Sunday, March 16, 2014

Women are making the desert bloom

In recognition of this year’s International Women’s Day, I attended two events. Though the character of the two events differed, they shared a common element: women around the globe are a force for change in their communities and in the world. From the macro to the micro level, women are creating streams in the desert places of human society.

World Day of Prayer 
The first event that I attended was the 2014 World Day of Prayer. The World Day of Prayer has its origins in the 19th century in the missionary activity of women. Held annually since 1927, women from 170 countries participate.

This year, the women of Egypt prepared the ecumenical service, and not surprisingly, given the importance of the Nile River for life in the Sahara Desert, water featured prominently in the readings and prayers. The spiritually evocative theme, “Streams in the Desert”, pointed to God’s love and mercy in the parched places of human life.

As the women reflected on Egypt’s history and anticipated the future, the life-giving character of water was a metaphor for individual and community transformation.  Through faith in action, the women of Egypt aspire to “become channels of living water to the world” (Women's Inter-Church Council of Canada Ecumenical Service World Day of Prayer 2014). 

Egyptian women are continually discovering ways to make their world bloom with possibilities. From the daughter of Pharaoh, who in the biblical story of salvation defied her father to rescue the Hebrew baby who would lead an enslaved people to freedom, to the women who stood with men in Tahrir Square protesting a repressive regime, Egyptian women are agents of change, claiming their “right to freedom, justice and equality” (Ecumenical Service World Day of Prayer 2014).  Their vision extends into the future as they look for ways to preserve the waters of the Nile for future generations, and to enhance opportunities for women and girls. 

Unbreakable: One Girl Changing the World
The World Day of Prayer service prompted me to look inward for the parched places of my life that could use a little sprinkling of life giving water, and it prepared me for the second event, the screening of the film Unbreakable: One Girl Changing the World. This event took me out of my self, leading me to reevaluate my commitment to social justice at home and in places oceans away.

“Women Creating Change”, a project in the Lower Columbia region where I live, screened the film.   Before the film, we watched a video presentation that depicts some of the barriers – isolation, unaffordable housing and childcare, food insecurity, transportation costs, and claw backs to social assistance – women with low incomes struggle to overcome.  

Unbreakable: One Girl Changing the World tells the story of Malala Yousafzai who is internationally renowned for her courageous efforts to promote education for girls. Malala survived and recovered from a Taliban attempt to assassinate her, and remains committed to her mission. Not unlike Pharaoh’s daughter, the baby she plucked from the waters or the women who protested in Tahrir Square, Malala refuses to be silent against injustice; her inspiring example to empower girls through education is a stream in the desert of ignorance.

The Malala film was a natural fit with the goals of “Women Creating Change”. Tara Howse, project co-coordinator, explains, “Our project is based around identifying what prevents women in our local region from having a secure and stable future. We know that education is directly linked to the empowerment of women, which has been demonstrated to a better quality of life for their families and the rest of society.” To this end, the project hopes to establish a bursary for women. Projects like this one are made in Canada examples of women working towards the transformation of society.

The women of Egypt, Malala and “Women Creating Change” share a common goal; all want to see an increase in the opportunities for individuals to live with dignity, to realize their potential, and to live in harmony with others.

Collaborating with others, we become streams in the desert
These are matters of social justice in which we can participate, although I admit that there are times when I feel quite useless in the face of injustice. Despite these sometimes feelings of uselessness, I believe that often even a small action makes a significant difference, and that when we collaborate with others, we become like streams in the desert, helping individuals and communities to bloom.

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