Wednesday, October 12, 2016

International Day of the Girl Child, October 11th: Girls Thrive = Society Benefits

I wonder in what ways the diaconal associations recognised the International Day of the Girl Child? And what programs and priorities there are amongst our diaconal associations that address the challenges girls face, and to promote girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. 
Below are two articles I found helpful reflecting on the International Day of the Girl Child, one from the UN and one from Australian Mike Frost on his blog. It is followed by a prayer for the girl child and women, prepared by Rev Thomas Jacob. 
(from the UN):
The International Day of the Girl Child recognises girls' rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.
Over the last 15 years, the global community has made significant progress in improving the lives of girls during early childhood. In 2015, girls in the first decade of life are more likely to enrol in primary school, receive key vaccinations, and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than were previous generations. However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they enter the second decade of their lives. This includes obtaining quality secondary and higher education, avoiding child marriage, receiving information and services related to puberty and reproductive health, and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and gender-based violence.
The theme for this year's International Day of the Girl (11 October) is Girls' Progress = Goals' Progress: What Counts for Girls. While we can applaud the ambition and potential of the Sustainable Development Goals for girls, and recognize how girls’ progress is good not only for girls, but also for families, communities and society at large, we must also take this opportunity to consider how existing gaps in data on girls and young women, lack of systematic analysis, and limited use of existing data significantly limit our ability to monitor and communicate the wellbeing and progress of half of humanity. 
When we invest in girls’ health, safety, education and rights - in times of peace and crisis - we empower them to reach for their dreams and build better lives for themselves and their communities. Only when investments in programs for girls on issues that particularly affect them - due to both their age and gender - are complemented with corresponding investments in data on girls, can we make real progress towards greater accountability in domains of critical importance to them. 

From Mike Frost, an Australian pastor and theologian reflects on the girl child in his daily blog
Exiled Iranian politician, Mahnaz Afkhami once declared, “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace is increasingly apparent.”
In other words, if you want a more peaceful society, let girls and women flourish.
No seriously, if there’s a silver bullet or a shortcut to world peace it’s this: remove the barriers that inhibit opportunities for girls to become successful women.
And this week I discovered if you want the best opportunities for your daughter, you’d better move to Sweden or Norway or Denmark or Finland. To coincide with International Day of the Girl, Save the Children released their ranking of the best and worst countries in which to be a girl, and those four countries topped the list. Scandinavia is definitely known for peace.
Embarrassingly, some other wealthy developed countries like Australia (21), South Korea (27), USA (32), and Japan (35) ranked down the list.
In fact, it’s better to be a girl in Kazakhstan than America, or in Serbia than Australia (ouch!!).
So how does that work?
Well, Save the Children identified five key predictors of the ability for girls to thrive:
  1. Rates of early marriage (child marriage triggers a cycle of disadvantage across every part of a girl’s life);
  2. Adolescent fertility (teen pregnancy impedes a girl’s ability to thrive);
  3. Maternal mortality (complications during pregnancy or childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls);
  4. Women in government (indicating a girl’s freedom to speak out and influence decisions);
  5. Lower secondary school completion (a limited education also limits employment options). 
Obviously, countries where girls may face sexual and gender-based violence or harassment crashed to the bottom of the list, as did countries in war zones. The bottom 25 places went to African countries. And Afghanistan.
But while rich countries might be doing okay with their lack of conflict and child marriage, many of them slipped down the ranking because their low proportion of women politicians and their relatively high rates of teen pregnancy. Australia, UK and Canada were all dragged down the ranking by these factors.
The USA, the world’s biggest economy, ranks down at position 32 because it also has high teen pregnancy rates and low women’s representation in government. Women hold 19.4% of the 535 seats in Congress, while the Swedish parliament comprises 44% women.
But America was also let down by relatively high maternal mortality rates. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the USA in 2015; a similar number to Uruguay and Lebanon, and far higher than the three deaths per 100,000 in Poland, Greece and Finland.
Long story short: not enough women in politics; too many teen pregnancies; too many women dying due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth; too many girls dropping out of high school.
Wealthy countries are sometimes oblivious to the degree to which girls are women are held back in their societies, presuming that economic wealth is the only indicator of freedom. But if we want to address brokenness and violence in society, if we want to reduce injustice and poverty, make it a better world for women and girls. Provide greater opportunities for political representation. Provide better sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare. Provide better educational opportunities.
Oh, and if we want to bring peace and democracy to other parts of the world, instead of invading or bombing them, maybe we should just help make it a better world for the girls there.
If we did that we could change the world.

This prayer was prepared by Rev Thomas Jacob (India). It has a particular focus on the girl child in India  but could easily be used or adapted to pray for girls and women in other places. 

Leader: Gracious Lord, we thank you for creating us, both male and female, in your image, out of your love, and in your divine plan and purpose. We are grateful that Christ died on the cross to redeem all humankind. Yet, we confess that we have not always seen ourselves and each other as created in your image. We have treated one another as less than what you have created us to be. Transform us with the power and hope of your resurrection.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: Lord Jesus, during your ministry on earth, you showed how precious little children are to you. We have failed to show the same love to them, particularly towards the girl child. We have discriminated against the girl child from the womb till the tomb. We have destroyed life, often even before she could come into this world. Forgive us.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: Lord Jesus, we learn from the Gospels that you loved, healed and restored women in a society where she was discriminated against both in social and religious life. Yet, even today, we face the same challenge of exclusion of women, and discrimination and violence against the girl child at all stages of her life. We confess our guilt.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for the Church that she would bring the message of love and hope to every girl child who feels unloved, unwanted and rejected. May we be facilitators in helping her to grow to her God-given potentials in her service to humanity.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We confess that we have not acknowledged the gifts and abilities of the girl child and women, and have not provided them opportunities to exercise those gifts for the good of the Church. Help us to nurture the girl child and equip her to contribute through any role in the Church that the Spirit might call her to, including that of leadership.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We bring before you every daughter, sister, wife and mother that you may shower your blessings upon them and on all that they do in different roles. Help them and us to uphold the dignity that you have given them.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all those who oppress and exploit the girl child or woman that they would realize the harm that is caused to another person created in the image of God. Help them to see that what they do to the girl child is an offence against you. Change their hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all victims of gender discrimination and violence. We know that you are moved by their silent tears and sighs. Comfort them with your love and stretch forth your hand to heal them.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all those in authority – in organisations, Church and society – that they would be sensitive to the issues affecting the girl child and women, and would take measures to protect and to provide equal opportunities for their growth and development.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: God of love and life, fill us with your love and compassion. Help us to see every person as you would see her. Teach us to see you in every girl child. Let every girl child know that she is precious, loved and wanted.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We offer these prayers in the name of Christ who is the hope and authority of the future. Amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Methodist Deacons in New Zealand

It was a pleasure to spend time with the Deacons in New Zealand, at the NZ Methodist Conference on the first weekend of October. It was great to learn more about their work and their relationship with Presbyters.

It was also great to be at the Conference when Shirley-Joy's Barrow's retirement was acknowledged.

Typhoons and hurricanes

Typhoon Chaba has unleashed heavy rain and damaging winds on southern South Korea and southwestern mainland Japan. At least five deaths have been reported in South Korea while another person remains missing. Floodwaters have raced through the streets of Busan, and structural damage was also reported. Power outages were also report, as well as travel chaos and dozens of flight cancellations. Many schools were forced to close. 
Thankfully, across mainland Japan, impacts have been less extreme. 
Meanwhile in the USA, there are mass evacuations as Hurricane Matthew begins to descend upon the East Coast, having already passed through areas in the Caribbean.

And in Haiti the damage has been extreme, with many hundreds reported to have died.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by these devastating storms, and with our diaconal sisters and brothers in the Caribbean, United States, South Korea and Japan.

people in Haiti, after a bridge had collapsed