Adventists Join World Faith, Aid Agency
Leaders Against Poverty
Funds committed to empower women, girls
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Editorial Assistant, Adventist News Network
inking poverty to economically fettered women, world faith, aid agency and government representatives said April 13 that it's no coincidence an estimated 70 percent of the 1.2 billion people who subsist on just US$1 a day are women and girls.
Reversing such troubling statistics is a "moral imperative," leaders agreed as they gathered at a packed National Cathedral in Washington D.C. for the Women, Faith and Development Summit to End Global Poverty.
"We do not accept that poverty is an inevitable part of the human condition," former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during her keynote address.
Summit attendees, including Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders, met to launch the Women, Faith and Development Alliance -- a partnership between women's, international development and faith-based organizations -- and to commit funds toward curbing global poverty by empowering women and girls.
"While the gap between rich and poor continues to broaden, we must meet this challenge with more than a response to immediate needs. We must do something deeper and more long-term," world church vice president Dr. Ella Simmons said, calling for sustainable solutions to poverty.
UNITING AGAINST POVERTY: Adventist Church vice president Dr. Ella Simmons joined world faith, aid agency and government representatives April 13 to commit to ending world poverty. During small group meetings the following day, Simmons said leaders brainstormed tangible ways to meet that goal. [Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]
Among the more than 70 agencies that committed US$1 billion toward that goal was the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, which pledged US$1.5 million to tighten gaps in women's literacy and girls' access to education.
While claims that poverty can be eliminated often elicit eye rolls or shoulder shrugs, Albright said the goal is "achievable" and such complacency is the enemy of progress: "I have to ask, 'What's the deal?’ It's not like we're trying to reverse gravity. Poverty is not a force of nature. Poverty is a choice that society makes, and let's declare that what we have the ability to choose, we have the power to change," Albright said.
Summit speakers agreed that merely funneling money into disenfranchised hands does little to dent poverty rates. Rather, any solution to poverty must fully utilize women and girls as "agents of change, not just objects of charity," said Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary for the Lutheran World Federation.
"If you want a country to make progress, then empower women, educate girls -- that's the only way to do it," said Mary Robinson, former president of the Republic of Ireland, who spoke at the event. World leaders must in the coming weeks and months "roll up their sleeves" to address the practical side of the largely "symbolic" partnership, Robinson added. "We have to make this work."
The task is one both government and faith leaders must shoulder, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a video address to summit attendees. Singling out faith communities, Tutu said "religion is too often used as a tool to oppress women" and that religious leaders have wrongly chosen to ignore rather than "condemn" such culturally sanctioned practices as child marriages and female genital mutilation.
Ignorance of such "appalling abuses" can no longer be an excuse, Albright said. "Some may say, 'All this is cultural and there's nothing anybody can do about it.' I say it's criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it," she said.
Global YouthAIDS ambassador and American actress Ashley Judd echoed Albright's viewpoint, calling rape and other crimes against women "gender apartheid." Summit speakers vowed anti-poverty plans would address the spectrum of challenges women and girls face, including gender-based violence.
Speaking of the relationship between poverty and illiteracy, Liberia's first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said developing nations must capitalize on the talents and ideas of women and girls. "When you educate a girl, you educate a nation," she said.
Simmons, also a faith community representative to the WFDA Leadership Council, said while women and girls may be unfairly affected; efforts to alleviate poverty should include men and boys as partners. "If we advocate for all, we uplift all," she said.
Joining collaborative efforts such as WFDA is a way Adventist Church representatives can "maximize" the impact of their work through relationships with other like-minded leaders. "We're called to bring the gospel to the whole world, and that includes responding to the human condition," she said.
The summit also provided valuable networking opportunities, added Heather-Dawn Small, director of the Adventist Church's Women's Ministries department and WFDA member. "It's important to hear from other women leaders, to see what works in other countries and to be able to bring that back," Small said.