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Christian alliance for advocacy marks successes, future challenges

9. December 2010

    Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) today in Geneva, members and partners recognized past achievements and discussed opportunities and challenges for future coordinated Christian witness for justice.

    Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, noted in a message read to participants by a UNAIDS staff member in the anniversary seminar, that the EAA "has played a central role in convening and spearheading advocacy from the faith community on AIDS over the last ten years."

    "Your approach has been strategic and professional, bringing religious leaders and faith based organizations into the critical debates around HIV and helping to shift stigma and discrimination," he continued.

    Yet, Sidibé stated, "More than ever before, we need to understand how to work with faith communities and religious leaders to dismantle some of the entrenched stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV and others most vulnerable in society. We need to engage in a transformative social movement that will culminate in zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigma and discrimination."

    The importance of advocacy not just for people on the margins, but advocacy by the people most affected by injustice was a recurring theme. The EAA's role in providing a platform for people living with HIV to speak and take leadership was highlighted along with the need to continue to provide the space, support and communication that make advocacy at all levels possible.

    Hielke Wolters, Acting Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held up a set of keys as a symbol of what is needed for effective action. "The suffering community is the primary mover for justice," he stated, "but it needs networks of solidarity and advocacy specialists.We need keys to open doors."

    Jonathan Frerichs, WCC Programme Executive for Peacebuilding and Disarmament, expanded a common catchphrase as a challenge for ecumenical advocacy, "We need to think globally, but act locally, nationally and globally."

    Inspiring local action is sometimes difficult given the obscure and technical nature of some of the economic issues, including agriculture and food production systems, that advocates have to address. Organizations like the EAA, said Caroline Dommen of the Quaker UN office, need to use language that speaks to values and "shows the reality".

    Kristine Greenaway, Executive Secretary for Communication, World Communion of Reformed Churches, and Peter Kenny, Editor-in-Chief of ENInews, echoed the challenge that ecumenical organizations use language that communicates to the people in churches and broader public, particularly through stories.

    "All stories are local," Kenny said. "You have to make those local stories global." He also challenged organizations seeking to be effective advocates to provide resources for communication, "otherwise you are just talking to yourself."

    Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA, said that the past 10 years has demonstrated how much "advocacy in today's world . has demanded a clear, collected voice of the faith community, not a fragmented voice." She continued, though, noting that with 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone living with HIV, the critical need is to change the discourse on development away from mere statistics: "It's not about numbers, it is about life."

    The role of EAA in acting as a "sounding board" for advocacy positions on food between organizations in the North and Global South was highlighted by Karin Ulmer, Policy Officer on Trade and Gender for APRODEV. Providing effective circles of communication, linking grassroots to churches to international organizations and back, has been important in EAA's development and should be continued and strengthened.

    Ulmer also highlighted the importance of the "outreach and involvement" of Roman Catholic organizations in past campaign work, and she hoped such broad ecumenical collaboration can also be strengthened in the current food campaign.

    The EAA was challenged not only to seek broader cooperation particularly with Orthodox and Evangelical church families, but also with other faiths.

    "EAA - you took the lead early on in demonstrating the ability of Christian communities to work together," said Rev. Christo Greyling, Director, HIV and Infectious Diseases, World Vision International. "Now you have to decide how far you are willing to go in a multifaith environment."

    Sister Denise Boyle, Executive Director of Franciscans International, noted the importance of countering the divides that can be created through fundamentalism, and hoped in the future that EAA will work to "open borders of our hearts and minds and eliminate fear."

    Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, noted in his reflections in the opening worship, that it was a "wonderful coincidence" to celebrate the EAA's 10th anniversary in the church's season of advent, the "season where we realize again that God doesn't turn his back on the world." He reflected that God through Jesus Christ, himself arrived "in the margins" in a time of occupation and as a refugee. Christ's challenge to us then is to "make this place a place where God is present in the world  . a place where change and transformation are possible."

    Background information

    There are currently 73 churches and Christian organizations that are members of the Alliance, from Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. These members, representing a combined constituency of tens of millions of people around the world, are committed to working together in public witness and action for justice on defined issues of common concern. Current campaigns are on Food and on HIV and AIDS. The list of current EAA members is available at: http://www.e-alliance.ch/en/s/about-us/members/

    A timeline of EAA highlights over the past ten years is available at: http://www.e-alliance.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/docs/EAA/EAA10thAnniversaryTimeline.pdf

    For photos or more information contact Sara Speicher, +44 7821 860 723 (mobile), sspeicher@e-alliance.ch

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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