Taking our courage in hand and overcoming fear #KAIROS20
What do you do when your life is in constant danger? When you are never sure that when you leave your home in the morning that you will return safely in the evening? This is a daily reality for the inspiring women whom I met through the Women of Courage program.
In June 2011, I was on Parliament Hill with people from across the country encouraging the Canadian government to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. At the same time as we were marching on Parliament Hill, Walk4Justice was starting their fourth walk across Canada from British Columbia to Ottawa. The purpose of Walk4Justice was to bring attention to the over 4,000 missing and murdered women in Canada. The local KAIROS group along with members of other community organizations hosted the Walk4Justice participants when we invited them to come to Newmarket and to share their stories with the community where I live.
“We are walking for our elders and our youth…Creator, we ask your help as we pave the way for a better future for our children…Let our people gather in solidarity and stop these senseless crimes against humanity. Bless…everyone as they walk for social change.”Gladys Radek, Walk4 Justice co-founder
It is 2021. A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous Women has taken place. The report and recommendations have been published; yet, we have heard little about implementation.
As I am writing this reflection in June 2021, Canadians are shocked. They are shocked at learning about the staggering number of unmarked indigenous children’s graves in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, Canadians are demanding that the federal government set up a national inquiry to determine what happened in these schools and to hold the people responsible accountable for their actions.
On September 22, 2012, Rachel Warden travelled to the London area to make a presentation on Women of Courage at Coldstream Quaker Meeting House. Rachel’s presentation coincided with the launch of South Western Ontarian KAIROS (SWOK).
As I was listening to Rachel, I was inspired by her reference to Chantal Bilulu, (Women and Children’s Coordinator of KAIROS partner organization, Héritiers de la Justice, Inheritors of Justice). Chantal’s words echo the passion for justice shared by women around the world:
“….it is vital that women not stay inactive, not submit day after day, nor cross our arms. On the contrary, we must stand up, act, and denounce. Let’s break the silence, claiming back from those who hold power, the use of diverse legal instruments that protect the rights of women. In so doing, we can change the situation of women throughout the world. Let all the women of the world take their courage in hand to continue the struggle that includes all of us. To keep ourselves silent is to kill ourselves little by little. May we be courageous.”
In 2012, KAIROS organized the LIVING COURAGE TOUR (Building alliances between generations and across borders). On June 19 of that year, I was invited to the KAIROS office to meet two Women of Courage: Claudia Castellanos Roncancio and Lucy Talgieh.
As a lawyer for the Popular Feminist Organization, Claudia Castellanos Roncancio was helping women and children cope with the overwhelming challenges of surviving four decades of armed conflict between the government and drug-trafficking militias that constantly threatened the rights of Colombia’s women and children especially in rural areas without access to medical care, education and other social services.
Faced with constant threats and intimidation, Claudia and her co-workers set up “women’s courts” to address human rights violations, created opportunities for women to access capital through loans at reasonable interest rates and spearheaded programs offering nutritious and affordable food. In Canada, most people would not question Claudia’s statement that women’s rights are human rights. However, when we open our eyes, we realize that not all Canadian women live that reality.
To the question, what does it mean to be a woman of courage, Claudia conveyed a very clear understanding of her mission:
“For me a woman of courage is a woman who is capable of feeling for others, someone who is not only sensitive to the realities of others, but also takes action to change those realities. A woman of courage controls and overcomes fear. She is a woman who hangs on to happiness and life, a woman capable of using happiness as source of energy to defend and protect her rights, the rights of her family and the rights of the entire community. A woman of courage is capable of going beyond the doors of her house and the domestic sphere to engage with the community.”
Wi’am, an Arabic phrase for “cordial relations” is the name of a conflict resolution centre in Bethlehem where Lucy Talgieh helps her fellow Palestinians deal with daily challenges. Because of the many checkpoints to be negotiated when travelling within the occupied territories, Lucy says that it is easier to go to Toronto from the West Bank than to Bethlehem.
Lucy finds the words to explain the source of her courage and moral purpose:
“We must work with God to end injustice and oppression of our people. In other words, I believe in faith in action. We do not want simply sympathy, we need action. As Christians, we must all be involved. We are one body. When one organ suffers, the whole body suffers. We must all work as Christians to end the oppression that afflicts our region. We are not asking you to be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but pro-humanity.”
After my June conversation with Claudia and Lucy and after hearing Rachel’s talk in September, I volunteered to do what I could to amplify their message. The next year, the Great Lakes – Saint Lawrence Region asked me to speak to the theme of women of courage during a gathering at Annesley United Church in Markdale. Claudia and Lucy literally put their lives on the line every day, so during the next year or so, I took my talk “on the road” to the Lutheran church in Newmarket and a Catholic church in Toronto. When asked about how they find the courage to do their work, Claudia told me that “It is better to live in fear than to stop living because of fear.”
The theme of my talks was always the relationship between courage and fear. All the people I spoke about had every reason to be fearful and afraid, to feel helpless and powerless in the face of overwhelming adversity which could easily cost them their lives. By basing their lives on a firm foundation of faith, they put into practice St. Paul’s phrase: “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
KAIROS has made it possible for me to meet women of courage who live in foreign countries and for me to meet women of courage who live in Canada. I have already mentioned Gladys Radek, whom I met in 2011. There is a cairn of stones in memory of missing and murdered indigenous women at Maryholme in Keswick. After a public event at a park in Newmarket, organized by the local KAIROS group, the Walk4Justice van made its way to see grandmother Mabel Todd place her cap on the cairn.
So, here we are several years later. There has been some progress. But for far too many issues, it seems as though the wheels of justice have just been spinning without very much traction. There is still enormous resistance from those in power to channel their efforts towards solving critical problems of our time. The strength of KAIROS challenges, inspires and motivates me to take courage, use my voice and persevere.
Written by Jane Sagar