In an opening prayer and reflection, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, WCC central committee moderator, said that International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate voices of faith and courage—but also to visit wounds.
“The theme this year for International Women’s Day is ‘Break the bias”, said Swenson. “We can celebrate women’s achievements,” she said. “We can build workplaces where women thrive.”
Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men, also welcomed participants and gave an overview of the growing Thursday in Black campaign. “We have invited people not just to post on social media but to say why they are adopting the campaign, and more so we have been working with our churches at the grassroots level and at the national level to adopt the campaign and to undertake various initiatives,” said Ashwood.
Rev. Dionne Boissiere, chair of Ecumenical Women (EW) at the United Nations and animator for the EW Thursdays in Black campaign, echoed the reflection of the campaign and highlighted the community-based roots. She noted that the call to Pause, Pray, Post, Pledge was one aspect of Ecumenical Women’s contribution to the campaign. Additionally, Boissiere challenged those gathered to work collectively in amplifying the voices of women daily, more so women of color.
“Society has decided that black bodies, particularly women’s black bodies, should be glossed over in this conversation—and they should not be,” she said.
Involving everyone in the conversation
Rev. Michael Blair, general secretary, General Council, The United Church of Canada, introduced his presentation by noting that he spoke from a land he said has been stewarded over the years by many indigenous nations. Highlighting the need for allies, Blair insisted that overcoming violence requires everyone.
“I want to suggest at the outset that if we are serious about combatting gender-based violence or intimate partner violence within the context of not only the society but in the context of the church that we are part of, that it is important that men like me be a critical part of the conversation,” he said.
Rev. Alcri Limongi, a minister with the United Church of Canada born in Venezuela, said that gender justice is not a struggle for women only. “The perspective I bring as a woman is important for men,” she said. “What we see, they cannot see.”
Breaking the silence
Blair also called for people to break the silence around gender-based violence, advising, “Silence is violence,”, and made the call to “create spaces for the conversation.”
Rev. Hyepin Im, president and founder of Faith and Community Empowerment, responded to the concept of “Silence is Violence,” noting that her own mother, a successful pastor and mentor, and a victim of domestic violence, was initially denied ordination simply because of her gender.
“Her story is that she was one of seven children—and daughters were not valued in Korean culture,” she said. “It’s the violence of silence—it just gets silenced away.”
Sheri Brady, vice president of strategy and program for the Children’s Defense Fund, explained how her organization prioritizes children’s wellbeing by identifying how racism affects young girls.
“What is especially relevant here is that, too often, black girls are treated as adults and their normal adolescent behaviors are treated as delinquent,” she said. “It’s often codified in law that it’s okay to harass these children. This is a perception that follows black women as they grow up.”
Building strength and resiliency
Michelle Nieviadomy, a Cree and a member of the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, reflected on opening up the strength and the power that women carry, while Alejandra Ortiz shared how, when there’s debate within the International Fellowship for Evangelical Students (Mexico) around whether Christians can be feminists, she tries to bring people back to their history.
Elena Huegel, educator, storyteller, writer, and a Global Ministries Mission co-worker at the Institute for Cultural Studies and Research in Chiapas, Mexico, spoke about the different meanings of the word “resilience,” depending on the language in which the word is translated.
“Resilience can have a different meaning, one more based on the collective sense of the word,” she said. Speakers cited examples of women who showed individual resiliency in facing challenges in their lives, then went on to become mentors and an inspiration for other women, thereby building a collective resiliency.
Sharing the story of a woman who forged life for herself and three children who moved from brokenness to entrepreneurship; Elena spoke to community and individual resistance and their effectiveness in trauma transformation.