human rights

When I am ...

I mentioned yesterday that this has been a mixed week for me.

Lots of exciting and new things happened but also, on Wednesday just past, a man who I admired and loved left this earth.

I worked for the Rev Dr Joel Edwards in various capacities over the years and he was not just a boss, but a mentor and a friend.

He was well known across the world and in the UK and not just for his leadership in many different fields of life, including where I first worked with him, at the Evangelical Alliance UK. Click on the link above to read more about this tour de force of a man, a person of great Christian faith and vision, with a passion for the poor and unity among nations and peoples. He was a writer and speaker who inspired, and so much more!

After the EAUK I also worked for Joel on the Micah Challenge ... an international campaign tackling issues of global poverty, specifically working towards the Millennium Development Goals ... and on the EXPOSED campaign, which challenged global corruption which is one of the major contributors to poverty across the world. As International Director, Joel and the people he gathered around him challenged politics and big business and corporations. He was brave and working for him was inspiring.

Joel Edwards made the world a better place. On this death this week his family released via social media a beautiful letter he had written, knowing he was soon to go to his Eternal Rest. It was a heart breaking, but also a challenging, inspiring and uplifting final message especially for those who knew and admired and loved him,

Joel lived life to the full, loved his family and friends well, worked exceptionally hard on everything, including those causes to which he was devoted. Joel Edwards did in many senses change the world. Not just on a global scale, but also for those of us who were privileged to have shared time with him. He laughed and smiled, and prayed and laughed again with a big grin that wrapped you up in its embrace.

Thank you Joel. I feel honoured to have known you! What a legacy you have left, and that will continue in the lives you touched, the campaigns you led and the movements you spawned and supported. And of course, through your family. 

Most of us don't think much about dying. Why would we when we are wrapped in up in living and enjoying life?

But it's moments like this, when people like Joel leave us, that perhaps we may think about our own mortality.  Maybe it's at times like this we ask ourselves serious questions like ...

What difference am I making in the world?

What does my life actually mean?

Am I so wrapped up in 'stuff' that I'm missing something really important about what my life could be and mean?

Certainly this week has made me think again about the purpose of life and what we leave behind as our 'legacy' ... which led me to write these words... 

I'm still thinking about it all ...

What I leave behind

 

 

 

 


The Angel of Prisons

Are you someone who makes lists of 'Things to Do'?

And do you ever actually ever tick off all the points on the list before more are added?

No - me neither!

No sooner have you got through all the things you need to do in a particular timescale then something else crops up and you're back to Square One with MORE needing to be done.

I came across a quote which I've been saving for a relevant day to share with you. 

And today is THE day!

Elizabeth fry may 21 quote 2

It's a wise thought from a very wise woman - Elizabeth Fry.

You may have guessed that she's was a Christian person because this quote is actually a prayer

'Oh Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone'.

I think it's a good mantra to live by, because sometimes we just have to accept that we will NEVER get everything done in the time we set ourselves.

But we do need to prioritise what we do. Sometimes when we make our list we may (even subconsciously) put at the top the things we know will be easy to achieve. So if we start from the top of our list and work downwards, we MAY get some challenges completed, but some of the BIG issues we need to address may never be achieved.

So perhaps a little guidance, even if not from Almighty God, might be helpful. 

I don't know the context of this quote but I do know a bit about the author and I'm guessing not just from this prayer, but also because of what she's famous for, she was a woman with a rather long daily 'To Do List'.

Elizabeth Fry is best known for being a social and prison reformer - and she was born on this day (May 21st) in the year 1780 in the city of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in East Anglia in England.

She was a Christian philanthropist and a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends - sometimes also known simply as 'Friends' - who among other things believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth.

Valuing all people equally and opposing anything that may harm or threaten them is part of the Quaker 'theology' and from the beginnings of the Quaker movement in the mid 17th century, 'Friends' got involved in many social movements and philanthropy.  Quakers were among some of the first settlers in the USA where they got involved, among other things, in the abolition of slavery. Across the world they were involved in social justice projects, including prison reform.

In addition, as many started as craftspeople and artisans, they also grew businesses which not only made profit but improved the lot of the workers and their families. This was particularly significant because as the movement matured it coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which saw huge growth in manufacturing and industry, not all of which was beneficial to those who made it possible and put in the hard graft.

Some of the well known business and brands we know today have Quaker roots -  banks and financial institutions like  BarclaysLloyds, and Friends Provident and chocolate and confectionery brands like CadburyRowntree and Fry.

Which brings me back to Elizabeth Fry. The Fry family was a big Quaker clan whose influence was felt far and wide and not just in busines..

Looking into her life I discover that she was from a leading Norwich family. Her father, John Gurney, was a partner in Gurney's Bank, which would one day merge with Barclays. Elizabeth's mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank.

Aged 20, Elizabeth married Joseph Fry, who was also in the banking business, and they moved to London. Within a year of marriage the first child arrived - between 1801 and 1822 she produced eleven (yes you heard right) children but Elizabeth was not just a 'stay at home Mom'. 

She was a recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811 - remember this was at a time when women preachers were VERY VERY rare and the concept of women in Christian ministry was radical. Just two years later she was invited to visit Newgate Prison where she encountered deplorable conditions. Particularly horrifying for Elizabeth were the conditions in the women's section of the jail, which was was overcrowded with women and children.

Long story short, she set her mind and heart to reforming the prison system in Great Britain and as a result has earned the reputation as the "angel of prisons". From setting up a school for prisoners' children to campaigning for the rights of those transported to far off lands like Australia, sometimes for what we would now call quite petty crimes, Elizabeth was a woman on a mission. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation.

Elizabeth Fry promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment and encouraged the learning of skills while people, especially women, were incarcerated so that they could support themselves and their families when they were released. She was a major force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she received support from the highest authority in the land, being granted meetings with and support from a young Queen Victoria

Her humanitarian work extended to helping homeless people and even after her death in 1845 her reputation inspired many social reformers. From 2001 to 2016, Elizabeth Fry was depicted on the reverse of £5 notes issued by the Bank of England, where she was shown reading to prisoners at Newgate Prison. 

So although we may not know much about her and her life, many of us will have carried her in our purses and pockets for years.

And today, as we remember Elizabeth Fry and all the things she managed to do in her relatively short life, I for one am pleased she prioritised what she did. There may have been times when, with her many family commitments, visiting prisoners and challenging some of the conventions of the day might not have been on the top of her 'to do' list, but thank goodness she somehow received the inspiration she needed to achieve all that she had to do. For without that, the world could have a very different place especially for those without a voice at a time when the world was changing so rapidly.


Choose to Challenge

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to support and celebrate women's rights. Not that we shouldn't do that EVERY day but it is a good thing to have ONE day at least when the world comes together to celebrate the achievements of those of the female gender and to think about what we all might do to help ensure girls and women gain the equality they deserve.

Iwd hillary clinton quoteIt's also a day to encourage girls and women to believe in themselves, to believe that they have as many rights in life as anyone else to follow their dreams no matter how big. I love this quote from Hillary Clinton ... it says it all I think! Even if the world around you is telling you that you are second class, all girls and women are deserving of the same chances as boys and men. And we all not only have the right to dream, but to make those dreams come true.

In 2021 this might sound a peculiar thing to say, because in many cultures women have equality with men across the board ... don't they?

Don't they?

Well, perhaps in many countries women do have equality, even in law, but that doesn't mean females get equal treatment and are considered equal by everyone. And we do know that there are many cultures still where women ARE treated as second-class citizens and girls still don't have the same chances as boys. There are still communities where girls are not allowed to go to school, where some are held back from school because they need to be at home to help the family - collecting water, looking after siblings. There are some cultures where girls are married off to older men even before they are teenagers, effectively ending their childhood. There are still places where women do much of the work in the community, as well as taking the lion's share of family responsibilities and child care, but are excluded from decision making and leadership.

And that's just for starters!

Today International Women's Day has become increasingly about standing up for women's equality and challenging the norms of society which keep women and girls subordinate.

And this is interesting because that's where IWD began back in the early 1900s, when women's inequality and oppression was beginning to result in more and more women fighting for change. 

The campaign for women's suffrage - the right of women to vote - had actually begun in the mid 19th century, with corresponding advocacy for economic and social as well as political equality. But by the early 20th century not much progress had been made and there was growing unrest and debate. Women still felt largely oppressed and they became more vocal.

In the USA in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and the following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28th as the first National Woman's Day (NWD).

In 1910 there was big conference in Copenhagen in Denmark -  the second International Conference of Working Women - and it was there that the idea of an International Women's Day was mooted. The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and the idea was approved.

Although the USA marked their National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February for another couple of years, in 1911 International Women's Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19th. On that day, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. And the right to vote.

As the world stood on the brink of global conflict which we now know as World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on February 23rd in 1913 - again the last Sunday in February. At that time, Russia followed the Julian calendar while most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar where that day equated to March 8th. Hope you're keeping up with this.

Anyway, it was at this point that discussions began to try to align everyone to celebrate on the same day and it was agreed to mark International Women's Day every year on March 8th.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the impending war and to express solidarity with women across the world. In London a women's march resulted in the arrest of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst as she made her way to speak to the large crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Although women remained passionate down the years, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by nation states, in accordance with their individual national and historical traditions.

Moving into the 21st century and by the year 2000 unfortunately there was little appetite for or activity in most countries for International Women's Day. The world had moved on from the years of 'feminism' and in fact that concept was now a bit of a dirty word. But still the world was not equal. Women were still being treated differently, including being paid less than men and given fewer opportunities in many areas of life. 

So it was that in 2001 a website called www.internationalwomensday.com was launched, with the aim of reinvigorating International Women's Day. Today the site provides help, resources and guidance to all those campaigning for better equality between the sexes, and more opportunities for women and girls across the world. Every year there are different themes which sum up some of the challenges facing women across the globe, and call us to action. Some of the themes have included #ChooseToChallenge #TheGenderAgenda #EachforEqual #PledgeforParity #PressforProgress #MakeItHappen ... you get it right?

In 2011 the centenary of International Women's Day was marked across the world, and in the USA, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling on Americans to mark the day and to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State. She launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges".

Down the years, there's been a substantial change in attitudes to International Women's Day. There has been sign up from many international groups working with girls and women, lots of charities and business organisations now organise events and many business leaders and celebrities actively support the day.

In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers, and the day is officially recognised and celebrated in many countries around the world, including some where gender equality is still not a given.

Because although many people, including from younger generations who didn't live through the years before Gender Equality legislation, might think that the battle is won, there is still much to be done. Women are often still not paid the same as men doing the same job. Women make up at least half the population of the world but we still don't have equal representation of females in politics and the business world. Many women choose to create their own businesses rather than enter the male dominated business world. Around the world, as I said at the start, girls are often disadvantaged for cultural reasons. They experience inferior health and education, and violence against women and girls is often worse than against men and boys.

Today we are encouraged to not just act locally but also to think on a global level and to try to make a difference, and not just on International Women's Day.

But what might that mean for us? Might it mean stepping out of our comfort zone? Not just accepting the treatment of others because it doesn't affect us personally?

This year's campaign theme on International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge

We might not march like those women in 1908 and in 1914. We might not get arrested as Sylvia Pankhurst did, just for deigning to speak up for the rights of women.

But we can CHOOSE to celebrate the achievements of women. We can CHOOSE to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it and help create a more inclusive world.

And, as it says on the International Women's Day website,  today maybe we can all spend just a few minutes in reflecting how WE might be able to do our bit "to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding".

We might not feel we can make much of a difference on our own, but two voices are better than one. A thousand voices are better than a hundred, and a million voices, all challenging the status quo where women and girls are still not given the opportunities they deserve, could change the world.

And you don't have to be female to take up the challenge. It's something we can ALL do!