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We believe that there is a heavy responsibility on Aboriginal leaders to recognize the significance of the problem within their own communities. They must begin to recognize, as well, how much their silence and failure to act actually contribute to the problem. Aboriginal leaders must speak out against abuse within their communities to their own community members, and they must take steps within their own spheres of community influence to assist the true victims. Women and children who report abuse should never feel they have to leave their communities in order to feel safe.

Aboriginal communities and their leaders must do what is possible to make the home communities of abused women and children havens from abuse. The problem of abuse is dealt with presently by women either staying on the reserves and putting up with the abuse, or leaving their communities to live elsewhere, just to escape from it. It is clear, however, that most would prefer to stay in their home communities if they could be protected. Aboriginal women would like to see arbitration and community support systems in place in their communities.

This is another area in which the development of local resources is badly needed. Aboriginal leadership must ensure that it is sought and governments must ensure that it is provided. There is no equal division of property upon marriage breakdown recognized under the Indian Act. This has to be rectified. While we recognize that amending the Indian Act is not a high priority for either the federal government or the Aboriginal leadership of Canada, we do believe that this matter warrants immediate attention.

At the provincial level, Aboriginal leaders must begin to support the types of programs which assist Aboriginal women and children to report abuse and to get help for its effects. The silence and inactivity of Aboriginal leadership on this issue cannot continue. It amounts to a denial of responsibility. Police forces must join forces with social workers in developing a comprehensive response to domestic violence. In urban communities, we recommend the establishment of abuse teams made up of one or two police officers and a social worker trained in the area of family violence.

When a complaint of a disturbance between partners is received, this team should be dispatched. It should be sufficiently expert to be able to assess the situation and to take the appropriate action. A report of the team should be placed on computer. The report should explain the difficulty and should record any issues that should be considered or anticipated in any subsequent attendance. Before going out on a complaint, the team should examine the record to see if the family has had previous problems.

This information might play a part in the steps taken by a team on a second attendance. We heard of reports of repeated assaults, some leading to death. It is our belief that preventive policing by an abuse team may be able to catch volatile situations and deal with them before the violence escalates. If there are peacemakers or other support groups in a community, the abuse team might be able to obtain the agreement of the parties to go to them for help. The abuse team should monitor the progress of the family.

Such teams should make extensive use of electronic record-keeping and community resources. There are now 10 shelters for abused women located in Manitoba, with the 11th due to open in Dauphin in the fall of There is also a provincial toll-free crisis line which provides immediate and culturally sensitive counselling and referral to women in abusive situations. The provincial Family Disputes Services branch supports the crisis line and provides each of the shelters with core funding and a per-diem overnight rate per person.

Shelters are established to offer a secure environment where the abused are safe from the abuser. Trained counsellors are available to assist the women and children. In some towns, local crisis committees operate safe homes where a woman and her children may stay until space in an approved shelter is available.

These homes may either be the homes of volunteers or a motel. The Income Security Program of the Department of Family Services pays a much lower per-diem rate per person than is allocated by the Family Disputes Services branch for shelters. The branch does not support safe homes financially because it believes that it does not have a secure environment to keep the abuser from the abused, nor any trained counsellors.

We find such a policy to be working adversely against Aboriginal communities where the need for a separate shelter may not be sufficiently large to justify the establishment of one, but where having safe houses to provide occasional relief would create a needed community-based resource. Second-stage housing offers self-contained accommodation for women and children for a period of one year. During this time, women benefit from individual and group sessions to enhance self-esteem, to heal from abuse, to begin family counselling, to learn new parenting skills, and to undertake employment preparation training and assistance.

The contrast in services provided to Aboriginal women is shocking: there are no Aboriginal shelters, other than one in Winnipeg, no Aboriginal safe homes and no Aboriginal second-stage housing anywhere. The only shelter established and directed by Aboriginal people is Ikwe Widdjiitiwin in Winnipeg. It is designed to deal exclusively with the unique cultural and social issues of Aboriginal women. Ikwe Widdjiitiwin seeks to provide women with crisis support, supplemented with programs designed to empower Aboriginal women. As we were told numerous times, women who wish to escape an abusive home must leave the reserve community and go to the town or city.

We consider this tragic and unacceptable. In situations where it is unsafe to leave the victim in the home, there should be shelters or safe houses in Aboriginal communities to which the victim can go. These shelters should be controlled by Aboriginal women who can provide culturally appropriate services. Counselling and support for the victims of abuse are essential. Of course, stopping the abuse is the best possible solution and may lead to a continuation of the family unit. If it appears that abuse is likely to continue, the victim should be assisted to terminate the relationship.

This cannot be done without a great deal of local support. We believe that if communities make it known that physical or sexual abuse will not be tolerated and that offenders will be dealt with harshly, there will be a significant reduction in abuse. Traditional Aboriginal means of punishment may be particularly helpful in these situations.

Public ridicule and shunning, if applied with the support of the leadership in a community, may be as effective a deterrent as imprisonment. The physical or sexual abuse of a family member, or of anyone else for that matter, must be treated as extremely serious.

**Audio Message***Christian Encouragement for Women: Overcoming Unemployment

The community must support that attitude. The support of chiefs and councillors is needed to provided the necessary feeling of security to women in Aboriginal communities. The local police, whether they be band constables or members of an Aboriginal police force, members of the City police forces or the RCMP, should be encouraged to remove offenders at the first sign of abuse.

We were told by a number of Aboriginal women that when a woman who has been abused calls the police, the police usually come to the home to investigate. If there are clear signs of abuse and the man is still in a foul humour, the man may be arrested and removed. Too often, however, the man is left in the home and the woman is encouraged to leave the home and seek refuge in a shelter, if there is one, or in the home of a friend or relative. The emphasis in the past seems to have been to encourage an abused woman to go to a shelter.

It is the abuser who should leave, if anyone has to. There should be support groups in every community that will assist the abused woman to stay in the home and to have the abuser removed. Child Abuse TOP. The most disturbing aspect of all this is child abuse. This abuse is both physical and sexual. All cultural groups have prohibitions against incest and sexual interference with children, but adherence to those rules appears to have broken down both in the broader Canadian society and in Aboriginal society in Manitoba.

Sally Longstaffe, of the Child Advocacy Project with the Child Protection Centre, appeared before us and spoke of the problems society has had in coming to grips with sexual abuse. The problem of child sexual assault is one that has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. Due to the rapid rise in reported instances of child sexual abuse, the demand for knowledge on the subject far exceeds supply. The knowledge that currently exists is rapidly changing as it undergoes examination and refinement by various professionals in the human service field.

Longstaffe described the study that involved a detailed investigation into the cases of Manitoba children both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Although there was medical evidence to support a belief that the children had been sexually abused, in 85 cases charges were never laid or were dismissed. Longstaffe said that the situations facing Aboriginal children on reserves were particularly worrisome. The children often were the victims of multiple assaults from numerous, and often related, individuals, and often were threatened if they took their complaints to the authorities.

In reserve communities, the lack of communication between social agencies, and the lack of connection between the community and the justice system, led to a number of disturbing consequences. The need for bold action is apparent. Children are suffering from trauma, physical injury, and psychological devastation that result from sexual abuse.

The injuries to self-esteem, trust, and emotional functioning last a lifetime. The incidence of sniffing, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, suicide, depression, and sexual acting out among Indian children suggest that the problem of child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions. The statistics examined by the project show that the court system is not the answer in all situations.

Two-thirds of the children it looked at who were removed from unsafe homes were returned eventually to those homes by the courts, or were placed in a setting where the offender had direct or indirect access to them. The project suggests the use of elders in responding to Aboriginal child sexual abuse. It suggests there are several merits to this approach:. Elders command the respect necessary to mobilize reserve communities to deal with the problem.

As well, their position in the community is well-suited to both confronting the offender and consulting ongoing treatment strategies for the offender with collaboration information and support from other treatment resources. Most importantly, elders are a source of expertise and credibility in performing the task of blending modern clinical expertise and theoretical knowledge with the traditional values of their people.

The causes of sexual assault are complex and difficult to ascertain. Feelings of anger and frustration, and the need for a feeling of power or dominance over another, may partly explain this activity. Certainly, alcohol plays a major part, as many people do things under the influence of alcohol they would not normally do. Children are easy targets for angry parents, and often verbal and then physical abuse are directed towards them. They are in a difficult position to resist physical attacks or sexual advances from a parent or an older relative.

While some of the history we spoke of earlier may offer some explanations for such unacceptable conduct, and even if that conduct is part of the legacy of colonization, we wish to make it clear that we find none of the explanations an excuse for the manner in which Aboriginal women and children are treated.

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The social cost of child sexual abuse is higher than we can imagine. These child victims continue to be victimized throughout their lives. The burden of this victimization is preventing many Indian children from becoming the healthy, functioning adults they might otherwise be. The failure of the social, medical, and legal systems to provide a safe environment for the normal development of these children perpetuates the existence of future generations of victims.

It is time to break the cycle of victimization. It is time to break the long standing pattern of non-action on reserve-based child sexual abuse. Quite simply, it is time for a new justice for Indian children. All rural detachments of the RCMP should receive additional training in child sexual abuse and the investigation of such cases. As well, RCMP training efforts in this area should be designed to include local tribal police for the dual purpose of maintaining a close relationship and providing these officers with proper information. Training should include the role of the peace officer in a multidisciplinary team Such a program would address the issue of consistency, ie: having the same Crown attorney throughout the case , as well as developing a working relationship with local Justice Committees.

One possible option would be to hire legal assistants or paralegals to be based on the reserves for the purpose of facilitating a logical and orderly collaboration on each case. The possibility of developing Tribal Courts should, in our view, be explored by examining the relative success of such in other jurisdictions That a program be initiated to promote the use of a multidisciplinary team approach on every reserve in Manitoba. The focus of such an approach would be tribal elders in conjunction with the local child-caring agency, the local Child Care Committee, and the local Justice and other pertinent Committees.

By using such mechanisms as a foundation for a community-based approach, non-native institutions and methods can be adapted to use in reserve communities. If such teams demonstrate leadership and a willingness to act, legal and medical professionals from the white system can play a supportive rather than controlling role It is recommended that there be considerable new resources committed toward developing a treatment capacity in each reserve, for offenders and victims, such resources currently being negligible.

The logical vehicle for providing treatment is the local child-care agency, with advice and support from community elders, or perhaps a larger council of elders. Much needed culturally based prevention personal safety programs could then be developed for use in reserve schools It is recommended that child-caring agencies with the responsibility for the protection of Indian children place a big priority on developing greater numbers of safe placement options for children.

This includes the careful scrutiny of current placement options, as well as possible extended family placements. The development of innovative new safe places for child victims is an undertaking that would optimally be conducted in conjunction with Child Care Committees and multidisciplinary teams as they become operative. We accept the findings and echo the recommendations of the Child Advocacy Project.

Provincial, federal and community governments must jointly develop and implement resources and programs to deal with this most serious of problems.

1. Introduction

Longstaffe told us that there were also positive developments and that these generally occurred where community leaders and elders played a crucial role in enforcing community discipline. We had one situation in the course of this study where one of our elders had a sexual abuse situation that came to light in her own community during the course of the study and where, after some informal discussion, the community decided on its own to try to provide a ring of protection around potential victims.

And this process, although informal, seemed to be very effective and was carried out over many months with success, we thought. Women told us of painful experiences in seeking help to escape an abusive home, and of their wish for help to keep the family together. They emphasized that Aboriginally designed and directed programs were what they wanted to assist them; they believed that only Aboriginal services would emphasize healing within the family and keeping the family together within the home community. Aboriginal women did not feel comfortable with counselling that tended to exclude the abuser from any treatment process and appears to stressed the necessity of the woman leaving her husband.

Glennis Smith of the Zeebeequa Society, a group of Aboriginal women who seek to protect women and children at Roseau River, explained: "Abuse in general, and violence, it is a disease and it can be treated. We cannot forget, even our offenders have one time been victims of these types of abuses. Aboriginal women, we are told, generally want to "fix" the problem and stay with their partner. They believe this can be done by programs that treat the whole family.

Their philosophy is that strong, healthy families make strong, healthy communities. While they agree that some short-term crisis intervention often is needed, they want to go from that point to one where there is treatment provided for the family as a unit, including both the parents and the children. Aboriginal women ask for treatment that will focus on the whole person and the whole family unit. They believe this approach must include traditional Aboriginal teachings and healing. To achieve that type of an approach, the leaders of programs must themselves be Aboriginal people with some skills or training.

We agree that, instead of sending all abusers to jail, there should be a careful screening process. Where jail does not appear to be the best answer to the situation, we suggest that abusers be required to attend a culturally appropriate treatment program with other members of the family. We believe this will be more effective than fines, restraining orders or community service orders.

The women who spoke to us called for Aboriginally designed and directed programs, similar to those at Alkali Lake, B. It is worthwhile to examine the history and success of these developments. In Alkali Lake, an Aboriginal community in British Columbia, one family turned from alcohol and began a change that affected the whole community.

One by one, members of the community rejected the consumption of alcohol as an acceptable practice. Some alcohol abusers were even asked to leave the community. With the reduction in alcohol consumption abuse, crime declined, and energies were turned toward developing economic opportunities. Alkali Lake has developed an Aboriginal model of healing and self-actualization called "Flying on Your Own. In many ways, Aboriginal communities lead the rest of the province in addressing the consequences of sexual abuse and in devising imaginative ways, based on Aboriginal traditions, to deal with it.

Hollow Water, Seymourville, Agaming and Manigotogan have taken a lead in dealing with sexual abuse cases in their communities by establishing the Hollow Water Resource Group. The emphasis in these communities is on healing and restitution, rather than on punishment. It uses the authority of the legal system when necessary, but concentrates on restoring harmony and balance to the family and the community by healing both the victim and the offender.

The Hollow Water Resource Group told us that their program began as a community workshop, organized by a few people who had survived lives of abuse. About 60 people met and were asked how many ever had been abused. Two-thirds said that they had been. A startling one-third admitted that they had victimized someone else. All agreed that something had to be done to help their communities. The courts were giving sentences considered by the communities to be both too lenient and inappropriate. At the same time, there was no treatment for an offender who was jailed. The group devised a plan of action.

When a person in the community is charged with abuse, whether the abuse is physical or sexual, the RCMP are notified and invited to attend a meeting of the Assessment Team. The team discusses the reported abuse and ensures the protection of the child. According to the resource group, the emphasis is on "protection, support and healing of the victim If so, the matter proceeds normally through the court system, and the group may become involved at the court level.

It has found that even when a matter is resolved in the court system and proceeds to disposition, there is a role for it to play in assisting the court to determine the best manner of disposing of the case. She accommodated that recommendation in her sentence. The resource group meets separately with the offender, the victim and the family. In some instances, the victim and the offender will meet to discuss what harm has been caused to the family unit and what, if anything, can be done to restore harmony to the family.

The resource group will also assess the likelihood of any repetition of the offence. This community involvement is intended to show the abuser that the community is on the side of the victim, to make him or her see that the offence is unacceptable, and to offer assistance if the offender will accept responsibility for the inappropriate conduct. Following these meetings, the resource group representatives meet with the RCMP and the Crown attorney to indicate the plan they propose to undertake.

Depending on a number of factors, particularly on whether the victimizer accepts responsibility, the resource group may indicate its intention to continue to handle the case even if the offender is prosecuted, and it may ask to be allowed to make a recommendation to the court for appropriate punishment if the accused is convicted. In the event that the Crown prosecutor does not proceed with a charge, for whatever reason, the resource group will continue to meet separately with the offender, the victim and the family of each to explain what will be expected in the healing process.

A special gathering and ceremony then is held. The offender, victim, family members and resource group members gather and speak of how they feel about the offence, what responsibility the offender must take, and how each can help in the healing process of the victim and offender. This is the heart of the process and allows the community to show concern for all involved. The offender publicly apologizes and signs a Healing Contract, which usually commits the offender to some form of community service and treatment, and includes a promise by the offender against future victimization of the abused individual.

A special ceremony marks the conclusion of the contract. It recognizes the restoration of the offender to the community and marks a new beginning for all involved. The advantage of the Hollow Water approach is that it offers options missing from other programs. Not only does it provide rehabilitation to the offender, and support and comfort to the victim, but it provides a mechanism to heal and restore harmony to the families and the community.

This approach deals with the problem of abuse at its source. The Hollow Water model was created to protect people against repetition of the offence and to prevent any new incidents of abuse.

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Pilgrim Prayers for Women in Conflict Situations

The Hollow Water model may be best suited to Indian and Metis communities with greater closeness to Aboriginal traditions of healing. However, we believe that such an approach could also be effective in an urban setting. Other communities agree with the philosophy and method of seeking rehabilitation and restoration of relationships, rather than retribution.

Glennis Smith of the Zeebeequa Society of Roseau River recommended treatment rather than incarceration of offenders, noting that many times offenders come out of jail with no treatment for, or understanding of, their behaviour. The role of Aboriginal women has been prominent in the design and implementation of Aboriginal models of healing the victim and abuser, and in developing community support for these programs. It is clear to us that Aboriginal people must be allowed to develop culturally appropriate programs and institutions to deal with family violence issues.

These institutions must come under Aboriginal control. The Interlake Reserves Tribal Council is working to develop their Harmony and Restoration Centre near Gypsumville to provide a more formalized program for offenders, while enabling their families and victims to join in the growing and healing process. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has a research team investigating the development of the Healing Lodge to assist Aboriginal people and communities to recover from the ravages of residential school experiences. We believe that the principles behind healing lodges can play a central role in addressing the issue of family violence in Aboriginal communities.

In all the countries the WCC pilgrims have visited so far, our sisters have shared devastating stories. They are carrying unspeakable wounds. Yet, the women also show incredible strength that comes from their faith in God who is able to transform the conflict to justice and peace. The pilgrims from the team visit to South Sudan, in particular, committed themselves to invite you to join the prayer for overcoming the gender violence. The final pilgrim prayer for women in conflict situations in returns to South Sudan and the reality of displacement and the search for refuge.

This global reality is also reflected in WCC's Christmas message. And he God said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. Exodus KJV. A Dinka woman who was displaced by fighting in near her home in Bentieu, South Sudan, moved to live on the edge of a camp filled with thousands of refugees from Sudan's Nuba Mountains.

South Sudanese women desire rest from the horror of violent conflict, displacement and dislocation. Yet the perilous roads they travel seeking hospitality and rest are challenged by the sobering and even fatal realities of the journey and their destinations. The UNHCR states that the South Sudan is an origin and destination country of forced migrants and a transit country for irregular migration routes. There are close to 1. A large portion of South Sudanese refugees entering Uganda are women and children.

The impact of forced migration on women in and from South Sudan includes large-scale violence, sexual abuse, abduction, hunger, and forced labor. There have been groups of migrants stopped by armed groups who forcibly recruited men and boys. As for migrants in South Sudanese refugee camps, they face increased challenges due to the recent influx and the resulting shortage of international humanitarian assistance Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat RMMS. They are also recruited illegally and subjected to forced labor, human trafficking, or forced prostitution. Another major problem is the situation in detention facilities.

Prisons are often overcrowded and underfunded and access to food and water remains low Human Rights Watch, Still, hope abides and lives in the resilience of South Sudanese women and girls who claim their faith and resist harm and danger. They are coming together and lifting their collective voices which was exhibited in the WCC visit earlier this year. We give thanks to God for their witness and for the Christian churches and agencies that have come alongside of them.

O God our help in ages past and hope for days to come, our South Sudanese sisters seek rest from conflict, war, hunger, poverty, desolate spaces and roads of peril that threaten their lives. They are forced to migrate to new places that may give new possibilities of life for them and their families.

We know they are vulnerable but have still made the difficult decision to leave their homes of birth and seek new destinations of hope. We affirm the scripture that teaches us that God goes with them on their difficult roads and destinations of peril. We pray for their protection and sustenance for their lives. O God, help lead all of us to find just-peace solutions to the root causes that create these conditions so that rest becomes a real option for our beloved South Sudanese sisters and their families. Many young people have been given over to those in power in exchange for protection during times of war.

What can we say to the young women of the DRC who would like to keep themselves for their husbands but are expected to provide financial support for the family in this season of scarcity? Some of these employers are church men with wives and children the age of the girls they are pressuring.

It is not good enough to preach the Gospel, without offering hope for sustenance and survival outside of bartered bodies. We cannot tacitly offer our daughters to the Amnon of this world! Holy God, we ask our girls to preserve themselves for marriage, and yet we are guilty of turning a blind eye to the pressures they are under through poverty and power. Opportunities to move up in communities and develop a profession seem so few and far between. Forgive our seeming inability to offer real solutions and our complicity in perpetuating such wrongs. The systems and powers have failed; may our diligence not fail in seeking the wellbeing of our women and girls.

Guide us in the establishment of employment without abuse; so that transactional sex becomes a faint nightmare of yesteryear. We pray all this in your name. You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they are existed and were created. Its dominance of the landscape and majestic pulsating presence cannot be missed. But there is a visible human footprint along the Congo River, evident in the plastic and other kinds of garbage strewn along its banks.

It would seem that the trauma that affects people affects the Congo River too. In African thought life is understood as interrelated and interdependent. The solidarity that we witnessed among Christian women in the Congo demonstrates a relational outlook to life. One hopes that that outlook would be extended to non-human life and to the Congo River in particular, for its sake and for the sake of the life it sustains. O God, creator and giver of life, not just human life but all life. Help the women who nurture the life of the community to be custodians of all that is life-enhancing.

Let the children of the Congo inherit a wholesome environment, especially around the river.


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By Rev. Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Ps 3 NRSV. The Kimbondo Paediatric Hospital and Orphanage was the epitome of the care that the Good Samaritan gave to the Jew on the side of the road. A Chilean Catholic Franciscan Priest runs the hospital and orphanage and treats every child like his own. The women were matter of fact about their duties to the orphans of Kimbondo who struggle for survival in a world closed to the mentally or physically disabled, as well as to the under-aged survivors of war who still struggle to move beyond the memories of conflict, abuse and abandonment.

Those who visited the hospital and orphanage were challenged to address issues of orphans and chronic illnesses in their own contexts. God expects us to care for orphans, widows and all those who are abandoned in our communities. Creator God, show us how to love and care for those whose are less fortunate like the orphans and vulnerable children at the Kimbondo Paediatric Hospital and Orphanage in the DRC. Grant the women strength and love to continue caring for orphans and vulnerable children representing you, Lord Jesus, as you have taught us to love and care.

Move our hearts to address issues of orphans and vulnerable children in our homes and communities. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. Ps 14 NRSV. Woman dances in Malawi. The Democratic Republic of Congo RC is a beautiful country endowed with all the resources any land could wish for in this world. Nonetheless life in this country is one of the most difficult to live in this same world. The Church continues to be a source of hope in the midst of immense suffering and hopelessness.

The disheartening historical realities and the dysfunctional present have created a situation in which the Congolese people struggle with identity to the extent that they alter their outward appearance by bleaching the skin among other self-rejecting practices. Loving God, the people of the DRC are crying out to you for your love, care and acceptance. May they feel your presence in whatever situation they find themselves. Touch them in a special way so that they will know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Give them justice, peace and full restoration in their minds, bodies and souls. In your holy name we pray. Girl in classroom in Mali. They were enthusiastic, articulating and solving issues of their generation. They spoke about the prevalence of political patronage that lures youth who are contracted to commit acts of violence, especially during an election cycle, as was the case during the time of the visit.

The Christian youths we met made it clear that they would promote peace by naming and rejecting the evil of violence. Taking a stand for peace in the face of so many pressures takes commitment and demonstrates a desire to follow Christ against all odds. God of peace, lead the young people of Congo to seek reconciling peace.

Please raise a generation that will reject strife and choose reconciliation. Help them to stand for what is right and to inspire an activism for peace in the Congo, founded on love of neighbour. Open all our eyes to the systems that perpetuate violence in our communities and make our efforts at peace-making be holistic and founded on love and compassion. What does God look like to you?

And, based on our perspective of God, how do we treat those who are not perceived as perfect? Abandoned by her father when she was born disabled, one of the hostesses of the WCC Pilgrim Team visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo shared her story of tribulation and hope. This was not the norm. She was abandoned by her husband, left with limited means of support. In that regard, she was like many women with disabilities in the DRC — used and abandoned.

Again, her mother provided the much-needed emotional and financial support. For that is what Congolese women do. They help the weak, support the fallen and try to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of all. By offering a space for skills training, support and networking, they give voice and representation to persons with disabilities, affirming their human right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Teach us once again to love. We look at those who are not like us, and we stigmatize, separate and strengthen prejudices. We cast value judgements using criteria known only to us yet claim that it is godly. We offer hope to the vulnerable, but we fail to remember those who are disabled or outcast, often providing little or no support, while expecting them to fend for themselves!

Today we praise you for the examples of wisdom, grace, giftedness and love we experienced with sisters and brothers on the journey. We crave your support for the DRC disabled community which has had to carve a space for themselves in a society where they are often unwelcome and abandoned. Bless those who offer hope as well as pastoral care and occupational therapy in its own way to the community of persons with disabilities.

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Help us to see You in them and in each other and to remember that each of us is called to be in fellowship with You through living with and loving each other. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me. Psalm NRSV. Even though the young women were the quietest participants among the young people that the WCC pilgrim team visited, when probed, their contributions were incredibly moving.

They shared how women graduates are forced into sex for employment with older men as concubines. Refusing this arrangement leaves them with only the option of conventional prostitution on the streets of Kinshasa. The government and church leadership in the DRC need to respond and address the root causes of this despicable culture with specific programmes and projects targeted to improving the security and economic condition of women and youth. The wider church community must take faithful and positive action against the culture of sex for employment.

Most Gracious God, we beseech you to protect the women who are raped and violated at the work place and on the streets in the DRC. Deliver them from the harassment they face from those that should be protecting them. Bring hope and healing to their hearts, minds and bodies. Bring lasting peace and economic stability and prosperity to the land. Grant us all these in the blessed name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. A boy in a camp in rebel-held territory in the eastern Congo, I arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo with full expectations to see the immediate visible impact of the civil war all around me.

I forgot that wounds are not always visible, even when they are festering and wreaking havoc within. There seemed to be a great concern about the upcoming elections, which is intricately enmeshed in the DRC conflicts as the last elections were held in the shadow of the Congo War. This move to elections came with its own share of conflict and protests with the president opting to step down having overstayed his term by two years. This they have undertaken as the Christian compassionate duty to care for widows and orphans. Resilience as they make a new life for themselves amid the ashes, and fear of what the December 23 elections will bring.

Gracious God, War devastates the mind and psyche of all people. Today, we think of the altered lives, the abandoned children, the former child soldiers who seek other ways of living in the DRC, who may not know the provision and security to be found in You. Lord, it pains the heart when we consider the silence and the fear, even when we celebrate the Congolese resilience amidst the threat of violence and the aftermath of devastation.

As elections loom in the DRC, we crave your intervention and grace in the electoral process. We seek integrity among the current and soon to be elected leadership and crave Your divine intervention in the rebuilding and democratic electoral process. May we offer ourselves to the joint effort of rebuilding and provision of resources for those impacted by the Congo wars.

As pilgrims on this journey of life, help us turn a helping hand, a thought, a prayer, tangible help to those in need instead of turning a blind eye and a judgemental ear. From now on all generations will call me blessed Women sing and dance a song about global climate change in Chidyamanga, a village in southern Malawi. The songs of the Christian women of the Congo exude a deep knowledge and faith in God.

They are a resource for ongoing theological education of the women and the wider community. Song is an important medium for teaching theology informally, which could also be appropriated by the academy. Developing the repertoire of songs intentionally to lament the plight of the Congo, inspire hope and mobilise for movement towards that hope would be an important contribution.

Could this knowledge base become a starting point for formal theological education of women? It is wrought in the crucible of experience. Their song, dance, ululation laments the injustices and woes of a country that groans in expectation. It is a public theology performed, demonstrated, creating strength where lives are broken. The healing, humour and hope of the songs of the women of Congo recall the faith confession of the broken woman at the well. Lord God, let the wisdom, defiance, faith and hope in the songs of the women of Congo deepen our knowledge of you.

May their songs and stories of broken bodies and broken promises nurture courage in us all, inspire our actions and nourish our hope. Like the women of Congo who grapple with systemic violence and marginalization yet remain defiantly hopeful nourished by song and deep knowledge of God.

Let their example educate our quest for peace and justice in your world. There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children…. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb… Therefore, Hannah wept and would not eat. Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons? He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head. In all African societies, a marriage is only complete when there are children. In patriarchal societies it is not just children but male children. It is also not just one male child but many children.

African barren women go to great lengths to seek help to have children - male children. The story of Hannah resonates with the experiences of barren African women who despair even when they are in a monogamous loving relationship. It also brings in the belief that God causes barrenness but through prayers God also opens the womb.

The bible story ends well. Hannah conceived and had a baby son whom she dedicated to the Lord. This story is a source of encouragement to many barren women. However, when women are living in the context of war like the girls and women of South Sudan, being able to conceive is not received as good news. When we visited South Sudan, we learned that in the context of civil war where there is shortage of food, threats from sexual harassment and rape, the women talked about not wanting to have more children.

However, even in relatively peaceful African countries, there are too many children whom the families and governments are not able to take care. We thank you God that when you created the first human beings, you were very pleased with your creation. We thank you for giving humanity the responsibility to take care of themselves and all your creation. We thank you because marriage and having children is also part of your plan for humanity. We thank you for your teachings that remind us about being good stewards of our bodies and our families.

We pray to you God for forgiveness where we have brought children into the world and failed to take care of them. We pray that as we take care of the earth, you give us the wisdom to be good stewards of our own fertility. We also pray for all the couples who are suffering from infertility that you answer their prayers according to your will and purpose for their lives. We pray for the girls and women of South Sudan who are unable to manage their fertility in the context of war. We pray that the war will come to an end and that your lasting peace will prevail. In his analysis, Mangena claims that:.

Patriarchy is embedded in a gender ideology which places men at the top and women as their subordinates. According to Hussein , the 'African gender ideology is a system of shaping different lives for men and women by placing them in different social positions and patterns of expectations'. He identifies rituals, legends, name-giving ceremonies, oral narratives, proverbs, aphorisms and usages as instruments that have been in the vanguard of mobilising gender ideology. In the following sections, I look at Shona women's negative experiences of ubuntu or hunhu in the various aspects of their lives.

Ubuntu, women and social life. Within or without the academic discourses, ubuntu or hunhu can be seen as engendering patriarchy; for instance, its metaphysical dimension is linked to the belief in and respect of ancestral spirits who amongst the Shona are mostly related to patrilineal descent. This is the reason why male children are often highly regarded over and above their female counterparts.

It is the boy child who ensures that the family lineage is carried forward. According to Chitando and Mateveke , 'it is the male child who is treasured as he ensures that the lineage and homestead avoid the greatest existential threat: extinction dongo '. When it comes to decision-making, in most cases women are not consulted and, as a result, their voices are silent.

At the traditional dare court , whether it is a family or community court, a common expression is often uttered: 'vakadzi ngavanyarare' 'women should keep quiet'. As Chimuka alleges, citing Ramose and Samkange, the traditional court was modelled around the ubuntu or hunhu philosophy. At these courts, decisions are made by men, whilst women remain listeners and silent implementers of men's decisions. It is like the biblical woman of 1 Corinthians who Paul says should not engage in public discourses, but when in public should learn in silence.

To this end, Chitando and Mateveke argue that 'Christianity has played a major role in promoting patriarchy and its attendant notions of women's domesticity and decency'. One would then think that within the private domain, women have a say. The media in Zimbabwe today is full of stories of women who are abused physically, sexually and verbally - even within the private spaces of the home.

The enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1 of needs to be understood within this context. However, the Shona proverb which says 'chakafukidza dzimba matenga' implying that the secrets of the home need to remain untold was mainly meant to silence women from disclosing how they were being treated by their husbands.

In such cases, abusive partners would continue with their abusive behaviour realising that the public would never know about it. One would have thought that the instatement of the aforementioned law would be lauded by both men and women as an effort to create peaceful environments within the home. This has not been the case as some feel that the law is empowering women to expose what traditionally would have remained within the confines of the home. Mpofu projects the Domestic Violence Act of as a statutory instrument which undermines the culture of the Zimbabwean communities, and argues that:.

It is nauseating to notice that the marital issues which have always been private matters as enshrined in the Shona proverb 'chakafukidza dzimba matenga' especially marital issues have been pushed into the public horizon. It is this expected silence from society about their painful experiences which often lead women to suffer in silence.

Even after reporting their husbands for abuse to the police, most women withdraw their cases due to societal pressure because a 'real' woman 'mukadzi chaiye' does not do that. This construction of an ideal woman has led many to their death; for example, even after discovering that their husbands are engaging in extra-marital relationships and have contracted HIV, most women continue to sleep with their husbands, making themselves vulnerable to infection in the process. Shona women are taught that at no point should they deny their husbands sex murume haanyimwe bonde'.

Moreover, their subordinate position does not enable them to demand that thy use protection during sexual intercourse. According to Machingura , 'noble women "vakadzi chaivo" - real women are typified as not to be associated with the use of condoms, even in the face of promiscuity'. In this case, Machingura notes that 'the Shona culture and most religions in Zimbabwe like African Traditional Religion and Christianity are the major stumbling blocks in the empowerment of married women on safe sex'.

In the event that a woman's husband succumbs to AIDS, society expects the woman not to abandon him but to care for him. Women in Zimbabwe have carried the burden of care for those infected, yet in most cases they find that when they are the ones needing the care, their husbands often neglect them or take them back to their families of birth.

Society does not see anything wrong with such an arrangement because it is commonly believed that men are not 'natural' carers. Women in Zimbabwe have suffered harassment in public places in the name of ubuntu or hunhu. The Shona generally view issues of dress as one area where one's morals can be judged. As such, women who wear mini-skirts are often vilified. Women have been attacked and their mini-skirts torn by men who view them as denigrating African culture. It is difficult to conceive that the one who is putting on a mini-skirt is deemed immoral and yet the men who undress and tear the mini-skirt find it moral to justify such acts.

Therefore, we need to question why, in defense of an ethic that encourages love and compassion, men use violence against women. Oppah Muchinguri, the former Minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development, speaking at a protest march of a woman who had been murdered in her sleep by her husband in May i. Isabel Masuka , attributed gender-based violence to cultural values created by men who have a powerful position in a patriarchal Zimbabwean society.

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She argued that it is not easy to shake patriarchy and that men are our problem. They are the ones who define culture, and they bend it when it suits them Chirumanzu In this case, ubuntu needs to be seen as a creation of men who were determined to regard women as restricted, dominated and marginalised. Samkange and Samkange cited in Pearce posit that a woman occupies an ambiguous place in the moral system, for although she is munhu, she can be beaten as a child. Hence, the domestic and public violence experienced by women in Zimbabwe is embedded in the way culture has defined a woman's place in society.

This is the reason why some proverbs and sayings in Shona are stereotypical in terms of the representation of women; for example, the saying 'mukadzi mutsvuku akasaroya anoba' i. In such cases, beautiful women would feel indebted to the men who were courageous enough to marry them despite these societal attitudes and would therefore try to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that although they were beautiful, they were neither witches nor thieves.

Nothing is said of the men who might have the same complexion. There are other sayings or expressions in Shona that negatively depict women as a social group that are unable to keep secrets. In his poem, Chawanzwa 'What you have heard' , J. Kumbirai advises men not to tell women what they have heard:. Chawanzwa usaudze mukadzi What you have heard never tell a woman. Mukadzi idare rinoti ngwengwengwe A woman is a sounding metal. Chaanzwa achiridza kwese What she hears ringing out everywhere.

Fortune n. In this poem, Kumbirai depicts women as having a weakness in terms of being incapable of keeping secrets. Once they hear something, they go about preaching it everywhere. Thus, Hussein aptly notes that 'the African oral traditions portray women in general as foolish, weak, jealous, evil, unfaithful, dependent, frivolous and seductive'. Ubuntu is exclusive. Strict adherence to the concept creates exclusionary identities which are often viewed as 'others' within specific boundaries; for example, married women are often excluded from important decision-making meetings within their husband's families.

When they go back to their families of birth, they are told that they cannot make any major decision because they no longer belong there. In this case, these notions of mutorwa 'alien' are a creation of exclusionary identities which often reinforce exclusionary boundaries. More often, women find out that they do not belong to either their families of birth or the families to which they are married. In a market economy like Zimbabwe, we have women who are choosing not to get married.

This is not expected in the ubuntu or hunhu philosophy which stipulates marriage for all. Those that do not get married are derided by society because a 'real' woman finds respect in motherhood. This kind of attitude removes the power of choice from the woman who may feel obliged to adhere to the expected norms despite them feeling otherwise. On the other hand, the practice of polygamy in Shona society puts most women in both a subordinate and precarious position.

Shona society is traditionally polygamous, and according to Bowan :. Polygamy and patriarchy have long been comfortable bedfellows, and the rights of women have always been subordinated to the larger freedoms enjoyed by men and to the patriarchal perception of the good of the community.

Shona authors who have written stories depicting Shona polygamous families have almost always highlighted how these families were characterised by conflicts, unhappiness and a sense of lack, amongst many other negative things. Thus, Bowan argues that 'a woman faces a raft of abuses through the inequalities and vulnerabilities imposed through customary, polygamous marriage'. In most cases, the philosophy of ubuntu or hunhu is invoked in order to silence or wade off resistance from the affected women; for example, the Shona have a proverb which says 'chembere ndeyembwa, yemurume ndibaba vevana' i.

This justifies the continued marrying of wives by men because the general belief amongst the Shona is that once a woman reaches menopause, they lose interest in sex; therefore, a man is allowed to marry someone much younger to offer him 'much needed' sexual services. Ubuntu is also discriminatory to those whose actions and behaviour does not quite fit in its tenets; for example, in Zimbabwe, homosexual individuals have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The major argument against these individuals is that they do not conform to the set standards of marriage. Often asked is the question: what kind of behaviour is that? In Zimbabwe, these people have been described as being 'worse than pigs and dogs' and have been threatened with death. Yet those calling names and threatening people with death do not seem to have the time to consider whether their actions are consistent with the ubuntu philosophy. Or is it a question of the powerful imposing what they conceive as unhu on the 'perceived' weak groups in society?

This becomes cultural relativism where one group is privileged over the other; in this example, it becomes a case of heterosexual people versus homosexual people. Lesbian people, in this case, are considered more vulnerable because they are women living in a patriarchal society and homosexual in a society that is, to a large extent, antihomosexual. In a study by Aarmo on homosexuality in Zimbabwe, she discovered that some lesbian people in rural Zimbabwe were thrown out of their parental homes or were sexually abused through organised rape as a means of 'correcting' their sexual orientation.

This goes to prove that in a Shona woman's social life, as in other facets of life, ubuntu or hunhu can be very oppressive. Ubuntu, women and political life. Politics is one area where the concept of ubuntu or hunhu shows its exclusionary tendencies. I have implied earlier that in Shona traditional society, women are not expected to actively participate in decision-making. In political structures of traditional societies, there was no place for a woman.

Thus Ogunsanya n. In postindependent Zimbabwe, we have seen a steady rise of women in political office. Despite this increase, female politicians have not been as effective as expected. As such, Ndlovu and Mutale note that:. Women's increasing presence in governance institutions has generally not had much transformative impact on the subtle patriarchal cultures and practices in Africa. Progression in opening up spaces for women's political participation in Africa has not gone along with the diminishing of patriarchal power structures.

The political violence that Zimbabwean women have historically experienced needs to be located within the framework of trying to sideline women from political participation irrespective of the fact that they constitute more than half of the population. The exclusionary tendencies of ubuntu or hunhu are being witnessed in Zimbabwe's current political environment where women have been told to desist from being ambitious.

The former Vice-President, Joice Mujuru, has been presented as one who does not have ubuntu or hunhu because she dared to dream of being the President of the Republic. President Robert Mugabe's statement 'and the person who wants to take over is a woman for that matter' is meant to show that women cannot be leaders of Zimbabwe, yet they constitute more than half of the Zimbabwean population. It seems to suggest that women are not human enough to warrant the highest office in the land.

From a gendered perspective, the bastardisation of Mujuru's position has shown that a woman who dreams about becoming the president of Zimbabwe is dangerous to patriarchy and, if dangerous, then they are put in their place. In response to this vilification, supporters of Mujuru went beyond just defending her.

They reproduced archival pictures of Mujuru in war regalia holding a gun, thereby masculinising her.