A slip of an article appeared in the New York Times recently. It advised that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had commenced an inquiry into the Girl Scouts of America. The inquiry will be conducted by the Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Apparently the bishops are concerned about ‘possible problematic relationships’ and ‘problematic program materials’ according to a letter from the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to his fellow bishops. This includes a concern that Girl Scouts’ materials shouldn’t contain links and references to groups such as Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and the Sierra Club due to these organizations supporting family planning and emergency contraception.
The outcome of this inquiry will determine whether Scouts can meet in Catholic halls and whether the 25% of Girl Scouts who are Catholic can feel supported by their faith in being a Scout
How reassuring, then, to observe the journey that Melinda Gates has gone on as a practicing Catholic, where she is now making global family planning her signature issue, based on women’s needs. At present around 215 million women each year want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using modern birth control.
Speaking about her commitment in Newsweek recently, Gates said:
“Every year, 100,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant die in childbirth. About 600,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant give birth to a baby who dies in her first month of life. I know everybody wants to save these mothers and babies. We’re not talking about abortion, we’re not talking about population control. What I’m talking about is giving women the power to save their lives, to save their children’s lives, and to give their families the best possible future.”
As to her own soul-searching, as a Catholic woman who represents the 98% of Catholic women in the US who do use modern birth control despite the teachings of the church, Gates said in Newsweek:
“I had to wrestle with which pieces of religion do I use and believe in my life, what would I counsel my daughters to do,” she says. Defying church teachings was difficult, she adds, but also came to seem morally necessary. Otherwise, she says, “we’re not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.”
So now the Gates Foundation is co-sponsoring a Family Planning Summit with the British Government and UN Population Fund which will take place in the UK in July of this year. The goal is to raise $4 billion, which is what the foundation says it will cost to give 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020.
The same week as the articles on the Girl Scouts and Melinda Gates appeared, a full page ad ran in the Saturday edition of the New York Times. It was a letter addressed to First Lady Michelle Obama from mothers in America seeking her help to stop fracking.
The gist of this letter was that scientists are only now beginning to address questions about the impact of drilling and, in the face of so many questions, these mothers said, ‘the benefit of the doubt belongs to our children, not to the things that threaten them.’ The letter went on to say:
‘We are guided by these truths, which we hold to be self-evident:
We know that water is life.
We know that methane is explosive.
We know that groundwater, once contaminated, cannot be cleaned up.
We know that we cannot shop for clean air.
We know that drilling and fracking operations require hundreds of truck trips per well and that many of these trucks haul poisonous chemicals.
We know that accidents happen.
We know that toxic injuries in pregnancy and early childhood have lifelong consequences.
We know that you shouldn’t break something that you can’t fix.
Our appeal is simple and fundamental to our role as mothers. We do not want children drinking milk from cows grazing on chemically contaminated pastures. We do not want children breathing benzene on school playgrounds. We do not want convoys of water and gravel trucks sharing the roadways with school buses. Nor with teenagers learning to drive. Nor with kids on bicycles. We do not want children used as subjects in a reckless experiment whose long-term consequences and cumulative impacts are not yet understood.
We do want to bequeath to our children and grandchildren an unfractured, unpoisoned world.’
What particularly struck me about these actions and stories is the rippling effect of girls and women standing their ground. Of Girl Scouts speaking their own truth to power and joining with organizations that affirm and extend that truth. Of women across the United States who say very publicly ‘enough is enough.’ No more fracking, and no more fracturing our families and our children’s futures. Of high profile, powerful women of faith saying no to teachings that result in women and babies dying in childbirth because women have no power over their bodies.
On Friday I attended a Women’s Forum luncheon at the Plaza Hotel that honored Arianna Huffington and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel for the Forum’s second annual Elly Awards. Aside from the gorgeous award ceremony for these two wonderful women, we saw an extraordinary video of women who had been supported by the Women’s Forum Education Fund. (www.womensforumny.org)
This fund supports women over 35 who have lost the opportunity to gain an education, and thus to assume their leadership potential, due to adverse circumstances or hardship. The video features some of the women who benefited from this fund and returned to college – “I’m a doctor today due to the Women’s Forum” said one woman; another spoke of being blind and moving to the US from Nicaragua where people with disabilities have no rights and, with support from the Women’s Forum, completing a college degree to work with people with disabilities; a woman who escaped an abusive relationship at gunpoint and a woman whose mother who refused to support her going to college.
One woman spoke of the effect this investment by the Women’s Forum had on her life: “A bunch of strangers said ‘we think you’re worth sending through school’” while another recipient of the Fund said “My gait is changed, my head is lifted, my shoulders are back, I became very proud…and I have the Women’s Forum forever on my resume!”
Yes to Girl Scouts making their own choices, yes to funding to support family planning, yes to truly clean energy, such as solar power and wind power, and yes to us all affirming women’s education, leadership and helping women to do what they most want to do in this life.
Today was a blue sky day and a blissed out blessed community soaking up the sun. Josh and I strolled over to Washington Park to bathe in the magic of a community of music-makers. For a while we watched a group of friends playing banjo, guitar and blues harp while nearby a little girl started dancing unselfconsciously. Everywhere people lounged and napped and picnicked and played – as if we’d all emerged from our winter’s nest.
From my tap tapping on this laptop, I can see that it’s a darkening blue sky outside. A couple are sitting on their rooftop opposite and below two men are walking their snuffling pet pigs – enormous – while the usual dog-walkers stop to gawk and their dogs venture up to the pigs’ for a nose-to-snout ‘hello’. It’s the kind of Charlotte’s Web moment that makes the village what it is and, as the night dips to a velvety black, I feel very, very lucky.