayer girls who are not in school, and all our Sisters who are studying – from kindergarten through advanced university degrees. Many are returning to in-person learning now; others continue distance learning due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In January the Unity Women’s Desk will enter its second decade of working to empower Moravian women for global change, and we have several announcements to share about celebrations, preparations for the 5th Unity Women’s Consultation and continuing our work. Stay tuned!
The Unity Women's Desk works to connect women and resources throughout the Unity and empower them to work for justice as God's hands and feet on earth! We are planning the next Unity Women's Consultation: Sept 2022 in North Carolina. Please continue to pray for Coordinator Julie Tomberlin and the members of our Advisory Board, Rt. Rev. Blair Couch, Rev. Erdmute Frank, Sister Muriel Held and Sister Rachel Lwali, as well as our Sub-Desk and Provincial Coordinators, our Secretary Sister Liz Venable and Treasurer Sister Jean Richardson.
We want to share voices of as many different women from as many provinces as possible. If you don't see your province here, it's because I haven't been able to visit you and get pictures! I invite Sisters in all provinces to send in updates, needs, concerns, praise, and yes --- PICTURES PLEASE (with names, date, location and a description of the picture). Please send anything I can share here or on Facebook or our website! PLEASE SEND IN ANY CORRECTIONS to this and previous issues -names, dates, events...people not named. I will correct them for our archive and our website.
Deadlines for new scholarships, projects and loans:
Feb 1, 2021, May 1, 2021, Aug 21, 2021, Nov. 1 2021
We can only consider COMPLETE applications –. Please contact your Provincial Coordinator or Sub-Desk Coordinator for assistance. If you need contact information, email Julie. You may submit applications directly to the UWD office by email, but we will need confirmation from the Provincial Chair and the Sub-Desk Coordinator before we can consider the application. The Advisory Board makes all decisions by vote.
We will be updating our list of coordinators on our website by January 15, 2021.