Amani From Kenya!
Activities of Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony
at the Friends World Conference
organized by Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC)
April 17-25, 2012
Rachel MacNair attended this conference, and reports what happened as far as FWPPT is concerned:
Interest groups were held every evening, with locations posted, and basically anyone who
wanted to offer one could do so. We arranged ahead of time for one called “Reflections on the Issue of Abortion.”
When we started, there were four of us: two pro-life women (that is, Rachel and another American who showed up) and two pro-choice women, one from Baltimore and the other from Britain. After the respectful discussion had started along ordinary lines for such a group in Western peace-movement-oriented circles, we were joined by two Kenyan women – a school counselor and a nurse. This made for a much richer discussion by offering a Kenyan perspective, in which the labels of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and the rhetoric that surrounds those labels in places like the U.S. and Britain were absent.
The Kenyan women assured us that abortion was illegal in Kenya except to prevent the death of the mother. In cases of rape, a woman would get counseling but not an abortion,
legally. But of course there's an illegal trade, which they discussed in detail. The nurse spoke of a case where a woman tried the bleeding-is-miscarriage-so-clean-me-out trick for getting an abortion. She helped through the pregnancy, which was far along for a live birth to occur, and told her abortion couldn't be done. I had the impression that they regarded it as fine for abortion to be illegal but that it being illegal was clearly not enough, and that much more needed to be done to prevent them from happening. This has always struck me as obvious, but it was an approach that worked best with the prochoice women. They both remarked upon how complicated the situation was.
So it was a lively discussion and lasted an hour and a half, which was the allotted time. We ended with a moment of silence and a prayer offered by the British woman about harmony with discussion of different views.
Exhibit at the Fair
The set-up was in the dining room right after dinner, and those of us with exhibits
were to go from 8:00 to 9:30 PM. I was already interacting with interested Africans while setting up, and then I was kept hectic busy with groups of people so that the first time I actually had time to look at my watch, it was 9:15. Then it slowed down enough so that I was mainly dealing with one or two individuals at a time and had up to a minute between them, and then it slowed
enough that I could get a couple of photos. I finally got out of there at 10:15.
Jane Tabalya and Sarah Tsimonjela signing up at the table
I had brought 100 copies of our three-fold brochure, ran out of those and started
putting our web and email address on other flyers. I had brought 50 copies of
Maafa 21 and they ran out. I then took addresses of people that wanted them mailed to them, another 20. We got quite a few sign-ups for Peace & Life Connections. We were offering to send any one, two, three or all four books to any library of a Quaker institution (meetinghouse, church, library), and we got 28 requests; 24 from Kenya, and one each from Rwanda,
Uganda, Honduras, and El Salvador
The conference itself was roughly 45% white, 45% African, and 10% non-whites from other places, mainly Latin America and Asia. The whites responded to the table the way I’m accustomed to whites of peace-movement-oriented events doing: a good number being grateful to find other pro-lifers or appreciating our approach, and a good number thinking we can’t really mean it since “anti-abortion” means those hopeless militaristic right-wingers. But the whites were few and far between. This was a night I mainly spent interacting with Africans.
Rachel MacNair staffs table in Kenyan dress
Each and every one of the Africans who interacted with me understood quickly
and without fuss the point I was making. Maafa 21 was how racism was involved in developing the abortion mentality in the United States, and it was important to understand the U.S. because it was doing so much to push abortion on the rest of the world. Once we think it’s alright to kill unborn children, then of course all the prejudices about race and sex and disabilities would also come in – how could they not? I got no argument back at all from any African, and many a firm agreement and some enthusiasm. It was so delightful.
Speaking in Meeting for Business
One more contribution happened at the FWCC business meeting. They requested comments on a very fine document on ecological justice when, as can be expected in a group of Quakers this size, someone saw a problem that overpopulation wasn't included. Feedback comments ended soon thereafter, but then when there was the point of whether we approved the document, two of us stood. The American woman before me commented on the population point, that we should be clear about context -- her decision to have one more child had more impact than an African's decision to have three more. Then the clerk was almost going to go on when several people pointed out I was standing for a concern, and she recognized me.
I spoke very slowly and softly into the mike. I said that I was uncomfortable with the idea that there might be such a thing as too many people, or that people are an environmental problem. It's the behavior of people, not the numbers of people, that cause the problem. The idea of population as a problem had caused all kinds of human rights abuses with coerced sterilizations and other coercions. We should be very careful that we don't contribute to the wording that helps cause these horrific human rights abuses. And in any event the idea that population was an environmental problem was questionable.
A woman's loud voice was heard saying "That Friends speaks my mind." And we then went on to the next item.
This isn't directly on abortion -- I didn't even mention coerced abortions because I was keeping this focused on the point -- but it's related to the root causes. And I think this was especially good because the point of population hadn't been in the original; it was just a suggestion it should go in. My statement made it clear there isn't unity among Friends on this. Since this was intended to be a unity document, the most likely outcome is that those considering it will continue to leave it out.
I don't know if its original absence was due to them not thinking of it, or whether they discovered in the drafting group the same lack of unity they found in the business meeting. Either way is heartening; much of the overpopulation hysteria of yesteryear seems to be dying down. But one statement is enough to make something controversial, and Friends were of a mind to pretty much avoid controversy. This hurts us when we want to bring up abortion, but it helps in cases like this, where we can at least keep some harmful ideas from advancing.
After-conference Peace Tour
After the conference, I attended one of the tours, peace movement activities by Friends in western Kenya organized by the African Great Lakes Initiative – Friends Peace Teams. Since this was the part of the country with the most vicious post-election violence in early 2008, they are especially keen to see what can be done in advance to prevent such lethal violence in upcoming elections, probably in March, 2013.
There are four well-defined activities that they showed us:
· Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) – three-day workshops that carefully go over nonviolent
· Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) – also three-day workshops, with a one-month follow-up and community celebration, this is form of group therapy that deliberately puts
different sides and perpetrators and victims together, so that they can come to understand each other as human beings;
· More advanced mediation workshops, training people to be nonviolent mediators with conflict
transformation skills; and
· An interfaith peace alliance for cooperation with various religious groups.
We were told that once the election crisis passes, their next campaign is likely to be on
extrajudicial killings – that is to say, lynching – of thieves and witches. Press reports indicate the possibility of up to 1,000 such killings per year.
The programs also helps directly in domestic abuse and disputes between neighbors; the whole “de-legitimization of violence” model can spread out to all the kinds of violence which occur.
To my mind, this particularly includes abortion. There may well be far fewer abortions in Kenya because it’s illegal there than there would be otherwise, but as long as lynching, riots, and domestic abuse are commonplace, the nonviolent attitudes that are crucial to protecting unborn children are absent.
That’s not picking on Kenya of course; the same thing is true everywhere else. Violence is all interconnected, but that means that solutions are all interconnected as well.