Resisting ISIS

IN JULY 2013 in Raqqa, the first city liberated from regime control in northeastern Syria, a Muslim schoolteacher named Soaad Nofal marched daily to ISIS headquarters. She carried a cardboard sign with messages challenging the behaviors of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as un-Islamic after the kidnapping of nonviolent activists. After Nofal was joined by hundreds of other protesters, a small number of activists were released. It is a small achievement, but an indication of what communities supported in responsible ways from the outside could achieve on a larger scale in areas controlled or threatened by ISIS.

In the fight against ISIS, unarmed civilians would seem to be powerless. How can collective nonviolent action stand a chance against a heavily armed, well-financed, and highly organized extremist group that engages in public beheadings, kidnappings, and forced recruitment of child soldiers and sex slaves? One whose ideology sanctions the killing of “infidels” and the creation of a caliphate?

Nonviolent resistance alone cannot defeat this radical scourge. The global response must be multifaceted. Still, as the international anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States considers nonmilitary options to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, it should focus on empowering local civil society in Syria and Iraq with targeted resources, technologies, and knowledge to build resilience and deny ISIS the moral and material support it needs to wield effective control. Public and private investments in independent media and local self-organization initiatives, including those led by women, are two key ways to counter ISIS influence.

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A Call to Prayer: Make Violence Against Women History

Violence against women and girls is not only a “women’s issue,” but a human rights issue that affects all of us. We are indeed “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” as Dr. King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.” The abundant life that Jesus offers is deeply connected to the well-being of others. (John 10:10)

For men and women to experience reconciliation and wholeness, we must prayerfully work together for gender justice. Download our free prayer calendar. It’s full of facts and prayer requests to help you put your faith into action to end violence against women.

Share it during Women’s History Month with your sisters and brothers, your sons and daughters. Pray through the calendar as part of your Lenten journey. Encourage your friends and faith community to raise their voices to make violence against women history.

Together, through prayer and action, we can imagine a new way forward for both women and men—for the flourishing of all God’s children.

Reclaiming 'Angry' Feminism and Other Lessons from 'She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry'

Still frame from 'She's Beautiful When She's Angry.'

Still frame from 'She's Beautiful When She's Angry.'

Bras weren’t the only things the second-wave feminists burned in the ‘60s. But that’s all I learned about the movement in school and casual conversation (on the rare occasions when feminist movements were brought up). The documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, fills in what our education system and historical imaginations leave out.

Second-wave feminists also burned oppressive patriarchy, definitions of feminine beauty, and, most poignant to me, their hard-earned diplomas. They literally set fire to bachelors degrees, masters degrees, and PhD certificates. An activist in the film explained, "We had graduated and learned nothing about women."

This documentary shows us what the textbooks didn’t and still don’t show often enough — the early, angry, undoubtedly beautiful grassroots radicals.

Of course, not all anger is beautiful. Some anger is abusive, relentless, and uncontrollable. I noticed three types of anger in the documentary — one beautiful, and two problematic.

Way to #RiseForTheRaise!

Many thanks to our friends and supporters for rallying together to #RiseForTheRaise this Valentine's Day! 

As part of One Billion Rising, we joined activists in more than 170 countries around the world to call for economic empowerment and an end to violence against women. #RiseForTheRaise supporters sent letters to Congress calling for pay equity, while others took to social media with our signs to show their love for women.

We are grateful for all of those who took the time to put their love into action this Valentine's day. Check out this online gallery of our outstanding #RiseForTheRaise supporters.

Can Women Have It All? Pope Francis Says They Need 'Freedom to Choose'

Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis greets auditors of the Synod on the Family. Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Whether women can, or should, “have it all” —  both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.

But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.

In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.

He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.

At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.

V-Day: It's Time to #RiseForTheRaise

If, as Cornel West affirms, “justice is what love looks like in public,” then Valentine’s Day should focus on fairness and equality for all.

That’s why Sojourners is celebrating Valentine’s Day with One Billion Rising, a global day of action to end violence against women. Through the #RiseForTheRaise campaign, we’re joining the fight for pay equity to help put an end to gender-based violence.

Unfair wages and economic injustice often leave women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. When women, who make up two-thirds of the world's poor, are unable to meet their basic needs and support themselves and their families, they become at risk for all forms of violence—sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological.

Many women in search of economic survival fall prey to human trafficking, while others without financial resources remain in abusive relationships. Economic empowerment is key to breaking the gender trap of women, violence, and poverty.

In the U.S., women continued to be devalued. When women are paid less than men for equal work, we deny women their sacred worth and contribute to a culture that perpetuates violence against women and girls. It’s time to #RiseForTheRaise!

In God’s economy, all are created equal and should be treated fairly. It’s time for people of faith to rise up and close the gender pay gap.

Short Takes: Anastasia Uglova

1.  How would you describe Akilah Institute’s goals for its students and alumnae? Rwanda today is a far cry from the genocide-torn country that most think of when they hear about it. Rwandans have a vision of a knowledge-based economy, and Rwanda is fast becoming the region’s leader in information technology and new business development. And yet, only 1 percent of Rwandans attend university, and just 30 percent of these are women. We want to make sure that young women have a part to play in building the country’s future.

Akilah’s unique model of market-relevant education empowers young women to launch professional careers and assume leadership roles when they graduate. During their three years at Akilah, students develop English fluency, leadership, public speaking, and critical-thinking skills.

2. Why does Akilah feel young women specifically have needs that must be met through education? Akilah’s nurturing environment creates a culture of community where students can heal from some of the trauma of their past, and no one struggles alone. Of the overwhelming majority of young women in Rwanda and Burundi, an estimated 95 percent will never enter the workforce. Ultimately, we hope that empowering these young women to take control of their future pays dividends generations down the line. Educated women tend to marry later in life, have healthier and fewer children, and are able to disrupt the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

3. What makes Akilah unique in the education it offers women? We admit only the most promising young women. But our admissions process is unique in that we don’t just look at academics. We are much more interested in fit, potential, and passion. What’s special about Akilah is that it is extremely career-focused, assessing students’ career interests and rigorously preparing them to find meaningful employment and launch their own businesses.

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End of an Inquisition?

THE VATICAN REPORT on the three-year investigation of U.S. Catholic sisters landed softly in the national media in December, as major stories combined with Christmas to fill the news cycle. Good timing, if the intent was to bury it. But the story isn’t over.

Some years ago, two Vatican offices, under the leadership of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, launched separate investigations of U.S. women religious, first of the individual orders and later of their leaders’ membership organization.

Why? The general consensus seems to be that high-ranking conservative U.S. bishops were angry at sisters who had generally served as obedient poorly paid minions to do their bidding, but who now were infected with a certain “feminist” outlook on life.

A September 2008 conference on religious life, held at Massachusetts’ Stonehill College, gathered conservative voices critical of how U.S. sisters had “modernized” following the Second Vatican Council. Within a few months, a Vatican office (the “Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life”) announced it would survey every group of “active” (vs. contemplative) U.S. Catholic sisters.

In addition, in January 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog, announced it would conduct a “doctrinal assessment” of the U.S. sisters’ major leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—claiming that LCWR diverged from church teaching on homosexuality, women’s ordination, and the centrality of Jesus in belief. The as-yet-unreported investigation of the 1,500-member LCWR entailed a review of publications and speakers’ texts and significant back-and-forth between LCWR and Vatican representatives.

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This Is What It Looks Like to Help End Human Trafficking

Home office concept. Photo via David Pereiras / Shutterstock.com

I am co-owner of an online boutique store that empowers survivors of trafficking with employment.

I am a social entrepreneur.

I am an abolitionist.

I am…uncomfortable with these kinds of labels.

Because at the end of the day, I’m very ordinary, and these descriptors seem to imply that I’m not.

I live an ordinary life. I wake at the crack of dawn to drive my kids to school and then return home to work, trying to get most of my business done during the hours that my children are at school. Snow days and random holidays are the bane of my work life, and the words, “Sorry, hon, I’m working right now. Give me a minute?” come out of my mouth more than I’d like. I spend the lion’s share of my days on my laptop, troubleshooting, responding to emails, thinking about future lines of clothing, and making sure that the expenses won’t be more than that month’s income. Sometimes, in the midst of the daily humdrum of life, I forget that what I’m doing really does make a difference, half a world away, in the lives of survivors of trafficking.

A Journey to Full Restoration

Silhouette creating the shape of a flying bird. Photo via Shots Studio / Shutterstock.com

Mint's life has been changed since working at NightLight. Having an economic alternative is an essential part of bringing liberation to women who have been trafficked or prostituted. The exit or rescue is only the beginning of freedom. At the same time, a job alone does not restore a woman to her true identity and humanity. There is a well of pain and trauma that lies beneath the surface.

Most organizations that provide after care for survivors struggle to support the financial burden of restoration. When the rescue is over, the support often dwindles before the woman is fully restored and ready to thrive on her own. Without intentional and holistic after care, victims who are rescued often find themselves vulnerable again. Left alone, the familiarity of their slavery can begin to look like the best option for survival.

A successful business can provide the wages and benefits needed to sustain a woman while giving her the opportunity to reach full restoration. When the greater community invests in freedom products, we can help vulnerable women reach their full potential.

For Mint’s sake and other women and girls, may it be so.