Saturday, March 28, 2009

the maternal health commission

Working on some maternal health resources and was struck with the thought that Maternal Health is my "Great Commission".

SDR Matthew 28:19 - 20 paraphrase:
Go therefore and train skilled attendants and supply birthing kits for all nations, sharing them in the name of God, teaching others that it is because I care; and know, I am with you always, even when sustainability is a struggle and supplies run out.

This passage works for whatever one's great commission might be:
Go therefore and increase education for girls around the world. . .
Go therefore and teach micro-enterprise in Moldova . . .
Go therefore and listen to rural health workers in Burma . . .
Go therefore and encourage young women in the south . . .

Salvation needed right here, right now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

From Mandy McMichael

No matter your maternal status, get to know maternal safety.
Thanks Mandy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Bloggers Welcome

Sparkfly is looking for guest bloggers interested in sharing 200 - 300 words on an international women's issue of interest to them.
Some topics include, but are not limited to:
*Increased Access to Education for Girls (see
*Interview a sister student on the subject of post graduation plans (for those in college and grad school). Fears, excitement, dreams, etc.
*What do you think it will it take to make significant progress on the MIllennium Development Goals?
*How do you think the church can contribute to positive body image?
*Insert topic of your choice here.

Remember, posts are only 200 - 300 and can be completed quickly. Please send to:

(picture courtesy of caro wallis' flickr photostream,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

another day

The DC area has its charms. Yesterday and today I've camped out at a homey cafe and bakery called Caboose. I fully intended to spend the day at the Library of Congress, but it is raining here and Caboose felt familiar and I'm clinging to that this week.

Yesterday a girl around four years old walked in wearing hot pink rain boots. She immediately zeroed in on a gorgeous chocolate cupcake. As her tiny finger tapped the cupcake case her mom said, "No." Pink boots lifted her brown eyes and said, "Another day."

Here's to another day.

* picture is of my afternoon view.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert and Creativity

I had a little church just now while watching Elizabeth Gilbert speak on Nurturing Creativity. I know, I know what preaching professors say, but even her back and forth pacing was comforting. Thanks TED.

Friday, March 13, 2009


By this time next week the agreed conclusions of the 53rd CSW will be reduced to a multi-paged document, fitting easily in a filing cabinet and an email inbox. The document will represent hours upon hours of time, energy, and effort on behalf of activists, politicians, NGO representatives, ambassadors, among many others. It is not possible to contain the experiences of the CSW to a piece of paper.

For me, the highlight of the CSW is meeting and learning from those who attend. Week two introduced me to a new friend from Georgia, the state, not the country. As a women’s leader in her religious denomination, she attends the parallel events to gain a greater understanding of international women’s issues and to network with other women’s leaders.

My new friend and I had lunch and a fascinating conversation. Anne and I discussed the presence of a group here with a conservative women’s organization. This organization has been advocating abstinence only education and speaking out against abortion in various workshops and side events.

Anne expressed dismay at the way the conservative organization was stigmatized by other NGOs. I have been frustrated with this organization since they arrived. Their vocal arguments for abstinence until marriage and against abortion seemed out of place to me. How can we argue that abstinence is the best choice for women who don’t get to choose? The complexities and emotional attachments to these arguments need no introduction.

Over lunch we discussed the hotly contested issues. Calmly and with ease we gave honor to our different opinions. We built community, understanding, and friendship. It was important for me to remember behind every opinion is a story and an opportunity to learn.

Throughout this CSW I’ve been thankful for the work of Ecumenical Women at the UN. Their morning devotions have helped me center and find comfort in a familiar community. Anne reminded me that within our Ecumenical Women group there are various opinions and beliefs regarding international women’s issues and the definition of women’s rights. Maybe Ecumenical Women at the UN could benefit from a credo similar to the one adopted by the Woodhull Institute. Our own agreed conclusions could remind us of the importance of relating to one another regardless of our belief differences.

These two weeks were important. Agreed conclusions matter. Next week the real labor begins. Some will work by holding governments accountable to what they said they would do. Others will conduct research to present at next year’s CSW. How will these conclusions matter to you, to me, to the women who have never heard of the Commission on the Status of Women? An isolated document doesn’t make the difference.

I’m thankful for women like Anne, Ecumenical Women at the UN, and in a very interesting way, the women from the conservative organizations. Let’s seek to encourage and build that which makes the biggest difference, relationships.

*Some names have been changed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Power of Now, the Power of Partnership

Speaking at the Gender, Sex, and the Power to Survive workshop last Friday, CARE Executive Director Helene Gayle asked those present to consider what could be done for women and girls that gives them agency, capacity, and the power to survive. The panel of researchers present shared their findings on HIV and AIDS prevention among women in sex work. Their research took place over a two-year period in multiple countries.

The workshop was fascinating and I appreciated the obvious knowledge and experience of the panelists who had actually been in the field conducting the research. They spoke with concern for the women with whom they had work. Their wish was for them to be able to make decisions based on what was best for them not only in the present, but in the future as well.

The research conducted was, purposely, a narrow study of women sex workers and what influences their choices about condom usage with their clients. The issue of sex work is complex. Some women choose to become sex workers and some women have that choice made for them. As I type, “some women choose to become sex workers” I am arguing internally with myself. Choice is a concept I think most of us can’t begin to imagine when faced with certain situations and cultural backgrounds.

The research findings showed that the majority of sex workers studied placed a higher priority on present days needs versus future needs. If requiring condom usage meant less money or no clients, most women chose to forgo the requirement. Who can blame sex workers for choosing present day needs over a future that they may or may not to get to experience? Today they have bills to pay. Today they have children to feed.

There were many dissenting voices in attendance and, sadly, many of the disapproving were religiously affiliated workshop attendees. They questioned the study’s purpose and why the money wasn’t used to help the women out of sex work. I was stunned at their rudeness and lack of understanding. Instead of condemning the study, why not see what it has to teach NGOs of the secular and sacred variety?

There is a strong need for NGOs like CARE and faith-based organizations to work together, sharing resources and social capital. We need each other. Faith-based friends, abstinence only education is not the answer. Let’s focus our fervor on partnership. In the words of a CARE researcher who participated in the panel discussion, “There are no easy answers. Invest in people. Invest in understanding. Commit for the long term.”

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Yesterday, Sparkfly co-writer Lori Crowe Burgess’s grandmother died. Mrs. Frances Hardy Crowe was 82 years young. She was Lori’s last living grandparent.

Tomorrow Lori will deliver her grandmother’s eulogy. She is preparing her tribute as she and Jacob fly south with the cutest seventh month old baby around. Tonight is the visitation. Tomorrow will bring additional traditions of meeting, greeting, and eating with family and friends.

I forgot to ask Lori if she has to preach next Sunday. If so, I am going to offer her a sermon from my file. Surely we can make allowances for weeks like the one Lori is having. Maybe a sermon cooperative is needed. There are some weeks when homemade sermons might have to come from someone else’s “kitchen”.

Thoughts and prayers for Lori and her family are welcome.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Speak the Unspeakable

I want to preface this post by stating I have never been raped. I do not know what it is like to experience such an atrocious violation. I am writing from the perspective of an outsider who wants to stand in solidarity with her sisters, locally and globally, who have experienced this atrocious violation. I want to be sensitive to those who have been raped who may read this post and disagree with me. I believe it is every woman’s right to choose weather or not she publicly acknowledges the rape she experienced. It is her right and it is not my right to persuade her to do otherwise.

Yesterday I attended a workshop called “She says no to violence”. It was sponsored by UNIFEM. A variety of panelist spoke eloquently about the need to decrease violence against women and how that was happening in the contexts from which they came. The room was warm. The day was late. My mind began to wonder.

During the question and answer portion of the workshop my attention surfaced in time to hear an NGO representative say, “Of course I would rather have a gun held to my head than be raped.” She was responding to a panelist’s response to her original question and comment. Ironically, the woman who made the statement was from a women’s peace activist group. Leaving the workshop, I walked with the peace activist to the next gathering. She told me she had never been raped and that she could not imagine her personhood being violated in such a traumatic way.

Several years ago a minister friend of mine and I were discussing the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. Ms. Holloway vanished while on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She is still missing. My friend asked me if I thought Natalie Holloway had been trafficked or if the young men who were being questioned about her disappearance had murdered her. I had no insight and was shocked when my friend remarked that of the two alternatives, she would hope for her death. I was just as stunned after my friend’s statement as I was yesterday when the peace activist made her comment.

If we speak of rape as being stronger than death, how does that honor the life of rape survivors? The World Health Organization estimates that every year more than one million women are raped in South Africa. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing rape as a tool of war in epidemic proportions. In this country we are told that one out of four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.1 Women who have been raped are in our churches and car pool lines. They are our children’s schoolteachers and our favorite sit-com actors. They read this blog and their lives, post rape, are just as important and vital as they were pre-rape. We must work to alter the impression that death is better than rape.

I’m tired of being told that rape and certain other subjects are unspeakable. Speaking the unspeakable gives a voice to that which has been kept silent too long. Speaking truth is powerful. The truth of being raped is not my story. However, I will stand beside my sisters who choose to tell their stories and I will remind my sisters who say they would rather die than be raped that the lives of my friends who have been are too powerful to disappear because of an act of violence.
1 Sexual assault does not always mean rape. At the time of this post I was unable to find adequate rape statistics in the US.

Thursday CSW Update

There is too much. I can't keep up with all of the happenings of this week. I am short about 4 blog posts and the experiences keep coming!

For now I will share that this morning I listened to a workshop called,
bridging the gap in a male-dominated society: voices of women in Africa. Loved listening to the African women speak about their own context and not someone else editorializing from a non-African perspective. Not to say that the latter is inherently bad . . . it was simply refreshing to be in the presence of experts.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Live Blogging from the UN 53 CSW

It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm sitting on the second floor of the Church Center and someone is yelling at me. Well, he is yelling as he speaks to everyone in this room. He says, "I'm the yeller because I am not afraid." I'm not afraid and yet I'm sitting here quietly, nevertheless, I would love to stand up and tell him to sit down.

I'm not sure why educated, published, intelligent individuals feel like generalizations are acceptable. I've heard so many during the past 44 minutes that I have lost count. The current speaker has written a popular book on trafficking. I don't want to mention the author's name or the book. Maybe later. Right now I'm going to remain quiet and try to consider the speaker's point.

I wish Karen Smith, Fairy, and Thelma and Jonathan Nambu were here.