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Championing women’s rights today

This year marks 100 years since (some) women in the UK first got the vote. Although we still have a long way to go, the last century has seen huge strides for women’s rights in this country.

But what about other parts of our world – particularly developing countries? Who is championing women’s rights there? Whilst a lay person like me would (I think wisely) hesitate before stepping into such a politically and emotionally charged debate, one thing I do know. Our international aid agencies - organisations like Christian Aid – have been working tirelessly for years to support women’s rights and women’s place in society. And we in churches within the Congregational Federation have been working alongside them as they do this; just take a look at some of the people that we have been supporting in our partnerships with Christian Aid over the last decade.

People like Sofia Narvaez, who some of us from the Congregational Federation met in 2012 on a visit to Nicaragua. Sofia is a subsistence farmer in the arid south of the country. Once she eked out a living from the land. Then she linked up with Christian Aid partner Nochari. Sofia now grows organic hibiscus flowers which she dries and sells to Nochari which, in turn, makes them into a delicious and healthy juice drink. Hibiscus and Nochari have transformed Sofia’s life. She now has a successful business which can support her whole family and which, importantly, has given her status and respect in her local community. Federation churches raised over £30,000 to support Nochari and other Christian Aid programmes across Nicaragua work between 2011 and 2014.

Or people like the Haitian migrant women living in a squatter settlement in Santiago in the Dominican Republic who some of us met on a visit in 2009. With the encouragement of Christian Aid partner Onè Respé these women have begun to take leadership roles in their local community, including leading regular church worship. Other women, such as Rosa Valdez who live in the squatter settlement of Haina in the capital Santo Domingo, are taking roles with Onè Respé as “health promoters” giving talks on family planning, supporting people with terminal illnesses, and linking people with their local health clinic. Federation churches raised over £30,000 to support Onè Respé’s work between 2008 and 2011. Or people like Alba Ribiera. Alba lives in a remote and isolated rural community in south-east El Salvador. Health services in such areas are not easy to access and women rarely go to the doctor for a health check. But Alba was recruited by Christian Aid partner ORMUSA as a community leader. Through Alba, ORMUSA runs life-saving health education programmes for local women. Federation churches are currently raising £5,000 as part of a wider “Community Partnerships” initiative with Christian Aid. In this partnership, our £5,000 will be matched by a further £15,000 by the European Union making a total of £20,000 we have raised towards this important work.

I could – very easily – go on. I could mention Beatrice, the mother of three in the village of La Paz del Tuma in northern Nicaragua who is now part of a local cooperative growing and selling coffee beans to Christian Aid partner Soppexcca. Or Glenda, the 18-yearold who volunteers for Soppexcca to support older (often illiterate) farmers set up their own cooperatives. Or Jezu Mulunesh who lives in the highlands of Ethiopia and who, with help from Christian Aid has had advice on how to set up her own business.

In recent months a number of aid agencies in the UK (notably Oxfam) have been in the news for all the wrong reasons with allegations of sexual and other misconduct. This news has overshadowed the huge amount of work that such agencies do. Much of this amazing work goes on “below the radar”, certainly of the national and international media, but it is transforming the lives of the most vulnerable in our world every day.

Across five appeals where Federation churches have supported Christian Aid over the last decade, a great many women have been helped and empowered. These women have turned their lives around. In doing so they have provided for their families, accessed vital health care and, importantly, gained a voice and respect in their communities.

As we approach the end of our latest “Community Partnerships” initiative with Christian Aid, can I thank all of you who have supported this appeal so generously. (It would, however, be remiss of me not to point out that we are not quite there yet so further donations are still gratefully received! The second of our current “Community Partnerships” appeals ends in August.) Our relationship with Christian Aid is a special one, and I would encourage you to continue to uphold Christian Aid, its staff, and most importantly the people it helps around the world, in your prayers.

Philip Clarke
Congregational Federation/Christian Aid Liaison