30 April 2009

Spring Lobby Days in DC

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) sponsored a congressional briefing this week on Religious Support for reducing Unintended Pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections among Youth. WATER was among the co-sponsoring groups.

Speakers included Debra Haffner of the Institute who provided an overview of the issues and Bill Smith of SIECUS who explained the importance of passing REAL Sex Education, the Responsible Education About Life Act (S.611, H.R. 1551), which would provide the first federal money ($50 million) for sex education. The $1.5 billion (yes, billion) in federal and state money for abstinence-only programs of the previous administration failed utterly to teach young people how to be sexually responsible.

Ann Hanson of the United Church of Christ (UCC) informed the staffers and others present about the Our Whole Lives religious education curriculum that the UCC and Unitarian Universalists have developed with great results. Emily Goodstein of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice brought the wise voice of young women to the table. Cedric Harmon of City of Refuge Church added pastoral insight from within communities hard hit by HIV/AIDS. Ignacio Castuera, the first National Chaplain of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spoke of the need for sex education within Hispanic communities.

The message of the day was that progressive religious groups are foursquare behind federal funding for sex education and also perfectly wiling to let those whose religious views keep them from supporting it to opt out of programs for their own children. In a democratic society that seems like a fair and prudent way forward.

I walked across the Capitol lawn to Union Station on a gorgeous sunny day to return to the office. I ran into the protest by ADAPT, dozens of people in wheelchairs lined up across busy Capital Hill streets on both the House and Senate sides of the area. They seek passage of legislation to make more choices available to people who receive disability funding (Community Choice Act, S. 683, H.B.1670). They want to be able to live at home rather than have to go to nursing homes or other institutions. Almost 200 people were arrested and hundreds more scaled the steps of the Capitol, some leaving their chairs below, to dramatize their views (

At the same time, colleagues from the third annual Transgender Religious Leaders Summit, co-sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in religion and Ministry (CLGS) and the National Center for Transgender Equality were lobbying their representatives for trans rights. I could not help but think what a new day it is in DC, how there is hope in the air that some of these basic justice issues will be solved in the near future. Ah, spring in a new era.

-- Mary E. Hunt

Feminist Studies in Religion Blog

Our colleagues at Feminist Studies in Religion have started a blog. which is intended to be a place of feminist dialogue across traditions, generations, nations, and perspectives. I have put a couple things on it and encourage WATER readers/bloggers to go there and join in the conversation.

-- Mary E. Hunt

02 April 2009

A Radical Act of Presence in the Face of Femicide

What do we do in the face of statistics that tell us one in two Congolese women have experienced sexual violence, reports that say that in the past ten years more than 200,000 Congolese women and girls have been raped, an average of forty women per day in the province of South Kivu alone? How do we respond to a situation where thousands of women’s and girls’ insides are being ripped apart because militias are systematically demolishing communities, where the planned methodological destruction of women’s reproductive capacities is being used as a tactic of war?

What are we to do in the face of femicide?

Last night, people in the WATER community responded in a radical act of presence. Our gathering was small, no more than fifteen of us, but we were present nonetheless. We came from around the Washington, DC area on a damp and drizzly night to say, through our gathering, that gathering matters; to say, through our coming together, that we know the horrific injustices done to women in the Congo and we are not silent.

Stories were read and heard, candles were lit, prayers were prayed. Our silence was sacred and our solidarity was shared. What stands out to me, though, is the reminder that presence is powerful. Solidarity is no small thing. In the face of something as hopeless and overwhelming as femicide, sometimes the act of gathering is all we can muster. Let us find hope in what is radical about such an act, not in what is lacking.

We are reminded that we do not gather alone. Our circle of solidarity at WATER is part of a broader campaign called the
Congo Sabbath Initiative, an effort to engage faith communities in educating people about sexual violence in the Congo. Services, teach-ins, programs similar to ours are being held across the country between January and April 2009. Money raised goes to build a greatly-needed center for survivors of rape and torture in Bukavu.

I hope that radical acts of presence will continue, small and simple may they be. May our solidarity speak loudly in efforts to end sexual violence in the Congo and around the world.

To learn more and get involved, visit the
V-day website.

--Anna B. Roeschley