Creating a World without Violence

By Jenta Tau

Participants at the YWCA European Study Session, Budapest, Hungary

Jenta Tau from the YWCA of Solomon Islands is one of  the World YWCA intern for 2011. She shares with us her thoughts and her experience from Budapest, Hungary, where she attended the YWCA European Study Session in July 2011.

If this took place between States, it would be called war.

If this was an illness, it would be called an epidemic.

If this was an oil spill at sea, it would be called a disaster.

But it is something that is happening to women and considered a matter of everyday life.

Guess what it is?

It is violence against women - one of the main topics discussed and highlighted in the YWCA European Study Session held from 24th – 31st July, 2011 in Budapest, Hungary.

The aim of the study session was to share and build knowledge and skills for creating a safer world, a world without Violence against Women (VAW), through young women’s empowerment and leadership.

It was such a great learning experience and empowering week where more than 30 young women from the YWCAs and YWCA /YMCAs joined organisations from around Europe. A gentleman from the European Youth Centre in Budapest was one of the core facilitators together with 5 young women members of the Preparation team.

In line with this year’s theme, we learnt about the concept of violence, how we see or define violence and what are some of the ways we can approach it or help reduce it.

Research has shown that the most common form of violence against women is domestic violence. It also states that a woman is more likely to be beaten, attacked and even killed by her partner or former partner than by any other person. Domestic violence is not only a violation of the physical and psychological well-being of the women concerned, it is at the same time a direct attack on their human rights, and is also a criminal offence. It is a fact that at some point in your lifetime you may be a victim of violence or discrimination.

During the session we learnt about Human Rights in terms of Policies and Practices at different levels. We also explored practical tools of project management and design, from a gender conscious perspective in response to VAW and how to develop and strengthen our networks and advocacy skills at national and regional levels.

It was a very productive week and we understood that, even though much work has already been done, a lot more effort is still needed to address these issues. One of the key principles is that leaders, whether of institutes or communities, need to be educated and informed on violence and its impact as well as on protection, in order to know how to bring this disturbing phenomenon, which each victim will be faced with throughout her life, to the forefront.  As highlighted by Ms. Tove Liljeholm Johansson from Sweden, “No one knows a man who hits but everyone knows a woman who has been hit.”

Creating a world without violence is not only the responsibility of Governments, human rights activists or NGOs, it is everyone’s responsibility. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it is a process which requires commitment and cooperation.

Zurich with Nostalgia

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary, World YWCA

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Marlies Petrig

On 10 August, Ana Villanueva and I took the train to Zurich. To meet us at the station were Marlies Petrig, Marion Schmid and Julia Diener from the YWCA YMCA Switzerland, and they were not wearing the Helping Hands T-shirts! We hugged and laughed about it, because on the previous journey to Zurich they had met us at the same spot in their red t-shirts. Wednesday was such a beautiful day and there was an open farmers’ market at the train station. We enjoyed a stroll around the market, the fresh vegetables, special tomatoes and the big cherries that looked like plums. We did not buy anything but we relished another trip around Switzerland ~ as if it was another “Swiss Night”, but this time at the market! We were just happy to be in the company of great sisters who had been at the helm of the 27th World YWCA Council as leaders of the host association.

As we walked towards the river Limmat, our sisters asked about everyone in the office, and especially Fiona! We could sense the bonding that had happened in the last few years as we prepared for World Council. We queued for a little bit, as the day was to start with a cruise along the river. The boat was full so we had to wait another 30 minutes. While waiting we took a walk in the park reminiscing on the opening worship, the Glockenhoff, the amazing team of volunteers, the thank you letters we have received. We had to remind ourselves to go back and catch the boat on time, as we learnt about the history of the park, and how the City of Zurich had to clean it up to make sure that people could enjoy it and feel safe.

Later in the afternoon, we talked as the boat cruised along the river. It was good to have a feel of the two sides of the city with the old town on one side. We delved into some reflections on IWS and the logistics, the speakers, the participants, and just the joy of seeing it happen. We re-lived the special World Council opening ceremony and the costumes. Marlies told us about her traditional costume and the family tradition, and on her Iphone showed us the beautiful photo of the occasion. With surprise and gratitude we talked about the special newsletter produced in French by the local YWCA of Vaud, which carried the full story of World Council. We know that this Council has strengthened the spirit of volunteerism in many within this country and had such an impact for movement building and affirmation of the volunteer spirit the YWCA stands for.

We got off the boat, and walked to the Women’s Bath. What a special safe, exclusive space it is. We enjoyed the history of the place and celebrated women’s creativity in history and in our time, Women have always been seeking to create safe spaces. The Swiss Apero was recounted, the lighting, the food, the guests, the atmosphere, the warmth. In our imagination we were transported back to that day, almost a month ago! Women were enjoying bathing, others just basking in the sun, and others simply reading and spending time with themselves. We had to move on, and we knew that friendship and history was made that evening when the YWCA women gathered in this place.

We climbed the stairs, crossed the street and walked a little bit up the road, towards the Fraumünster. There was the City Hall. Why not go in and look around? We still had a little bit of time. It was such a special decision in many ways. We talked and reflected on the contributions of the city of Zurich, Zurich Tourism, the friends and others who had rallied around the Council. In the hall, we felt like we belonged because the Mayor of Zurich, Corine Mauch had been with us at World Council. Instinctively, we wanted to meet her. We asked for her but unfortunately that day she was not in! Oh, but we had a thank you card with us, a special one… Julia is full of surprises. We sat down, wrote and all signed this wonderful card to our sister, Corine, a leader, the Mayor of Zurich; the one who cycled in the rain to come and greet us during Swiss Night at the Albisgutli! Women’s leadership.

We left the City Hall, and just on the corner was “our” church, the Fraumünster. We relived the whole opening worship, we could see the YWCA faces, hear the music and the singing; listen to the story of the Chagall windows. We navigated through the church in silent appreciation, silent prayer of thanksgiving and remembrance. Sitting on the pews and looking at those windows, we could just feel the presence of the past, the richness of the present and the possibilities of the future. We could all feel the official opening of the World Council, the handing over and ringing of the gong and God’s inspiration to the Movement. Not many words, and yet a collective sense of reflection and sharing. Getting a few post cards was the best way of again sharing the spirit of the Fraumünster with our ecumenical brothers and sisters across the world.

As we crossed the bridge and made our way along the streets of the old town, we were still talking. The day was still beautiful, the Council still very present with us and with no stress or pressure we continued our reflection. The outdoor restaurant in Marion’s neighborhood was beautiful. We just had to give a toast, at the earliest moment, to all! As the evening progressed, with food and great company, we looked back at the high and low moments in our preparation of World Council; the theme selection and what it meant for the host association; the timeliness of decision making and impact on logistics; the exchange processes between the host association and the World Office. We laughed, were serious, and it was clear to all of us that we could again hold a World Council! Through the ideas of the day, we knew that this would always be part of a special moment in the history of the movement, and our own individual history. This Council has been a turning point for each one of us personally in either small or big ways, expressed or unexpressed. Its an experience we will live with and talk about for many years to come. There is still so much to think about, discuss and evaluate with the host association, which hopefully will enrich the planning of World Council in 2015.

We had to run for the 9pm train back to Geneva. It was a brisk walk, and we managed to be on time. We left uplifted and happy that we had again been to Zurich and thankful to Marlies, Marion and Julia for their hospitality.

We thought after such an afternoon of reflection, food and laughter, we would sleep all the way to Geneva. Not necessarily, we just enjoyed our ride back and continued with the reflection, and maybe more so the planning, for the next World Council and the next World Board meeting. It was midnight when we said good night, and each retired for the evening.

WOMEN CREATING A SAFE WORLD

By Liza  B.  LAMIS
Communications Consultant, Christian Conference of Asia

To be a woman and to be young is to live dangerously in these times.

Aside from always being a potential victim of sexual assault and violence – simply because one is a woman – a poor, young woman is more likely to be a victim of human trafficking and exploitation.

In times of war she could be raped. Rape has always been a tool of conquest and subjugation. Rape has also become a ‘corrective’ measure for those behaving differently than the supposed ‘feminine’ way of being. An African woman said that it is far safer to be a soldier than a young girl these days in her country.

In this context I can understand why a man would thank God he is not a woman! However, with God it is good to be. And I say with God it is good to be a woman.

This must be the reason why the World YWCA Council and International Women’s Summit on July 10-16, 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland, dreamt and did a grand act around the theme:  “Women Creating a Safe World.”

I became a member of the YWCA in the Philippines after Harriet Rivas, Quezon City’s YWCA Secretary in 2007 invited me to speak with the local women during a celebration. From World YWCA designated ‘resident feminist theologian’ at its Regional Training Institute for Asia and the Pacific in 2009, I have now been appointed ‘advisor on feminist theologies’, whatever those titles mean. I gladly welcomed the fancy titles and I love volunteering with the YWCA to feed my passion for gender justice and endless musings about women and their lives.

I raised this question to sisters at the World YWCA Office: What do you need feminist theology for? The simple reply was: So that young women and girls won’t feel guilty about their bodies and choices.

How could women, especially young girls, not feel guilty and feel safe about themselves? What does it mean to say, “With God it is good to be a woman” in a context where there is so much control, imposed guilt, demonisation, violation, abuse, exploitation and mutilation of women and women’s bodies? I am without words to answer these questions. for around the world we hear women and witness them being brutalised, assaulted, living with HIV and AIDS, hungered to death, abandoned…

If women were created in God’s own image, why then is so much evil happening to us, and so much guilt burdening us?

This question consequently leads us to believe that whatever concerns the body is a theological issue and one related to justice. What is theology if not to uphold and promote life to its fullness as God meant it to be? And fullness of life can be made real through acts of justice. It won’t happen by chance. We have to do justice, love kindness…for this is what God requires of us (see Micah 6.8).

“Where countries live in peace, where communities are safe, where homes are free of violence, where lives flourish, and where women’s leadership is creating this vision” is a brave statement of will for the World YWCA. It is a great dream grounded in great faith that with God, it is good to be a woman.

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