Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrating the Strength of Women

Published in the Fiji Times - Wednesday 10th March, 2010

James Brown sang, "This is a man's world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl."

I reflected on this phrase as my son Francisco woke up and immediately on working out the date (March 8), proceeded to wish his mother and sister (and even me), "Happy International Women's Day!"

My son continues a proud tradition from his father, being raised in a household of feminists and although we were not able to attend the Reclaim the Night march because of a pastoral emergency, Francisco was able to celebrate an occasion that is important for his grandmother, mother, aunt, niece, and now even little sister.

Having just celebrated International Children's Day the day before (March 7) and given his uncanny interest, at 5 years old, in human rights (thanks to a RRRT DVD "Know Your Rights") Francisco was happy to show his support for the women ("grown-ups" and "grown-downs") in his life.

Last Friday was also a significant day for women, with the World Day of Prayer being celebrated in more than 170 countries and regions. The focus this year was on Cameroon with the women of Cameroon preparing the service material on the theme Let Everything That Has Breath Praise God.

The service while organised by women is for all and, in the pre-dawn hours of Friday, at Dudley Church in Toorak, Suva, it was pleasing to see the number of men in attendance and also to acknowledge the number of men that stayed home to look after, organise and feed children at home, so that mothers could participate in the service.

In attendance at the Dudley Church WDP service was the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. According to Ratu Epeli, the World Day of Prayer provided, "a good opportunity for us as a nation to reflect on the important role of women (our mothers, grandmothers, aunties and sisters), and to recognise and acknowledge their great contribution to nation-building and national development in our quest for building a better Fiji for all."

He went on to add that although women are still being marginalised in certain areas, it must be acknowledged that changes in the ingrained attitude and perception against women are taking place at a steady pace.

"In Fiji, women are at liberty to join civil society organisations and some the most active civil society organisations which exist in the country are those headed by women. Representation of women in decision-making bodies continues to be a major challenge. To give you an indication, in government women hold about 17 per cent of senior executive positions, mainly in the social sectors. This is too low," he said.

Ratu Epeli called on the church, as a pillar of the nation's spiritual development and growth to take the lead role in the fight against crime and other social ills that are threatening our communities:

"Our gathering this morning and other church activities, I am sure, would help pave the way for dealing with the monumental task of crime prevention, poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS prevention, youth promiscuity, drug and substance abuse, to mention some. With our deep faith in God and our collective committed efforts, I am optimistic that we shall overcome."

The prayer service on Friday and the activities, including the Reclaim the Night march on Monday (as well as Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director), allow us a glimpse at the organically multi-faceted nature of women, which is often overlooked or deliberately ignored in patriarchal societies, where strength is measured by brute force (ignoring the fact that women have a higher pain threshold then men, or perhaps taking advantage of it), rather than the ability to bear hardship and endure, or the depth of compassion, and the capacity to nurture.

The motto of the World Day of Prayer movement is "Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action". Through World Day of Prayer, women affirm that prayer and action are inseparable and that both have immeasurable influence in the world.

This year, as part of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the World Council of Churches, the World Student Christian Federation and the World Alliance of YWCAs have joined together to create a Lenten Bible Study titled, Cries of Anguish, Stories of Hope: A Global Struggle to end Violence against Women.

This study empowers people through stories about women around the world who are working to overcome violence.

The three bible studies released so far focus on the Dalit women in India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo where rape has been a systematic weapon of war, and Colombia home to 4 million internally displaced persons, the second highest in the world (after Sudan). You can learn more at

The Christ calls us to follow him and preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. (Luke 4:18-19). All of us, men and boys especially, but women and girls too, are called to free those shackled by oppressive social structures, open our eyes to the abuse perpetrated in the name of tradition and culture, stand in solidarity with the victims of injustice and be instruments of love and peace.

* This article is the sole opinion of Reverend JS Bhagwan and not that of the newspaper or any organisation Mr Bhagwan is associated with. Email:

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