This week United Methodist Women is participating in the 57th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57), with an international delegation representing us at U.N. events and serving as panelists and presenters at our parallel events at our Church Center for the United Nations, across the street from the U.N.
The theme for this year’s commission is the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. Ending violence against women is a key priority for United Methodist Women, and it’s been a busy and fruitful week as we share stories and ideas and learn from women all over the world their experiences with violence against women and best practices for ending it.
On Tuesday March 6 we hosted a panel discussion titled Violence, Economics and War. Women activists discussed the challenges that women and their communities face, and they analyzed the intersectionality between violence, economics and war. They also discussed how to implement innovative solutions, contributing to the CSW agreed conclusions.
Panelists included Rusudan Kalichava (Republic of Georgia), Executive Director and Co-Founder of Association ATINATI; Kazadi Musau Betty (Democratic Republic of Congo), Secretary of the Central Congo Conference of The United Methodist Church; Nelly del Cid (Honduras), Program Coordinator for Weaver of Dreams; and Betty Reardon (United States), Founding Director Emerita of the International Institute on Peace Education.
Kalichava works with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and vulnerable women, children and youth through Association ATINATI, a grass-roots organization based in Zugdidi, Western Georgia, founded in 1995. Zugdidi is on the border of Abkhazia, a conflict zone from which many have needed to flee, with few possessions, in what Kalichava called “spontaneous migration.”
As a result of focused conflict in 1981 and 1992, in 1993 Georgia was home to 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Since 2008, Kalichava explained, 26,000 more people have become IDPs. Many died during the cold migration through the mountains. Those who survived occupy abandoned buildings, live in harsh conditions and have very little opportunity for education or work or options to improve their situation. Women face increasing violence at home as these conditions increase alcoholism among men.
Association ATINATI, with the help of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), UNHCR and the European Commission, has provided education and counseling to displaced women, children and youth and has offered income-generating opportunities, among other projects, to help IDPs. In 2006 Georgia instituted legislation to prosecute those who perpetuate domestic violence and human trafficking and to ensure gender equality, and the country is working on ensuring these laws are enforced, according to Kalichava.
Kalichava explained that Georgia is also geopolitically vulnerable as a trade route for natural gas and oil between the East and West, making Georgia a territory that Russia has sought to claim since the fall of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s independence in 1991. Global dependence on oil drives such conflict. Georgia’s work against violence against women cannot be done in isolation as it is a consequence of global actions.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Musau Betty is secretary of the Central Congo Conference of The United Methodist Church and Health Committee Board member of the North Katanga Annual Conference in the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A clergywoman, Musau Betty is a professor of New Testament theology and a mentor for laywomen. She supervised a microfinance program in Kamina, DRC, that focused on capacity building for women.
“Despite its vast resources,” Musau Betty stated, “the DRC has suffered almost 20 years of war and violence, especially in the northeast.” The major causes of the wars are over these abundant natural resources, and they are economically motivated, she explained. “While you listen, think about the women in eastern DRC who are dying right now because of the rebel coup.”
“It is hard for me to say, but as DRC women we have lost our dignity. Our bodies have become the battleground for the rebel groups. Because of this we as DRC women bear a lot of shame in our respective communities. … The stigma is heavy on us. We seem to have lost our future.”
That rape is used as a weapon of war in the DRC is not new news to many, yet it continues. “Seventy-nine percent of rape cases are committed by the M23 and other rebel groups. Sexual violence has become endemic in the DRC because of war,” Musau Betty stated. It leaves women vulnerable, with no way to be economically independent, forced to be roadside vendors, child brides, child laborers. “War always causes damage. It has killed our social, political and economic systems,” she said.
“Conflict minerals” is the term used to describe the natural resources armed forces control or seek to control because of the large profit that can be made from them. The minerals, tungsten, tin, gold and tantalum, found in eastern Congo are used in various products worldwide, including cell phones, jewelry, airbags, GPS systems, electronics and golf clubs. As in Georgia, the violence in the DRC is spurned in large part by global manufacturers who benefits from conflict minerals.
“Will other women of the world stand in solidarity with us?” Musau Betty asked.
Spanish-to-English translation provided by Don Reasoner of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Nelly del Cid is director of Mercy Dreamweavers in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and is an active member of the Women in Resistance, a branch of the Honduran Resistance Movement. “We need to be very clear that this world is controlled by transnational corporations,” del Cid began. “Their investments are motivated by profits regardless of the consequences. … And militarization has historically been one way to ensure investments.” Echoing Musau Betty, del Cid stated, “As we militarize, we have a deterioration of human rights, particularly women’s rights.”
del Cid explained that Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the world. Every 19 minutes a person is killed. Organized crime is increasing. Government and military corruption and impunity is increasing. The culture of violence and death is increasing. “We have become one the most violent countries in the world,” del Cid said. “By controlling mines, rivers, water, forests and diversity we have has made life a commodity itself.”
Honduras is for sale, del Cid stated. “And one of the biggest winners is the United States,” del Cid stated. In the 1980s the United States established a military base in Honduras under the guise of monitoring the communism in Nicaragua and El Salvador and maintained the “temporary” base as a tool in the “war on drugs.” “If they’re fighting the drug trade, why is it getting stronger?” asks del Cid. Now the United States is in negotiation for two more military bases in Honduras as part of the increasing arms race in the region, and an increase in arms results in increased armed conflict, del Cid stated.
According to del Cid, the government of Honduras has begun establishing laws that are violation of its own constitution. All labor is now temporary, and working conditions are deteriorating as laborer rights and safety are increasingly ignored in the name of monetary profit.
Though public protest is now criminalized, del Cid said, “People still resist, and we continue making alliances to defend our bodies and country.”
Betty Reardon is an American peace educator and founding director emerita of the International Institute on Peace Education. Reardon explained that natural resources are part of the global war system, that war is historically an effort to protect patriarchs and their control of the land. “Today those patriarchs sit on the boards of transnational corporations. Transnational corporations are who are being served by our wars,” Reardon said, explaining that in the United States these corporations get to participate in our elections, as they are considered people by the country’s Supreme Court.
What does security mean for women? Reardon described human security as:
- Well-being and freedom from fear.
- Healthy environment.
- Protection from avoidable harm.
What can the United States do? “Abolish war, fully implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and demilitarize our system of national security,” Reardon says. “War is a crime, and the people who wage it are criminals.”
United Methodist Women has hosted and co-sponsored various workshops in conjunction with CSW57, including on the topic of faith’s response to domestic violence, race and class and violence against women, women’s leadership to end the Korean War, violence against migrant women, making girls’ voices heard, and a worship service on overcoming the pain of abuse and violence against women and girls.
Your generous Mission Giving supports our important involvement in this international dialogue on women’s rights, and we thank you every day.