Manifesting a Movement—a Spiritual Uprising
| October 8, 2010
Inspired by the women she met at the Omega Women and Power Conference, WMC's Jamia Wilson explains why their visions of spirituality belong at the heart of feminism.
For me, feminism is God’s work. Yes, I am a pro-choice feminist who celebrates science, and is committed to protecting first amendment rights for all. Concurrently, I humbly revere the sublime presence of the creator in all things, people, and ideas, including our movement for equality.
When I reflect upon my experience at the Omega Institute’s Women and Power conference from September 24 through 26, I envision the convergence of hundreds of powerful women and allies, sharing space and time to contemplate a common vision—compassion for ourselves and each other. As the Omega Institute website states, The Women and Power Conference empowers women "to bring hope, healing, and change to their own lives and the world around them.”
Many of the women I met at Omega dismantled the trite conservative notion that spirituality has no place within the feminist conversation. I encountered a cadre of such women as Gabrielle Bernstein, spiritual guru and former NARAL Young Professionals Council president, and Meggan Watterson, feminist theologian and executive director of REVEAL: Young Women Defining the Divine. Their faith fuels a passion for gender equality and feminist stewardship.
In a political climate where religious fundamentalism often corrupts, desecrates, and betrays, it makes sense that even some progressives are wary of the intersection of faith and politics. These women, however, exemplify the synergistic relationship between feminism, activism, and spirituality, representing many of us whose stories are often absent or minimized in the public discourse.
For three days, we allowed ourselves to return to nature and focus on “being the change we want to see in the world” in the spirit of Gandhi. Academics, activists, dharma teachers, yogis, performers, philanthropists, scientists, humanitarians, artists, mothers, poets, and educators, pondered the meaning of women’s leadership, with many concluding that guidance that is heart-driven and powered by compassion, love, innovation, and active listening will render a more powerful movement.
Among these courageous women were Leyma Gbowee, leader of Women of Liberia Mass Action, philanthropist Jennifer Buffett, and Malika Saada Saar, founder of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights (the name honors both the biblical Rebecca and beloved teacher and artist Rebecca Rice). These leaders call for a paradigm shift that privileges compassion, over destructive hegemonic manifestations of power that diminish humanity.
In listening to women's stories over the three days, I gained a wealth of knowledge—including these seven potent ideas that inform how we can actualize our spiritual feminist power: b
- Loving peace In the Giving Voice to Trauma: Spiritual Surrender and Leadership workshop, author and survivor of the Cambodian killing fields Loung Ung remarked, “loving peace is something you choose and work with on a daily basis.”
- Compassionate leadership Musician and feminist activist, Ani Di Franco described “autonomy” as a “masculine fantasy.” Di Franco argued that women “don’t think for one, we think for at least two—hopefully we think for all. It’s the motivation for our deciding.”
- Karmic flow Personal finance guru Manisha Thakor called for women to “share with each other in order to support each others causes.” Thakor advocates for women’s financial empowerment because “fighting money harms the natural cycle and the karmic flow.” Thakor insists that "when women aren’t talking and sharing we can’t negotiate from a place of strength.”
- “Beloved” bodies Rebecca Project founder Maalika Saada Saar mesmerized conference participants with a reading from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, calling for women to "love [their flesh]. Love it hard” and honor their bodies by challenging the sexualization, violation, and trafficking of their sacred flesh.
- Mindfulness I met Cheri Maples, former assistant attorney general in Wisconsin, organizational consultant, trainer, and dharma teacher ordained by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and asked her about her work. She emphasized that her organization was named the Center for Mindfulness and Justice because fostering mindfulness and compassion leads to peace and justice.
- Sisterhood and oneness Awadiya Ahmad Yahia, delegate to the Darfur Peace Talks, challenged women to practice solidarity with women around the world, stating “It is about us and our sisters who aren’t here, it is only us who can lead our people and ourselves to peace.”
- Reject fear Shaima Khinjhani, the Afghan government’s youngest gender equality consultant, proclaimed that she “learned to choose faith over fear” when she risked her life by providing women with education in defiance of the Taliban.
My most important takeaway from the conference was the idea that our success as a movement depends on our ability to respect spirituality’s role in the feminist conversation. Women are practicing feminism around the world by fighting for their values and beliefs, raising their voices, and demanding to be recognized in their spiritual communities. Current discourses related to women’s ordination, Islamic and Mormon feminism, Wiccan religious freedom, and many more conversations related to women’s spiritual lives provide us with new opportunities to discuss power and feminism with a perspective that will broaden our movement. I have faith that loving peace, mindfulness, karmic flow, sisterhood, and compassionate leadership will drive our movement to create more inclusive spaces where interfaith belief systems and discussions related to spirituality are welcomed rather than feared, and celebrated instead of undermined.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
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