Women

Young Women Rising

FOR NON-WHITES born in post-apartheid South Africa, the country promised equal rights and legal freedom. But the first generation of “born frees,” as they are called, also entered a world where HIV/AIDS was destroying their families and communities. Many children and teens were left largely fending for themselves in townships plagued by poverty, disease, and violence.

Author Kimberly Burge, a Sojourners contributing writer, entered this world not as an aid or social worker, but rather on a Fulbright scholarship, to form a writing group for adolescent girls in the township of Gugulethu. Too old for the child-centered programs and too young for adult assistance, the girls were falling through the cracks of established programs. The writing club offered them the opportunity to creatively express their fears, frustrations, and dreams.

To Burge’s credit, the book is not primarily about her or her experiences. She keeps the focus on the girls themselves and the often breathtaking words and thoughts they express in their writing. Burge is not there to rescue them, but rather to help them find their voices. She acts less as a teacher than a peer, encouraging girls to lead the group themselves and prompting them to write about such topics as “I wish I could ...” or “I need to find a place ...”

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We Won’t Wait: Women Leading from the Margins in the 2016 Election

Ksenia Palimski / Shutterstock.com

There is an unmistakable energy when women come together. In my experience, a boldness and brilliance fills the space in rich and surprising ways when women are gathered.

Such was the case as more than 1,500 women from across the country attended the recent We Won’t Wait summit in Washington, D.C., to organize and strategize for a better life for their families and communities. But this was no ordinary conference.

It Isn't All About Sex

Sarah Reynolds / Southern Poverty Law
Sarah Reynolds / Southern Poverty Law

HUMAN TRAFFICKING is one of the least morally controversial social justice issues of our time. Agreement that human trafficking is wrong and must end is widespread, if not completely unanimous. Yet when most people hear the term “human trafficking,” they envision sex trafficking: vivid images of young women forced to work in “massage parlors” and brothels, selling sex on the streets of major cities.

But human trafficking is broader than sex trafficking. U.S. law defines human trafficking through the legal categories of fraud, force, or coercion. In simple terms, human trafficking occurs when individuals lose control over their lives and are forced to work for nothing or next to nothing. Someone who has been trafficked does not have control over the terms and conditions of their employment; they can’t leave for fear that they or someone they care about will be harmed as a result.

So while trafficking certainly can take the form of sexual exploitation, it can also look like nannies or janitors, workers in slaughterhouses or meat-packing plants, people forced to work on factory assembly lines and rural farms. It takes place in both the formal and informal economies; it may involve adults and children.

When sex trafficking isn’t

Human trafficking hasn’t always been so tightly linked to sex trafficking. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were a number of nonprofits dedicated to combatting labor exploitation in all its forms. But when one of the first pieces of anti-trafficking legislation was proposed in 1999, its congressional sponsors wished to differentiate between sex-trafficking and other forms of labor exploitation. They “did not want ‘low-wage sweatshop issues’ to cloud the issue of human trafficking, which, they argued, was essentially about the sexual exploitation of women and girls and not about exploited labor more generally,” as Letitia Campbell and I wrote in 2014. Significantly revised anti-trafficking legislation was signed into law in late 2000.

Beginning in 2001, the George W. Bush administration implemented the new anti-trafficking law, making prostitution and sex-trafficking centerpieces of its gender policy. A 2002 National Security Presidential Directive on human trafficking called prostitution “inherently harmful and dehumanizing,” and the administration insisted that prostitution and sex-trafficking are linked phenomena.

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Up Front and Unadorned

Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn

For 56 YEARS, Loretta Lynn has rarely paused from recording and touring. A career path that long is bound to have its ups and downs. But the past decade or so has definitely seen a Loretta Lynn renaissance.

It started back in 2004 with the album Van Lear Rose, a collection steeped in the rootsy alt-rock aesthetic of Jack White, who produced, played guitar, and even sang a duet with Lynn. Next came the 2010 tribute album Coal Miner’s Daughter, on which White’s band, The White Stripes, was joined by artists ranging from Alan Jackson and Martina McBride to Nashville outsiders Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle to perform a sampling of Lynn’s greatest hits. This year has seen the debut of a PBS American Masters documentary about Lynn and another startlingly good new album, Full Circle.

Both the title and the choice of material on Full Circle sound for all the world like a lifetime victory lap for the 84-year-old singer-songwriter. Telling the story of her career, the collection starts with a re-recording of the first song she ever wrote (“Whispering Sea”) and ends with a Willie Nelson duet on “Lay Me Down,” a song that features the line, “I’ll be at peace when they lay me down.” In between, she revisits a couple more of her older songs, and, for the first time, records the kind of traditional old-time material she heard growing up in the east Kentucky mountain community of Butcher Holler.

When Loretta Lynn came to Nashville in 1960, she was without precedent—a female country singer who wrote her own songs. She didn’t follow the rules of the music business because she and her manager-husband didn’t know them. Instead, Lynn came to town as a do-it-yourself phenomenon, promoting her records out of the trunk of the family car.

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'It's Just Registration, It's Not the Draft'

Everett Col;lection / Shutterstock
Everett Collection / Shutterstock

WITH THE RECENT decision to open combat positions in the U.S. armed forces to women, Selective Service registration is back in the news, in the courts, and in Congress. While much of the debate has focused on issues of gender—will young women be required to register?—the problems with draft registration are extensive and worthy of more thorough consideration.

For many people of faith and people of conscience, questions around Selective Service registration are not new, and, ethically speaking, nothing is different now that women may be part of the equation. For many, the questions around Selective Service registration have long been ones of preparation for war, militarization of our communities, and coercion of individual conscience.

The Selective Service act of 1917 launched the modern American version of the government raising an army in a time of war. In 1975, following the Vietnam War, draft registration was suspended, but it was reinstated under President Carter in 1980 and continues today. There is no option to register as a conscientious objector, no matter one’s religious beliefs.

Over the last 35 years, millions of young men have violated the law by failing to register. Only 20 of them have been prosecuted for the felony offense—19 of those were resisting for reasons of faith or conscience.

The last indictment for failure to register was filed in 1986. The government thought it would prosecute a handful of resisters to set an example and encourage compliance. The strategy backfired. When these conscientious objectors were interviewed on the evening news, claiming allegiance to a higher moral law, noncompliance with registration actually increased, much to the government’s dismay. It had underestimated the power of conscience. It failed to take into account a universal truth: When we follow the counsel of our conscience, we tend to make better decisions.

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My Women, My Village: Working Together to Redeem the World

Image via /Shutterstock

There are women in my life I choose to breathe with. With these women, I turn our breath into sounds, sounds into words, and raise them together in solidarity across the currents of justice. Together, we fight for the environment, we fight for rights, for black lives, for women's rights — and constantly strive for peace.

What My Empowered Aunt Taught Me About Being Muslim

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

It all began for me as a young girl, spending many childhood summers with my aunt — my father’s eldest sister. Her name was Hilal, which means “crescent moon” in Arabic. No name could have been more appropriate for her — just as the spiritual lives of Muslims center on the crescent moons of the lunar calendar, my family’s spiritual center stood upon this strong minded, faithful, and dedicated matriarch.

Why I Named My Daughter After an Executed Slave

Image via A.Currell/Flickr.com

When first married, my wife and I joined a PC(USA) church, partially out of our commitment to male-female equality. So at our new members’ class when we were asked, in a darker-timeline version of a mixer, to try and name the apostles from memory, the table my wife and I were at came up with twenty apostles (not quite what the leader had in mind). The Twelve, plus Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Apollos, Andronicus, and of course — not to leave out my wife’s favorite — Junia.

Life Preservers

James Haines-Young
James Haines-Young

AFRAH ZOUHEIR FLEXES HER HAND as she purposefully stirs a pot of lemon juice, the fruity aroma filling the air as it rises to a boil.

“It needs to be hot in order to mix well with the sugars before it cools down and thickens,” she explains. “Then we bottle it and let it settle into a syrup.”

Zouheir has all of the looks of a professional chef. Her shoulder-length dark brown hair is tied back in a hairnet and her hands are coated in plastic gloves. She wears an apron over her sweatshirt, fanning the air, making sure that the lemon syrup drink she is making smells as it is supposed to; she appears undaunted about managing multiple pots simultaneously simmering over an open fire.

However, this is her first time working in a kitchen—at least professionally. In Mosul, Iraq, where she is from, she was a kindergarten teacher. But when the Islamic State invaded her home city in late 2013 and began targeting religious minorities, including Christians like Zouheir’s family, she grabbed her belongings and fled to Lebanon with her husband and four children. After a short stint in Beirut, the capital city, where rent is expensive and prejudice against refugees, among other factors, makes work hard to come by, she and her husband moved to Falougha, a mountain village where the air is fresh and, most important, the rent is cheap.

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