1998 NCC News Archives

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U.S. WOMEN, IN AFRICA FOR WCC ECUMENICAL DECADE FESTIVAL,
WITNESS IMPACT OF EXTERNAL DEBT, PRESS FOR CANCELLATION
U.S. Delegation Targets Sign-On Letter to Clintons, Albright, IMF, World Bank

HARARE, Zimbabwe, Dec. 1 ---- The 125-member U.S. delegation to a World Council of Churches festival marking the end of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998 today demanded "the complete cancellation of debt for the most heavily indebted countries as a first step in changing the unjust economic policies which govern our world."

Their letter, targeted to President and Mrs. Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Presidents of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, reflects both one of four priorities of the Ecumenical Decade and 50 U.S. women's visits to 10 African countries, from Egypt to South Africa, pre-festival.

U.S. delegation members also committed themselves to additional action steps with the goal of debt relief.

The Nov. 27-30 "Decade Festival: Visions Beyond 1998" brought together 1,200 women and, by design, a few men to celebrate the achievements of the Decade, which encouraged the WCC's 330-plus member churches worldwide to take initatives in their own contexts under four broad themes: economic justice, women’s participation in the church, racism, and violence against women.

Among Festival delegates pressing the U.S. delegation to take a strong action around the issue of external debt was Dr. Thelma Adair, a retired university professor and well-known leader in both the ecumenical movement and her own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She was the first African American woman to serve as General Assembly moderator for the PCUSA's predecessor United Presbyterian Church. She is vice president of Church Women United and a former CWU president.

She and her daughter, Dr. Jeanne D. Adair, both of New York City, made a pre-Festival woman-to-woman visit to Zambia, and were deeply moved at the devastating effect of the external debt - graphically illustrated at an orphanage for 2,000 children, most of whom lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses.

"The orphanage, in a Catholic church, is staffed by community women who scrape together resources - for example, selling bread rolls at two cents each," she said. Few government resources are available - an enormous percentage of the budget must go to external debt payments. "The people who want to help have so few resources."

"We as Christians need to help our government and the IMF to reflect on how they are asking these countries to pay their debt," she said, speaking in support of the debt cancellation campaign. "And we need a Marshall Plan of Christian sympathy that goes in to these areas to get them where they can participate. We need a new form of sharing."

The complete text of the U.S. delegation’s letter follows (signatures to be transmitted at a later date), as does a copy of their action commitment.

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Letter to Clintons, Albright, IMF, World Bank:

We, the undersigned Christian women who are U.S. representatives to the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade Festival of Churches in Solidarity with Women, write urging you to take steps towards the complete cancellation of debt for the most heavily indebted countries as a first step in changing the unjust economic policies which govern our world. The Decade Festival which took place in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 27-30, 1998, has been an opportunity for Christians from around the world to celebrate the accomplishments which have been made for and by women in the church and in society over the last ten years. The event has also been a time to challenge each other in areas still in need of progress and to hold ourselves accountable for bringing about the vision of God's justice and peace.

As Christian people, we are called to proclaim and enact "Jubilee" for those in bondage due to poverty. The biblical tradition of Jubilee is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. Every fifty years was a year for Jubilee in which slaves were released from bondage, property was redistributed, and the land was given time for rest and renewal.

As part of our experience on the continent of Africa, many of us had the chance to visit our African sisters in their home countries. Fifty women and men from the U.S. visited ten African countries ranging from South Africa to Egypt. Our experiences had a common thread running through them. We saw that the people of Africa suffer greatly because of the unfair burden of debt, which drains their economies.

It is important to remember that for every $1 that northern countries spend in aid, over $3 comes back in the form of debt servicing. Furthermore, the original debts incurred by these poverty stricken countries have already been paid. It is only because of the unjust hikes in interest rates during the 1980's that debts increased so dramatically, rendering payback almost impossible.

With support from the U.S., the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which have been implemented by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as a condition for rescheduling loan payments have further devastated the social and economic fabric of Africa and other regions. The SAPs have resulted in less spending on basic human needs such as health care, education, and food subsidies. Furthermore, Structural Adjustment has forced many small subsistence farms to change over to export cash crops.

Not surprising, the burden of debt and subsequent SAPs falls most heavily on women and children. We have seen this reality with our own eyes. Women in Africa are the primary agricultural producers. For example, sixty percent of the communal farmers in Zimbabwe are women. Because of the trend towards cash crops from which they derive little benefit, many women must leave their homes to become engaged in cross-border trade or move to urban areas to find other work.

The focus for many women and their families has become everyday survival. This means that the social and cultural fabric of life has eroded. Families are torn apart because parents must move to where they can find work. In many cases children are left alone. The percentage of rape cases among young children has increased. This reality contributes to an already devastatingly high percentage of HIV/AIDS cases, which go untreated because of a lack of health services available.

As you can see, the debt crisis touches every aspect of life for African people. As such, debt cancellation has become a human rights issue.

In this fiftieth anniversary year of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, we call on you to ensure that U.S. policies do not violate the human rights of our global sisters and brothers. It is our responsibility as the world super-power to lead the globe in respecting and protecting the basic dignity of all of God’s people.

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Action commitment by U.S. delegation to the Festival:

Your sisters from the United States, recognizing our racial/ethnic and class diversity, unite our voices in solidarity with all women who are impacted by Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) and unjust economic policies. We are listening and we hear the challenge and call to accountability. Indeed, we understand the role our nation has played and continues to play in the victimization of two-thirds of the world’s people. We name our nation as part of the problem in perpetuating the global economy.

As church women looking toward the jubilee millennium, we work for the Leviticus 25 Jubilee vision of:

*cancellation of internal and external debt;
*renewal of the earth and its sustainable use; and
*redistribution of global resources.

We will hold our nations, our churches, and ourselves accountable in the following ways:

*We will ask each of our denominations to join/endorse Jubilee/USA.
*We will urge each denomination to feature Jubilee/USA in 1999-2000 annual conferences.
*We will urge denominations and ecumenical legislative offices and United Nations offices: to participate in Jubilee/USA and to distribute educational materials/fact sheets; to participate in Interfaith Impact Briefing - April 1999 in Washington DC, including: Lobbying the United States Congress on debt cancellation; inviting women whose communities and nations have been impacted by Structural Adjustment Program to be part of the briefing.
*We will link international impact of SAP to domestic issues including welfare reform and job flight, and asking for investment in domestic communities that are impacted.
*We will call upon Jubilee partners to plan and coordinate "A Week of Lamentation" in Fall 1999, in conjunction with annual meetings of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), including creation of an Interfaith Wailing Wall where persons can cry and tell their stories.
*We will explore with CWU and Jubilee 2000 the possibility of conducting "Listening Team" visits to affected communities in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East.

Personal accountability: In addition to being personally accountable for actions leading to implementing the recommendations mentioned so far, we pledge to connect with at least one other woman to adjusting our lifestyles so that we will be living consistently with the Jubilee vision of "enough for all."

We are committed to:

*Accompanying our sisters as, together, we envision and act for justice.
*Working with governmental advocacy ministries, other organizations, and directly with our elected officials and corporations to bring about these changes.

We call upon the World Council of Churches to coordinate a women’s global network in order:

*to continue the accompaniment,
*to sustain the struggle, and to hold us mutually accountable.

-end-

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