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Poor also have dignity, speakers tell Women’s Assembly

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Fay Bennett (right) and Gloria Thompson (center) fill out "money transfer request forms."

May 8, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

ANAHEIM, Calif. (UMNS) — The feminization of poverty is not an abstract concept for Wahu Kaara.

“You are talking about my mother, friends, sisters, aunties and neighbors,” said the Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder and coordinator of the Kenya Debt Relief Network.

“Real women with names, homes and addresses and who have no real hope to ascertain their dignity due to the extremes visited on them by conscious decisions, made by conscious people, but shrouded in the myth of bureaucracy and technocrats.”

Kaara was the May 5 keynote speaker at the 2006 United Methodist Women’s Assembly. She is a candidate in the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections and the ecumenical program coordinator for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals at the All Africa Conference of Churches.

On May 5, assembly participants took action to urge the U.S. Congress to make a “money transfer” in the national budget to assist women and children. They also heard from Silvia Regina Lima e Silva, who deplored the proposed fence between the United States and Mexico and called increased border patrols “a manifestation of a growing racism and xenophobia which are becoming part of everyday life.”

Calling the state of today’s world “poignantly unjust,” Kaara noted that “the values that dictate our pursuits in life are in total negation of our relation with God” and are driven by profit. “We have sacrificed ourselves at the altar of money and earthly possessions,” she said.

Women must speak “with unflinching courage” on such injustices as quantifying life in dollars, keeping track of human misery through statistics, subjugating others to economic and military might in the name of peace, and dividing the world into “haves and have-nots,” according to Kaara.

“The women of the world must take the lead once again and loudly proclaim that we are no longer going to die but live for our world,” she declared. “And this clarion call must resonate from Anaheim to Athens, Nairobi to Nebraska and London to Lagos.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Silvia Regina Lima e Silva leads Bible study during morning worship at the 2006 United Methodist Women's Assembly.
An immediate response to that challenge came as assembly participants filled out a “money transfer request form,” asking Congress to create a “budget for justice” by transferring money from military spending, tax cuts for the wealthy, nuclear weapons and federal crop subsidies for the wealthy to education, training and social services, health care and affordable housing, foreign aid/development funding and environmental

“We call for a national budget with sufficient funds to affirm the dignity of women, children and their families while ensuring defense and security,” participants said in their assembly action. The money transfer forms were collected to be delivered to Congress.

Breaking down walls

The loss of dignity for the “have-nots” also was addressed by Lima e Silva, a Brazilian and professor at the Universidad Biblical Latino Americana in Costa Rica, during the Bible study.

“The gap between the rich and the poor is now visible in walls — walls that are going up to separate the north of the rich from the south of the poor, like the wall between the United States and Mexico,” she said. Her presentation was translated into English by Lourdes Belen Garcia.

Violence faced by women “is becoming a permanent threat to life,” enough so that the word “femicide” should be “placed in the dictionaries and brought to the attention of the news media,” Lima e Silva added.

Words from Isaiah allow for reflection on suffering and the insensitivity that leads to an indifference to the suffering of others. “We put up walls and barriers that distance us from those situations and those people which constitute a threat to us and to the society in which we live,” she said.

Other walls “speak of intolerance and of the inability to live together,” Lima e Silva pointed out, citing the barrier wall built by Israel to separate the country from the Palestinian territories as an example.

She urged the assembly participants to use their strength and energy from God and “send it to different parts of the world. This is the force, the strength that is capable of breaking with indifference. This is the force that is capable of bringing down the walls.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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