What does it take to be a wise woman?

The World YWCA history is rooted in faith-driven social action and Christian women committed to service. Exploring the theme of Women Creating a Safe World, Common Concern Issue 145 turns to the strong women in the Bible that have contributed to peace and safety in the world.

Extracted from the December 2010 Common Concern, Issue 145

In the Bible the violent taking of Israel occupies much of early history, from Joshua through to the books of Kings. When the prophet Samuel died, all of Israel gathered to mourn and bury him. During that violent time we meet Abigail, the wife of Nabal, a wealthy man who owns land in the Carmel (1 Samuel 25: 2-13).

Here we have the description of a man and a woman – one is harsh and ungenerous, the other is intelligent and attractive. Along comes David who needs provisions. He turns to Nabal, but Nabal is rude and unresponsive, breaking the code of hospitality that is fundamental to the people of the desert, for he is required by law to give to those who beg from him. By refusing to help him, Nabal provokes David to battle.

David is furious and responds with violence, but Abigail intervenes. (Verses 14-19) She is quick and organised, and knows that she has to undo the insult and shower David with gifts. Abigail meets David before the army reaches her house (Verses 20-31).

Abigail could hold lectures on nonviolence and peacemaking. She follows a pattern and a plan, but is aware that she is taking a chance. Abigail gives David the possibility of being reasonable, she brings gifts, she is humble and she begs to be heard.

Abigail prays for David, blesses him and his future dynasty, and then assumes responsibility for the transgression and offense to hospitality and justice. She reminds David of God’s power and the uselessness of personal vengeance. Abigail is counting on David’s basic goodness, and she tries to teach him mercy and nonviolence, in imitation of God. David, who has won the favour of God responds (Verses 32-35).

David acknowledges that God has sent her to prevent him from violence. Her quick response in going to meet him – an enemy – has turned him into a friend who now grants her a personal favour. Peace, shalom, wholeness, balance, and a bond between people, have all been repaired by her act.

Abigail is a prophet sent by God to bring peace in a time of violence. Instead of force, she uses gifts, words, and herself to resolve conflict. She is a woman of courage and heart, and she shares joy.

When Abigail returns home she tells her husband what she has done. He suffers a stroke and dies ten days later, thereby making God the judge, not David. Thus, David learns how to govern in God’s name and not use his own power for personal vengeance. Abigail has taught him a valuable lesson.

Abigail could become the emblem of all women who find themselves in violent situations but look for peaceful resolutions. She could be remembered by women who seek justice and protection from rape, war and beatings, and counted among those killed, maimed or left as refugees and survivors. Abigail is the model of all those who negotiate and deal in conflict management and nonviolent actions. She is a teacher to all who meet the enemy and look for peaceful solutions, sometimes being humiliated and jeopardising themselves in order to stop others from being harmed, and seeking to end misunderstandings and petty quarrels.

The lesson that Abigail teaches the future king should be learnt anew with each generation, in every nation, and in every heart. Abigail models an alternative that can be practiced, experienced and incorporated into daily life as well as into politics, businesses, schools and parishes. She demonstrates behaviour that is vital to the continued existence of humankind and the daily life of peace among peoples. The earth needs Abigails, lots of them, young and old, female and male, from all nations.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

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The 16th UN Human Rights Council – A young woman’s perspective

By Alemtsehay Zergaw and Jenta Tau

A joint article by Alemtsehay Zergaw and Jenta Tau (2011 Interns of the World YWCA) on their experience at the 16th UN Human Rights Council, which was held from  February 28 to  March 25th 2011.

Jenta Tau and Alemtsehay Zergaw Copyright:Geneva Summit/Oliver o’Hanlon

The UN Human Rights Council holds its annual meeting every year in Geneva, Switzerland. This year, we had the opportunity to attend the meeting and participate in various side events. With both of us coming from places very different from Geneva (Jenta from the Solomon Islands and Alemtsehay from Ethiopia), we were both enthusiastic to visit the UN building in Geneva. We had both heard stories about this building. Jenta has a close personal story as her brother used to attend conferences at the UN office in Geneva. Alemtsehay had learnt in her history classes about Emperor Haileselassie’s most historic speech to the League of Nations against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, in this historic building. We were both so excited that we purposefully lost our way in the compound until a security personnel found us and guided us to the main gate.

The first conference we attended was on March 3, and it was about how to help new comers like us understand how NGOs contribute to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Different speakers from civil society groups shared their experiences on how to advocate for ones cause. The discussions helped us to understand the communication mechanisms between governments and non-governmental organizations.   The next programme was a side event to discuss the challenges children face because of harmful traditional practices.  Alem gave a speech on this event regarding the challenges the girl child faces in Ethiopia, particularly because of harmful traditional practices, and other repressive societal norms and poverty. Speakers from Pakistan, Italy, Albania, and Benin also participated in the event.  The third side event we participated in was focused on women’s rights and food security. Jenta learnt a lot from this session as she has always wanted to understand the challenges women and children in agrarian societies in Sub-Saharan Africa face from prolonged and recurrent drought and food insecurity.

The last meeting that we attended was the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy on March 15, 2011. This was different from any of the sessions we attended earlier that week. There was a huge audience and the summit covered more wide-ranging issues from around the world. Around nineteen speakers, including world-renowned human rights and pro-democracy activists, former political prisoners, experts and diplomats, presented their views on a variety of topics on the objective of advancing human rights.  The summit also included an exhibition on the North Korean political prisoner camp.  After the summit, we had a long, good, conversation about the definition, meaning and extent of human rights, the paradox of double standards, the amazing similarity of dictators from different countries and times, and much, much more! We looked at the geopolitical map of the world, and discussed about what role women leaders and politicians can play in shaping this map for the better. Conversations centred on ways in which peace can be defended across the world, and what unique contribution influential women leaders can bring in the defence of peace. The summit was, in a way, an eye opener for us to understand the difficulty and complexity of international politics and human rights around the world and the forces that shape them.  Afterwards, we raised many questions for ourselves which we will still have to search for the answers. But for now, we are grateful for the World YWCA for giving us this great opportunity of a lifetime.