United Methodist Women at World Social Forum in Kenya
Editor's note: Women's Division executives Carol Barton and Paulette Kim share daily highlights of the recent World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. They participated as part of a delegation of United Methodist Women members from three nations: Kenya, the United States and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
by CAROL BARTON and PAULETTE KIM*
Paulette Kim, Women's Division staff and Mary, a YiKE member in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Paulette Kim.
Monday, Jan. 22, members of the United Methodist Women delegation to the World Social Forum participated in a "Slum Walk" organized by Youth Initiatives Kenya (YiKE), an organization formed in 2003 to work with youth groups in slums and informal settlements. YiKE supports 18 youth groups based in Nairobi's Eastlands region. Members of these groups are engaged in environmental-management projects, HIV/AIDS campaigns with cultural dance troupes, and the production and sale of artistic products.
YiKE members led delegation members on a walk through the informal settlements while discussing politics, living conditions in the slums and the World Social Forum.
"Many youth are idle and involved in bad things; some are thugs," said Mary, a YiKE member.
"Life was hard before YiKE, but now my family and I can have some small things," Mary said.
We learned politicians show up in the slums at election time each year. They sponsor clean-up and building projects to rally votes. The rest of the year, they are absent from the slums.
Beatrice Asyago, Gladys Kihara and Angie Lauver behind a UMW banner. Photo courtesy of Paulette Kim.
United Methodist Women delegation members joined a Feminist Freedom Rally the third day of the World Social Forum. More than 500 people gathered in noonday heat to march around the Katarani stadium wearing bright scarves calling for freedom for women and cardboard mouths declaring, "Speak up for women's rights."
After the march, the group heard speakers from Kenya, Peru, India and the Philippines address women's concerns. The rally closed with dancing in the streets.
The event was organized by Feminist Dialogues, a global feminist network, and also included local Kenyan women's organizations and members of the World March for Women.
Those marching called for people around the world to be vigilant in claiming and defending women's rights. United Methodist Women members from the three nations conveyed United Methodist Church policy found in the denomination's Book of Resolutions that challenges militarism and the negative impact of globalization, and champions women's rights and human rights for all.
Khadija, speaking of her work with the Miss Koch Initiative of GROOTS Kenya. Photo courtesy of Paulette Kim.
Wednesday, Jan. 24, the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries; Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS); and Grail, an ecumenical international women's movement of the Roman Catholic Church, were host to a networking dialogue of more than 80 women of faith and grassroots women in Africa living with or fighting HIV/AIDS.
The dialogue centered on personal experiences and structural challenges in responding to HIV/AIDS. These include:
- The stigma of HIV/AIDS,
- The role and challenges of women caregivers,
- The areas of support that women of faith and grassroots women can offer each other, and
- The ways women of faith and grassroots women can advocate together.
Ann, a widow with three daughters, shared the impact of the stigma of HIV/AIDS because some view the disease as a sin:
"People in the church don't get tested," Ann said.
Maria, a middle-class, educated women widowed in 1998, said her priest asked for sexual favors in exchange for support for her and her children. She wasn't invited to speak in the church until she was very ill. Now, she is fighting against stigma and harmful practices within the churches.
GROOTS Kenya is a network of self-help women's groups and community organizations in Kenya. One of the member organizations, called the Miss Koch Initiative, was established to respond to violations of girls' rights in the informal settlements of Korogocho in Nairobi.
United Methodist Women members support GROOTS Kenya through Mission Giving.
Shannon Hayes of the Huairou Commission, a global coalition linking grassroots organizations, shared her response to the dialogue:
"The women who participated left the dialogue meditating on the promise to find ways to come together and advocate for messages that our peers, women who are leaders in their churches, can carry forward.
"The AFRUS-AIDS Partnership, which was founded with this goal in mind, will continue to find opportunities such as these to bring together women of faith and grassroots women so they can find common ground and areas for mutual support. Our next major activity and dialogue will take place at the YWCA's International Women's Summit in July 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya."
The Knitting Project of GROOTS Kenya supports HIV/AIDS caregivers. Photo courtesy of Paulette Kim.
When Carol Gaston, a member of United Methodist Women's delegation to the World Social Forum and Women's Division director, asked, "What was the most meaningful part of attending the World Social Forum personally?" she said:
"Meeting with the women who are either affected by HIV/AIDS or infected with HIV. I will never get over nor forget the discussion I had with women suffering with HIV/AIDS while we were visiting the Mathare Mother's Development Center in the Mathare slum."
Delegation members visited the Mathare Mother's Development Center, a project of GROOTS Kenya, Thusday, Jan. 25. They learned about training programs for girls and visited the homes of people infected with HIV/AIDS who are cared for by grassroots women.
GROOTS Kenya helps train and supports caregivers who provide assistance for people living with AIDS. The Kenyan government provides free access to AIDS medication, but this is complicated by poverty, lack of access to hospitals, and inadequate nutrition and education. The caregivers are vital links in helping to monitor nutrition and medication and in meeting the basic needs of people living with AIDS.
The women have also organized a child-care center to enable the caregivers to work. Much of their work is done as volunteers. GROOTS members in Mathare and elsewhere are organizing a network of Kenyan AIDS caregivers. This network is involved in organizing a global network of AIDS caregivers to lift up the needs and realities of people living with AIDS and caregivers.
A group of young people shared a skit they created to present to other youth in the slums, about peer pressure, sexual abuse by elders and safe sex. They are active in creating jobs for youth and educating youth about HIV/AIDS prevention.
The visit to Mathare was a powerful reminder of the intensity of global inequality and poverty, and of the powerful force of women's leadership in organizing for rights, community and social change.
Members of the United Methodist Women delegation to the World Social Forum included:
- Women's Division Directors Carol Gaston and Kathleen Conrad;
- Angela Lauver, a member of the division's college consultative group;
- Regional missionaries Elmira Sellu, based in Kenya, and Shimba Mulunda, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Beatrice Asyago, president of Kenyan United Methodist Women;
- Gladys Kihara, president of United Methodist Women in Kenya's Central District;
- Bonne Annee Ombaku, a United Methodist law student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Tufara Mohammed Waller of the Highlander Center in New Market, Tenn., a Women's Division partner organization; and
- Women's Division executives Carol Barton and Paulette Kim.
*Carol Barton and Paulette Kim are executives with the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.