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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Day 1: Learn the Facts

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Rape. Domestic Violence. Acid Burnings. Female Infanticide. Human Trafficking. Emotional Abuse. Sexual Harassment. Genital Mutilation. These are just a few forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that women and girls endure on a daily basis. But these assaults on the human spirit and sacred worth of women and girls will not have the last word.

Change or Complicity

Asking for it: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture- and What We Can Do About It

IN THE COURSE of a few months in the past year, I learned that three women and men close to me had been sexually assaulted—as children and as adults. Hearing their stories broke me out of many of the lies surrounding rape that I had fallen into without even realizing it.

Kate Harding’s Asking for It attacks the same lies and misconceptions. She explores how we, as a culture, embrace myths surrounding rape and sexual assault. Theoretically, we think of rape as a terrible crime that takes away people’s right to choose what to do with their bodies—but practically we have trouble believing that it actually happens, or if it does that it is really that bad. We joke about rape, we believe it is caused by women acting like “sluts,” or act like the only kinds of rape that really matter are those in which a white woman is attacked by a brown man. We normalize assault and minimize it.

We have built a society and criminal justice system that protect abusers and place the responsibility on women to avoid being assaulted rather than on men to not attack.

Sadly, none of this is surprising, but Harding’s exploration of these familiar truths is biting and unrelenting.

She is offensive at times, but about things we should be offended about. When I recoil at her describing a rape by saying he “put his dick in her,” I realize how much I should be disgusted by the assault itself. We can numb ourselves by using clinical language to talk about rape and sexual assault, but Harding refuses to give us distance from the violence of these attacks.

Harding suggests practical changes that we can make—such as educating our kids, reforming our criminal justice system, and changing our language. These practical measures consist of the minimum on which we all ought to agree: My conservative friends, together with my progressive ones, can agree that rape jokes are offensive, hurt people, and contribute to a society in which people are more easily hurt. As Harding notes, even when we have radically different ideas about the proper scope of sexual activity, we should all agree that clear consent is necessary for a healthy sexual relationship.

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Daniel Holtzclaw Found Guilty on Multiple Rape Charges

Prosecutors noted a tendency to target women whose credibility would be questioned by both law enforcement and society in general. During the trial, defense attorneys tried to challenge the victims’ credibility by emphasizing their criminal records to the jury and asking about their past drug use. Holtzclaw’s family also accused the victims of fabricating their stories.

Study: Most Women Don't Trust Their Churches on Pregnancy and Abortion

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More than half of churchgoers who have had an abortion (52 percent) say no one at church knows it. Nearly half of women who have had an abortion (49 percent) say pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies.

“That tells you the environment of the church,” [Scott] McConnell [of LifeWay Reseach] said. “You can’t say you’ve had an abortion, you can’t say you’re considering one — it’s completely taboo to discuss.

“But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she’s had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who’ve never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion. It’s incredibly freeing for them.”

What Motherhood Teaches Me About the Universe

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My daughter is in seventh grade, next year she will be in eighth. She tells me this means she will be “the king of middle school.” She will go to a leadership camp and learn what it means to cultivate leadership qualities in order to be a good king for the underlings in sixth and seventh grade.

And then she will graduate middle school and it’s back to the bottom of the pecking order — one minute a king, the next, a lowly high school freshman. Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is to know comes the swift reminder you are only just beginning.

Out here in the real world, things operate similarly. Motherhood certainly took me through the same cruel pattern. After floundering sleeplessly, aimlessly, in a constant panicked state through the first few newborn months, I thought I’d mastered this parenting thing. I could interpret my newborn’s cries, predict when she would go down for her nap within a half hour margin of error, and change a diaper by rote.

What Churches Don't Get About Ministering to Marginalized Women

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“One of the things that most saddens me in conversations with criminalized and marginalized women is the absence of any sort of philosophy or theology – what I call cultural scripts — for making sense out of their suffering,” sociologist Dr. Susan Sered explained to my church earlier this year. “And these women have suffered rape, loss of their children, chronic pain, solitary confinement, and social stigma.”

Sered, a professor of sociology at Suffolk University and co-author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibilityspent the last eight years conducting research with Boston-area women caught in the binds of poverty, violence, illness, and the prison system. As co-warden of a small, Episcopal church outside of Boston, I invited Sered to share her research and explain what members of our parish could do to make a difference in the lives of women like those in her study.

Women Hope Their Voices Are Heard at Bishops' Family Synod

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Divorce, cohabitation, and gay relationships are just some of the issues up for discussion at the Vatican synod, which continues through Oct. 24. It follows a questionnaire consultation with Catholic groups after a meeting on family issues a year ago.

Some critics say that more women should have been included in the process. Only bishops can vote at a synod, but about 30 women have been invited as auditors.

Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, said she was skeptical that any real change would come from the synod. “If I wanted expertise on the family, I honestly cannot say that the first thing that would come into my mind would be to call together 300 celibate males, who between them, that we know of, have never raised a child,” she said on Saturday, speaking at an event hosted by gay Catholics.

Walking 100 Miles to the Pope

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In the past six days, I’ve walked 75 miles alongside 100 other women. We have 25 miles left to go.

We are 100 women who hail from all four corners of the earth. There are women from Uganda, China, Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Peru, the Bahamas, and more. But we all call this country home.

Several grandmothers joined us on this journey, and their perseverance is an example for all of us. Our youngest walker is Jocelyn — she is four years old, and her joy is contagious. We all ask to take turns pushing her stroller. As we walk, we share our stories, our suffering, and our dreams. We sing, we pray, and we also walk in silence — reflecting on our faith, the meaning of compassion, dignity, and hope.

We are all here because we have been inspired by Pope Francis’ message of love and compassion towards migrants and refugees. We hope that he will pray for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who endure daily hardship, living in fear of deportation and family separation. We hope that he can touch the hearts of Americans across the nation to treat migrants with compassion and not cruelty.

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