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Our Back to the Orchestra

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Wendo Aszed lives with her family in the area of Rift Valley in Central Kenya. In 2009, she started Dandelion Africa to work in the communities where she was born after two very close friends died of AIDS. She wanted to serve the most vulnerable in the community so she began developing programs for women and girls who experienced high levels of poverty, gender-based violence, sexual abuse, and harmful gender practices sanctioned by long held social norms.  It wasn’t long before she realized that to stem these problems you can’t just work to empower girls and women, you need to work to change the attitudes of boys and men. Dandelion was recently named the 2017 Segal Family Foundation “Rising Star Honoree” and recently was selected for the first award of the New England International Donors Women & Girls Giving Circle to be given at the end of this month.

In the wake of this still unfolding “me too” movement that is revealing a disturbing, endemic pattern of sexual assault and impunity here in the US, we are asking partners around the globe to share how they are working to promote healthy, consensual masculinity. We also are sharing a special series – “God As Us” – Me Too to reflect on the unique role that religious beliefs play in both the problem and the solution to moving humanity forward to a more gender-balanced way of being human together.


The only thing that is constant is change. Change is not easy, because we are conditioned to view things in a certain way. For example, we believe that if you want to conduct an orchestra you must turn your back to the audience. If someone suggested that an orchestra should be conducted facing the audience, people would disagree. It seems backwards. The conductor is there for the benefit of the orchestra, not the audience. But what if this change has benefits? What if turning our backs to the orchestra is a good change?

When it comes to advocating for the rights of women and girls, we often focus on working with women and girls. After all, we are there for their benefit. But what if we turned around and faced the audience? What if we focused on involving men and boys? This raises many questions: Is it possible for organizations to involve boys and men to advocate for rights of women and girls? How do we involve men and boys to be allies on issues that are so culturally ingrained in them? These issues are ingrained to a point that many men cannot comprehend why women are so upset about violence, lack of choice for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and female genital mutilation (FGM), whilst it has been happening since time immemorial.

Dandelion Africa was founded nearly 7 years ago to improve the quality of life in rural communities and reduce ‘information poverty’. We saw how women were dying of AIDS because they did not understand how it was transmitted. They put up with domestic and sexual violence because they believed that it was the way men showed their love. Girls were getting married as early as 13 years of age, because it was believed that it is a ‘waste of time’ to educate them. Female Genital Mutilation was acceptable because it turned women, into ‘real’ women, who understood how to take care of their husbands. Women were not allowed to choose the number of children they wanted to have, it was the man’s decision to make.

We noted that lack of accurate information had a lot to do with people living in poverty. People who do not have information cannot make informed decisions, not only about their health but also their economic livelihoods. We tackled these challenges by providing information on issues affecting women. We worked with women and girls to understand their worth, created safe spaces for them to use their voices, taught them on reporting systems on gender violence, the importance of educating girls to provide them with equal opportunities to boys, and we provided information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights. We focused our work on women and girls, as if we were conducting the orchestra.

Then we got creative, and we turned our backs to the orchestra. In order to more fully address the issues, we decided to face the audience. Dandelion Africa started the campaign and program, Boys for Change to educate our boys and men on what it really means for a woman to undergo Female Genital Mutilation, and the effects of gender based violence. Village-based capacity building meetings were conducted to educate and involve men in the discussion of how FGM and gender based violence (GBV) affects both women and men, and how culture plays a part in the lack of response from men and boys with respect to violence and suppression of women and girls.

With over 1,500 boys and men in the Boys for Change program today, we have learned that we cannot hope to have a lasting solution to gender based violence without the involvement of men and boys in women’s rights movements. We have learned that when we ignore the powers in our context that change or reverse all our efforts as women, we will not fully achieve our freedoms. The greatest liberation for our community has been to recognize the role of boys and men in reducing gender based violence. We cannot clap with one hand, and the more we try, the longer it will take to find a strategy to clap.

History has shown that when the first campaigns Read More

“God as Us” – Me Too

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Groping to make sense of all of this vile groping that is filling our newsfeeds?

An invitation to join in on a special two-week series – God as Us – by the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) to offer words of healing and hope in the wake of this “Me Too” movement still unfolding before our eyes where story after story is coming out of grown men in respectable positions of trust, fame, and authority acting like sexual predators behind closed doors.  And even worse than the exploitative nature of the deeds themselves, getting away with it with a stunning impunity which makes one ask “What century are we living in? Have we not progressed further than this?”

Led by Father Richard Rohr and Dr. James Finley, the CAC is a voice which seeks to reclaim the deeper contemplative wells of faith that have in large part been marginalzed by the more dogmatic side of mainstream religion to recover a more holistic way of living as spiritual human beings on our planet.

It is sort of low hanging fruit to say one is against the disturbing, exploitative behavior of these celebrity sexual predators. In this series, Rohr and his colleagues bravely go a step further to address the invisible theological and cultural layers that contribute to this disturbing pattern of normalized patriarchal presumption to power over another human being’s bodily and spiritual agency that in truth is as old as patriarchy itself—an ancient social system that arose some 4,000 years ago which came to see females as meant for ownership and submission very akin to slavery—and has stubbornly persisted beneath the surface of progress in the deeper layers of our collective, de facto social norms.

Each “me too” story is stunning in its heartbreaking, dehumanizing details—a grown man who has achieved great heights of success and respectability treating another human being, usually younger and more vulnerable, like a sexual object and then shaming them into silence and submission. As Wendo Aszed, desribes in her post Our Back to the Orchestra, the entitled, exploitative behavior that we see in all of these stories of an older man sexually imposing himself on a young girl or woman is all too normalized around the world where all too often girls lose their virginity to rape and just have to get up the next day and go to school.

The sexual impunity of all of these celebrity sexual predators is shocking yet in truth is a vestige of a deeply entrenched system of ancient patriarchal traditions and social norms which still live on in our world like out-dated “monuments”:  bride price, child marriage, polygamy, female genital cutting, the double standard of rigid female purity codes and male sexual latitude, and last but not least all those teachings of female submission and exclusion from shared leadership that still persist in our churches.

As Wendo so poetically challenged in her post, if we want to give the next generation a more mutual, healthier way of being human together, we need to more bravely challenge deeply rooted gender norms and “turn around” (aka “repent”) on many levels to play a different more beautiful tune. This series offered by the CAC is the perfect sheet of music to help in this task.

In this moment of conflicting movements of change which feel alot like the hurricanes that have been sweeping through our world, are you too sensing that there is something spiritual happening not only with this “me too” movement but also in the gender dynamics that have been stirred up by our recent election and current administration?

Do you believe that there is a spiritual current to the deeper societal transformation needed not just to stem all of this sexually predatory behavior which has been swept under the carpet for too long but also to more proactively create a world that is more gender-balanced and whole?

If so, take some time this week to read and contemplate this series God as Us – Me Too and ponder how even on the level of our faith traditions we need to “turn around”, as Wendo challenges, to play a better tune together as human beings.

Day One:  Divine DNA

Day Two:  Images of God

Day Three:  Sophia:  Wisdom of God

Day Four:  Mother God

Day Five:  Identity and Desire

Day Six:  Different Paths, Same Destination

Day Seven:  Summary of Week One

Day Eight:  Gates to the Temple

Day Nine:  Purity and Passion

Adding a personal tone to the series, in this 10-minute reflection “Standing Against Sexual Harassment and the Abuse of Power” Dr. James Finley shares his own experiences of being abused by a monk when he was a child and offers words of hope and solidarity with those who are standing up to share their stories. He uses his own story to untangle the factors that cause so many to remain silent, as he did, in the face of the abuse of power of a respected “father figure”:

“What makes it so hard for the person to come out into the open?” Finley asks. “Why does it take so much courage? It takes so much courage one because the price they would pay… Here’s what’s bigger I think… If you come out into the open the society will side with the perpetrator… The reason they side with the perpetrator is complicated because the society does not want to question the “Father Figure”, the authority figure. [We] don’t want to look at the implications of that, that we are all poor weak human beings…”

Other than Roy Moore, most of the celebrity “father figures” who have been exposed for sexually predatory behavior over the past few weeks have not been religious per se, but the dynamics of demanding sexual submission and shaming of victims you read across these stories is eerily similar to the priest sexual abuse Read More

Job Postings: IDF and Our Partner Organizations are Hiring

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The Imago Dei Fund is looking to add to our team! Some of our partner organizations are also hiring.  Please pass along these opportunities to anyone you think may be a good fit.

Opportunity International Appoints New Programme Director, Women & Girls

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This week Opportunity International welcomes Chikondi Mpokosa taking up a newly created position in Opportunity as Programme Director, Women and Girls. Read More

Meet 58 Venture Capital Funds That are Betting on Women Around the World

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The rising social and economic power of women venture is global mega-trend that venture capital is beginning to notice. Suzanne Biegel, a longtime gender lens investor and advisor Read More

Social Finance UK Turns 10! Celebrating the Founding of a Movement

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On November 1st Social Finance UK celebrated its 10th anniversary in London. With the launch of the world’s first Social Impact Bond in Peterborough, Social Finance sparked a global movement linking mainstream capital markets to solutions for our most critical social challenges. Today nearly 100 Social Impact Bonds in 20 countries are addressing issues ranging from homelessness to health, and education to the environment. Read More

“The Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.”
Psalm 24:1