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Celebrate International Women’s Day

March 8, 2010

By debraf

International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The first International Women’s Day took place in 1911. In 2010, attention is focused on the hardships faced by displaced women. Displacement affects women in a host of ways. But far from being helpless victims, women are resourceful, resilient and courageous in the face of hardship.
Two women, two leaders, two countries
Though they live continents apart and though they face entirely different issues, two women — Perpetue Kankindi and Dorothy Davies-Flindall — have things in common: they are both leaders and they both have deep connections to The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.
Kankindi heads the Women, Family and HIV/AIDS division of the Burundian Council of Churches. Davies-Flindall has had numerous roles in the Anglican Church of Canada, including that of prolocutor of General Synod.
Fighting for rights in Burundi
Much of Perpetue Kankindi’s work has been in the context of civil war, which has brought with it special challenges and hardships. When she was named to the post in 1997, she had already been working with women “during the difficult times of the Burundian crisis, when the two principal ethnic groups couldn’t sit down together,” she recalls.
“The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund  has always supported the Women, Family and HIV/AIDS division of the Burundian Council of Churches. This accompaniment during the post conflict period was beneficial for the whole country,” says Kankindi.
The skills needed to navigate such critical territory began at an early age, when Kankindi directed young girls in the Girls’ Brigade. “I had gotten the taste of serving others to attain visible development,” she says in a French language email interview.
Her work is wide-ranging. She lobbies for women’s rights, coordinates, facilitates and evaluates the work of church coordinators in dozens of member churches throughout the Central African country. And there are many struggles, she notes: “The struggle against poverty, ignorance, illness and scourges like HIV and AIDS, malaria and others. The struggle for the rights of the family is especially for the woman and child.”
What motivates her in the struggle is seeing how many women are agents of change. “They are the pillars of peace and of development,” she says.
A decade of war ripped through the social fabric of Burundi, making peace and reconciliation the biggest need. Poverty, made worse by war, affected women the most. Women are not as economically independent as men, and do not have property rights. They have been excluded in other spheres of life as well, including education and decision-making.
Two years ago the church women organized a campaign for the struggle against gender-based violence. There was a need to get the churches to talk about the violence that was happening within their communities. As well, the women wanted to put pressure on parliament to vote in favour of a new penal code. “Usually, this kind of pressure is done by intellectual women,” Kankindi says, but in this case uneducated women from Burundi’s interior joined with parliamentarians, the first lady, church leaders, women from feminist associations, sympathetic men, students and dancers in a major event.
Five days later, the vote was taken and passed. “We cannot say that it is the grace of the Christian women that the law was voted, but it is an effort of everyone,” says Kankindi. “There was a remarkable contribution that opened the eyes of a lot of people.” Even men formed an association to fight against gender violence.
The following Sunday in church, the group presented “a woman who had had her arms cut off simply because she had given birth to girls,” and the sermon spoke against such violence. The successful campaign was widely reported in the country. “We truly were very proud.”
The struggle isn’t over for the tiny country, but Kankindi will continue, supported by the encouragement and contributions of others. “The joys that I have in my work are seeing the fruits of my labour,” she says.

A born Canadian leader
Dorothy Davies-Flindall’s life has been very different from that of a Burundian woman. Raised in a peaceful farming community, she was a leader of Anglican Youth and participated in the Junior Farmers organization. Even at that point, she recalls, “I had some kind of pull to be the leader of the group.”
She earned a Master of Library Sciences degree from the University of Toronto that prepared her for her career as a professional librarian. “I got hooked on public library work,” she says. After working in Regina and Oshawa she became director of the public library in Trenton, Ontario.
In that capacity she had to work with the library board and municipal council, as well as with the Ontario government in amending the library legislation.
The skills she needed to work in the community meshed with her growing responsibility within the church, starting as a delegate to diocesan synod and later chairing the development committee of the diocesan mission board. Involvement as a diocesan representative for The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund eventually brought her to the national level, where she chaired the committee (now the board) for seven years until the mid-1990s.
“I always loved it,” she says of PWRDF work. “I travelled all over this diocese, doing homilies and presentations, encouraging more people to be aware.”
As PWRDF chair she regular reported to meetings of the Anglican Church of Canada’s national executive council (now Council of General Synod). It was during that period that she got to know other leaders in the Anglican Church and they got to know her. So it was no surprise when she was elected to  CoGs, nor when she was named prolocutor (chair) from 2001-2004. During her time as prolocutor, General Synod dealt with the difficult issue of residential schools.
Leadership wasn’t always easy. Not only was she a woman, but a lay woman. “I think that’s become easier over time,” she says. The sense that a lay woman’s role should be limited to Sunday school teaching and ACW work is shifting.
In Africa, she acknowledges, the issues are different. Even in Kenya, which hasn’t suffered the severe effects of civil war that Burundi has, women have had a tougher time being accepted as leaders, although that, too, is changing. As chair of the PWRDF committee, Davies-Flindall travelled to Kenya regularly as chair of a partnership with the Anglican Church of Kenya.
Involvement in church leadership hasn’t meant setting aside community work. She has also served on the local community college board, on a board for literacy skills program, and is now part of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers campaign.
Davies-Flindall isn’t about to slow down just yet. But when she looks at all the roles she has had over the years, one of her fondest memories is that of chairing the PWRDF committee. “I believe so much in the work that The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund does,” she says. If you feel moved to support the work of PWRDF, consider a regular donation to provide support to partner initiatives. Anglicans are making a difference.

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