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Women’s Division wants more action on Jena crisis


Incoming top executive Harriett Olson (from left), President Kyung Za Yim and outgoing interim chief executive Lois Dauway share a light moment at the annual meeting of the Women's Division, the policymaking body of United Methodist Women. A UMNS photo by Cassandra Heller.  

By Linda Bloom*
Oct. 9, 2007 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

United Methodist Women have called for renewed action on racial justice and reconciliation in Jena, La., and respect for human rights in Myanmar.

"The Women's Division adds its voice to a nationwide call for equal justice in Jena, Louisiana, where six black teenagers face criminal charges in the wake of a series of racial incidents in the town's high school," the division said in a resolution approved during its Oct. 5-8 annual meeting.


The Women's Division is joining the call for equal justice for six black teenagers in Jena, La. A UMNS file photo by John Coleman.  

The division is the administrative arm of UMW, a denominational organization of approximately 800,000 members in the United States. The annual meeting was the first for Harriett Olson, the division's new chief executive, who was elected by directors last August.

Following up on a Sept. 20 statement about the tension in Jena, the division said it would "explore opportunities to support mutual understanding and bridge-building within the high school, churches and the community" and, while continuing to denounce acts of hate, use such incidents as "teachable moments."

On Sept. 27 — a week after an estimated 15,000-plus demonstrators marched through the small town to protest the handling of the case against the black teenagers — Mychal Bell, the last of the Jena 6 defendants still in jail, was released on bail.

The Women's Division pledged to continue "to call on state and federal officials as needed to investigate and monitor the criminal cases against the youth known as the Jena 6." UMW members are asked to pray for justice, healing and reconciliation in Jena and Louisiana, send similar letters to officials and "deepen work for racial justice in their own communities."

Speaking on Myanmar

Directors noted the "deteriorating conditions in Myanmar, extreme violations of the human rights of its citizens and danger to the safety and security of its women and children" and condemned the latest repression by the military government in that Asian nation.

They joined with the United Nations and human rights organizations in calling on the government of Myanmar to halt immediately all violent attacks on peaceful demonstrations; respect the right of peaceful assembly; release all peaceful demonstrators being held; and stop blocking Internet communications in and out of the country.

“We need the support of United Methodist Women in local units to stay on task … to help keep us focused on what makes a difference in their communities.”–Harriett Olson

The division urged companies doing business with Myanmar to protest recent government actions and at least temporarily suspend any further business. It urged China, India and other trade partners to use those relationships as leverage "to encourage peaceful reform and full respect for human rights in Myanmar."

A focus on immigration issues was expanded as the directors agreed that the Women's Division should become a founding endorser of "Campaign for a United America." The goal of the campaign, led by the faith-based Center for New Community, is to promote a balanced national dialogue on immigration.

"The Women's Division will publicly be associated with the campaign's efforts to uncover the racist underpinnings of many anti-immigrant organizations that help to shape media messages and current debates," the adopted resolution said.

In her speech to directors, Olson spoke of both the "storied past" of United Methodist Women and the need to position the organization for the future. "We need the support of United Methodist Women in local units to stay on task … to help keep us focused on what makes a difference in their communities," she said. 

In other business, the Women's Division directors:

  • Approved a budget of $19,342,043 for 2008;
  • Learned Andrea Hatcher, treasurer, had resigned, effective Oct. 10, and that the search for a new treasurer is under way;
  • Agreed to participate in a one-day monitoring of news coverage of peace issues in the media on March 4, organized by the North American Regional Association of the World Association of Christian Communication;
  • Decided to send a director and one staff member to attend the World Conference of Peace, also sponsored by the World Association of Christian Communication, Oct. 5-10, 2008, in Cape Town, South Africa.

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

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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