WHM Reflections: What are the issues we care about?

As Women’s History Month closes, we have invited some Mennonite/Mennonear (near to Mennonite) women to share with us their concerns and hopes about women.

Today, we’re joined by Martina Cucchiara, professor of history at Bluffton College and co-editor of The Evil That Surrounds Us: The WWII Memoir of Erna Becker-Kohen; Sarah Barrett (my dear sister),a social worker whose practice includes a focus on supporting trans people in western Pennsylvania and a lay leader with Stahl Mennonite Church; and Anna Liechty Sawatzky, a home visitor in a child abuse prevention program and the author of Live Your Call. Here, each answers the question “What is the challenge facing women today that you work hardest to address? That you care most about?”

I hope you are encouraged as you read their answers–RB-F

Martina Cucchiara: I am passionate about the education of girls and women, an issue that intersects with my research.  Access to education is a basic human right that empowers girls and benefits families and societies as a whole.  According to Maritza Ascencios, from the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Educating girls is a surefire way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status and health, reduce poverty, and wipe out HIV/AIDS and other diseases.” However, poverty, sexism, and oppressive cultural traditions prevent too many girls attending school in developing countries.

But we are not powerless and can address some of the injustices girls suffer. In honor of Women’s History Month, I encourage you to consider a donation to CARE.ORG.  If it is within your means, give a scholarship for a girl to attend secondary school in the amount of $143.00 or check out other giving options at http://gifts.care.org/.

Image result for poor women

Above, a woman holds a banner that says “Poverty has a woman’s face.” The majority of the world’s poor are women. Globally, they earn 23% less than men, they contribute 1/8 of the world’s GDP in unpaid labor each year, and, over the course of a lifetime, work 4 more years than men.  

Sarah Barrett: My short answer would be: acceptance of LGBT women and women of color in our congregations.  My longer answer would be: making sure women have a voice at the table, especially within the Mennonite church, whether at the conference level, the church level, or in organizing events, especially ones that women have traditionally not been a part of.

I remember when I was asked to be a lay leader, a position of three years, with the third year being the head lay leader, a position that required monthly attendance at our church council meeting.  By the time my third year rolled around, my husband was teaching Wednesday nights at the local community college, my in-laws (who usually babysit for us) had their own Wednesday night Bible study to attend, and I had no one else available to watch my kids. I requested that we move church council meeting so that I could contribute (After all, I’d been asked to be a head lay leader to bring the voice of young, female, parenting, working persons’ voices to the table).  I might add that, before accepting the position at all, I had asked if the Wednesday night meeting was a requirement, as I knew my husband’s evening class changed from semester to semester. I had been assured council meetings would be flexible.
I was shocked when the other members wrangled with this, stating that a group of council usually went golfing on Thursdays, Kids Church was on Tuesdays, Fridays were out just because it was Friday, and Mondays “might” work.  Unfortunately, it never really quite worked out to meet on Mondays that semester, mainly because people said it would but then, when it came time to schedule, couldn’t.  Eventually, I stopped making the request to accommodate my needs, because it was clear that no one was going to budge to make sure that my perspective could be easily included.
I remember taking my children to the meetings at least twice (which meant my young kids missed their 8pm bedtime), the pastor’s wife watched my kids once, and I missed a few others.  In all of this, no one seemed to realize the bigger issue, except the pastor: that a person elected to hold a position was not able to do so because of the inflexibility of others.  I think that not making exceptions, room, a space at the table for the voice they wanted means the church lost out on how to grow, witness, and make space for other women, their partners, their children, and their love for church.
So, my longer answer would be: to make sure, no matter how much we have to change, grow, adjust, accommodate, babysit, move schedules, or do church differently, to create a space for a women’s voice, needs, wants, and love to be at the table.

Anna Liechty Sawatzky: As a home visitor in a child abuse prevention program, I work with women addressing basic survival issues. How do I get custody of grandchildren so they can be safe? How do I jump through the hoops to get food stamps? How do you get housing around here? What am I going to do with this child who is acting out as a result of trauma they’ve experienced? How can I put the pieces in place to go back to school? As a social worker, I have to balance helping clients adapt to the system as it is and advocating for changes to that very system. For example, a felony conviction may be the result of a racist judicial system, but we still have to work within the system to get it expunged so that you can get a job and housing without facing the discrimination that comes with a criminal record. This can be disheartening work. My goal is to advocate for changes to the system but also to work with women to advocate for themselves and their families.

Women’s History Month is marked for me by admiration for the daily determination of women who raise children, work jobs, care for family members, and stitch together the daily fabric of our lives.


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