In 2011, Janet Sape opened a bank for women in Papau New Guinea. She is a longtime activist for women’s rights in a country where rape and violence against women are pervasive. Most banks require men to co-sign on contracts, leaving women with no independent access to savings or loans. Without financial independence, women could not pursue their own wellbeing because they could not afford to leave or challenge men and be left on their own. In Papau New Guinea, a bank for women is transformative.
I heard Janet speak last week at the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) Conference in Detroit. There, I also met women from women’s foundations in the U.S. that are mobilizing effective campaigns around human trafficking and women’s reproductive health and investing in projects that help women and girls to thrive.
WFN was on my mind as I watched news coverage of bombings at the Boston Marathon. I’ve often criticized the news media for focusing on the bad in our world and turning the news into a laundry list of car accidents, murders and other crimes. Yet, at WFN I was reminded of how much violence there is in the world, how much of it goes unacknowledged and how much of it affects women and girls. I also met inspiring women and organizations that are successfully resisting violence and bringing about healing and wholeness in their communities.
The news should cover violence, especially when that coverage also shines light on humanity’s resilience and potential for good. So far, the Boston coverage has done this, combining statistics of casualties and graphic images with inspiring stories of strangers helping strangers.
Yet, I am still bothered by the coverage. Maybe, the problem is not how often we cover violence, but rather which violence gets our attention. If we follow the lead of popular media, we will give incessant coverage to acts of violence that are exceptional, like the bombings in Boston. While worthy of recognition, such an act is hardly representative. And, despite our human potential for good, you and I have little chance of preventing these acts or minimizing their effects.
All the while, our communities are full of violence that we actually can resist – violence like human trafficking, domestic abuse and street violence, to name a few of its expressions. The inspiring coverage of the Boston bombing illustrates how we can expose violence while lifting up human potential for good. Our challenge is to not get distracted from the places and situations where we can be most effective. We are not called to merely feel a sense of unity and potential for good. We are called to realize that potential where we can, in acts that transform our world, one community at a time.
How are you focusing in on the places and situations where you can help to transform the world?
Emma Crossen is director for stewardship and development. Emma met Sima and Casey from South Africa and Hong Kong at the 2013 Women’s Funding Network in Detroit.