Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand. (Advices &Queries 34, Quaker Faith and Practice)

Once again, I am reminded of the immense contribution that the Society of Friends has made to human rights, peacemaking and social justice over four centuries – out of all proportion to their numbers. Yesterday, I took part in an event organised by West of Scotland Quakers on Women, the Environment and Economic Change. The keynote speaker was Dr Nontando Hadebe from South Africa, International Co-ordinator of Side by Side for Gender Justice.

Dr Hadebe began by noting how it’s normal in an African context for environmental concern as expressed by the west almost always refers to animals and plants, and not connected to people – a cause for puzzlement for the people, who cannot conceive of themselves as separate from the land. And since in South Africa, their lived experience is one of the expropriation of land, and of the resulting high poverty, their human ecology is one of the interconnectedness of all life.

The cry of the earth is the cry of woman. Ecology and gender injustice are inseparable. Colonial and patriarchal laws alike are all about the land, and about ownership. An exploitative economic system is one based on hierarchy and domination, utilising theologies of dominion, which create a fundamental link between domination of women and domination of the earth. As an ecofeminist, Dr Hadebe recognizes the diversity of women’s experiences that emerges from different contexts and intersecting systems of oppression. Hence for ecofeminists, relatedness and interconnectedness constitute unity in diversity that is non-hierarchical. This human ecology values community, ethics, morality and looking out for the most vulnerable, values which are demonstrated at the grassroots by women, but which are too often unnamed, overlooked and devalued.

At every level of power and agency, there is a gender gap – and in COP26, much of which is being conducted online, it’s important to note that there is also a huge digital gap. In an interesting discussion on the South African Zulu notion of ubuntu (meaning, humanity, or, I am because we are), popularised in the west by Desmond Tutu, Dr Hadebe interpreted this as ‘you are human if you are humane’, and encouraged us to affirm narratives that give life. Ironically, it’s somewhat depressing to find that at the top of Google results for ubuntu are adverts for an open source software operating system. Truly, there is nothing we will not commoditize!

Later in the day, collecting my visitors from Nigeria from Glasgow Central Station (who left Lagos the day before in 32 degrees C and were finding Glasgow at 6 degrees very cold indeed), we got caught up in an Extinction Rebellion action in Renfield Street, outside the Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), in a protest against corporate greenwashing. Iona Community members Tim Gorringe and Gill Westcott, who had been part of the protest, said they had been kettled for several hours, though the Glasgow public seemed both curious and cheerful about the action.

In the evening, I crossed the river and entered the Free State of Govan to take part in an event organised by the Centre for Human Ecology in the Pearce Institute. This was a conversation with Alastair McIntosh, land activist, Quaker and former Business Adviser to the Iona Community, and member Alison Phipps (Swinfen), Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Language and the Arts, with the title ‘Climate Change and the Survival of Being’. This took as its starting point memories of and meditations on an address given by Raimon Panikkar, the Spanish/Catalan philosopher and theologian, at a conference in the Pearce Institute 30 years ago in Glasgow, which Alastair and Kathy had been involved in. This wide-ranging conversation then opened out into into the discussion of a key theme of Alastair’s recent book, ‘Riders on the Storm’, and how we address and challenge the huge spiritual formation, the assault on our very being, which the forces of market capitalism wage against us from infancy. How do we resist being simply ‘bought behaviour patterns? There were many interesting and profound questions from a predominantly youthful audience; about whether and how we should be angry, about whether and how we should pray for those in authority who create hostile environments.

In other news, forty nations, led by the UK and including India, China, and the US, will impose standards, incentives and rules to create markets for new technologies, which could radically reduce the price of clean tech worldwide. £6 billion will be made available by western countries to help South Africa end its energy reliance on coal. And former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is mobilising private companies and financial institutions to move trillions of dollars to activities to activities that help the shift towards net zero.

It seems appropriate to end with some words spoken by Pannikar in the Pearce Institute in 1991.

‘Let me begin with prayer: that is, becoming conscious of our sense of precariousness. Not only for

ourselves; none of us has the solution to the world we tackle, none of us can offer a convincing

programme of action. The very word prayer suggests being conscious of our precariousness when

we deal with such major issues. Not only the sense of our precariousness; also, of the

precariousness of the situation where we live, of this moment which is our moment in time and

history’

And with his nine sutras:

  1. one should begin with oneself
  2. and by oneself (not waiting for the push from one side)
  3. opening myself to the entire reality
  4. there, where my will is – Glasgow, not outside
  5. without forcing the consequences
  6. in solidarity: solitude is not isolation
  7. self-motivated; if it is not self-motivated, no motivation would ever work
  8. non-violently; and
  9. beginning all over again

 – Kathy Galloway

Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

Alastair, Alison and Kathy in conversation, photo ©

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