Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections from Istanbul

I got back from Istanbul last night.

The world feels like a smaller place for me than it did a week ago. The conference participants included women from Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Georgia, Palestine, Israel, Mexico, Nicaraqua, Hong Kong, the Phillipines, Egypt, India, Thailand, China and the Sudan. We ranged in age from 22 to 70, stunning in our diversity yet united in our work for women's rights and against religious fundamentalism.

We were there to discuss a forthcoming study of women's rights activists from around the world, and the particular results of that study are still embargoed. But what I can share is that in every part of the world, religious fundamentalists concentrate on the control of women's sexualities as core issues for organizing. Young women are particularly at risk -- from abstinence-only-until-marriage campaigns to laws against abortion to honor killings.

I am so moved by the bravery of these women. I met an Irani woman who has been exiled to the U.S. because of her writing on women's rights; a Nicaraguan woman who spent 4 years in jail because of her work and is facing another trial because of her support for legalized abortion; women who reported great risks when they returned to their countries just to attend this joint meeting. I learned that stoning is now legal as a punishment for sex outside of marriage in the Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the UAE. (Yesterday, some of these women launched a new international campaign, called Stop Stoning and Killing Women, at a conference in Istanbul. I urge you to learn more about this horrific and now condoned practice.)

I learned that more than one in ten women activists from around the world have faced sexual abuse or imprisonment because of their activism. It made the blog comment I received this morning calling me a "satanic deviant minister from hell...who should go to jail" seem completely insignificant.

I wish you could hear the stories...but also feel the resilience, the good humor, and the commitment of these women to make the world a safer, more just place for women. We talked and talked and talked...and shared meals...and even danced a bit.

I was honored to be there and renewed and recharged -- I am reminded by a quote from Goethe, that goes something like this:

"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers, and cities; but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and who though distant, is close to us in spirit -- this makes the world for us an inhabited garden."

To my new friends and colleagues from around the world -- may justice soon roll down like mighty waters. May you truly be blessed and safe.


Lilylou said...

Debra, thanks for telling us about your incredible experience. My heart goes out to the women in those lands---what courage and strength they display. And to think that the same hatred exists in people who would label you as satanic and deviant---mindboggling. We are so naive about these things, until we stick our necks out to challenge ignorance and hatred.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for what you do; thank you for taking your voice and our voices out into the world, and offering your intelligence, wisdom, skills and compassion to women every where. We are richer for having you! And I think you should wear that designation, “satanic deviant minister from hell” with pride. It speaks to your power!