Losing my Religion for Equality

By Jimmy Carter

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Taken from http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html


State discrimination against Kenyan Nubians is an abuse of rights

Last week I talked about how government departments have been infiltrated by so-called “agents” who collect bribes on behalf of their colleagues before a particular service, such as obtaining a passport or an ID, can be rendered.

This week I am going talk about people in Kenya who have been denied IDs and passports for more than a century, not because they failed to pay a bribe, but simply because they are Nubians.

Adam Hussein Adam, whose ancestors were brought to Kenya from the Sudan by the British to serve in the King’s African Rifles, was one such person. Adam was born and grew up in Kenya but was denied a Kenyan ID and passport for most of his life. For this reason, he failed to secure a place on the national rugby team and could not accept a scholarship to study in New Zealand. He got several offers from international organisations to work abroad, but could not take them up because he did not possess a passport.

When Adam applied for a Kenyan passport, he was told to his bring parents’, grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ birth certificates, which was impossible, as his parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ generations had no birth certificates.

Between 1992 and 2000 Adam unsuccessfully applied for a Kenyan passport five times. After producing 13 documents to prove his identity, he was finally invited for an interview. He was told by immigration officers that Nubians are not regarded as Kenyans. His passport was denied and so he remained stateless.

Although Adam eventually managed to obtain a Kenyan passport in 2003, he filed a case in the High Court seeking an interpretation as to whether Nubians are Kenyans. The High Court told him to collect 120,000 signatures from Nubians plus documentation proving their identities. Adam thought it was strange that a court would ask Nubians for identification documents since these were the very documents that were being denied them and for which he had gone to court in the first place.

 In 2006, he took his case to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and also petitioned the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In 2011, these organisations found that Kenya had violated the rights of Nubian children to non-discrimination, nationality, and protection against statelessness.

Sadly, Adam will not get to enjoy the fruits of his years of championing Nubians’ rights — he died this month at the age of 46. However, he will be remembered for his relentless campaign to force Kenya to recognise the rights of Kenya’s Nubian community.

Nubians, like Somalis, Asians, the Swahili, and other coastal Muslims who are deemed to be “non-indigenous”, are among Kenya’s unrecognised tribes whose members have had to continually prove their rights to citizenship because, since independence, the Kenyan state has decided who is an “insider” and who is an “outsider” and which territorial spaces they should occupy.

(Even though there is considerable debate on which groups in Kenya are really “indigenous” as many of the country’s ethnic groups migrated to Kenya from other parts of Africa at some point).

During colonial times, race was a determinant of privilege and territorial access. The British reserved the so-called White Highlands and other high potential agricultural areas for themselves. Cities and towns were zoned into European, Indian, and African areas, with each race having varying degrees of access to services. Indians were not allowed to own agricultural land or to become farmers, while Africans were expected to live in “reserves” on their own ancestral land. The Northern Frontier District was treated as hostile territory and the ethnic Somalis living there were marginalised.

After independence, tribe became the main factor determining which groups and regions would be allocated public resources. Those belonging to non-indigenous ethnic groups (the second-class citizens) were forced to use patronage networks to access their rights as citizens. (For example, if it was not for an initiative led by the Ismaili community in Kenya that facilitated Kenyan Asians’ access to ID cards in the 1990s, I might have never obtained that document.)

This led to the politics of exclusion, which, unfortunately, seems to have become more entrenched under the UhuRuto government, which has created a perception that Kenya now belongs mainly to two tribes.

By Rasna Warah, first published in Daily Nation, August 22nd 2016



Men as Allies against Violence against Women

This short film aims to unravel the multi-layered patriarchal narrative in Sudan, delve into the concept of masculinity and its correlation to that social concept/discourse and to explore the personal experiences of young men regarding their attitudes, stances and behavioral patterns towards oppression, discrimination and violence against women.

We’ve been using it very effectively during Social Inclusion training.  All credit to SIHA (Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa) for their innovative work – don’t forget to also check their website http://www.sihanet.org

Here is the film (17 mins long)