September 30, 2014 · 6 Tishrei

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Reform Jewish Movement Marks International Women’s Day
Today, in observance of International Women’s Day, the Reform Jewish Movement joined with other faith groups in sponsoring “A Time of Prayer, Contemplation, and Action for Women's Lives and Equality.” The event focused on the importance of international family planning programs in improving the health of women and their families in the developing world.

Rabbi Sperling: Around the world, women and girls are confronted with substantial barriers to basic education, to health care and to economic opportunities. They are discriminated against and suffer intolerable abuses exclusively because of their gender.

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Washington, March 8, 2006- Today, in observance of International Women’s Day, the Reform Jewish Movement joined with other faith groups in sponsoring “A Time of Prayer, Contemplation, and Action for Women's Lives and Equality.” The event focused on the importance of international family planning programs in improving the health of women and their families in the developing world.

Rabbi Scott Sperling, Director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Mid-Atlantic Council, represented the Reform Movement at the event, and released the following statement:

Women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else.” That teaching, from the law code called in Hebrew, Mishneh Torah, written by Maimonides, a physician, scientist and great Jewish religious scholar of his age, tells us so much of what we need to know on this International Women’s Day.

Later this morning, I will have the opportunity to participate in what will surely be a deeply meaningful worship service whose focus is on women’s health. During that service, I will read that passage from Maimonides, and I will also assert that as a core Jewish value, we believe that “Providing health is not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor, but for the whole of society.” I can take great pride in this noble tradition of support for women and their health care needs. For along with Maimonides’ 700 year old statement, I can also point to the Union for Reform Judaism’s and the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ numerous statements and resolutions supporting the fundamental right of women to health care. In 1992, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that read in part, “Women are short-changed in many aspects of health care, from research and prevention to treatment, access and education. Addressing these inequities is fundamental to women's rights.”

Around the world, women and girls are confronted with substantial barriers to basic education, to health care and to economic opportunities. They are discriminated against and suffer intolerable abuses exclusively because of their gender. Sadly, too many seem to be willing to shut their eyes to these abuses and the litany of problems they create. Each year over a half a million women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Can any of us be surprised that 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries? Each year, eight million more women suffer serious health complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Each year, approximately 10.8 million children under the age of five die, frequently from low birth-weight or other causes related to complications in their mother’s pregnancy. As individuals and as a nation of faith and good will, can we hear this news and not have our hearts broken and our consciences stirred?

In a resolution regarding international women’s rights, the Reform Movement’s Commission on Social Action stated the matter plainly; “This unequal treatment is more than a matter of denial of abstract rights – it is a matter of life and death.” As religious leaders, it is our intention to speak out forcefully against these barriers, against these abuses and the evil consequences they bring. We are here to speak out for the fundamental rights of women to live lives of health and opportunity. To live lives with a brighter horizon and a more hopeful future.

For over 40 years, the United States has included family planning services as part of the aid we provide in the developing world. We’ve been able to see the benefits it brings to families and individual women. We can see the improvement in their well-being as we improve maternal health. We know that our support for family planning information and services are critically important in reducing maternal and infant deaths, and preventing abortions. We know that access to modern contraception means lives saved and their futures improved. All this we know.

So, my friends, we are not lacking for information about the impact of family planning information and services. Because that information and those services can save lives, throughout the day today, people of faith are participating in the National Call-In Day for The Focus on the Family Health bill - HR 4188.

We are asking our United States Representatives to become co-sponsors of this legislation. We are also writing and calling Members of Congress to urge them to restore funds for international family planning that were cut in the President’s proposed budget for 2007.  We will say them as I say to you: the women of the world deserve nothing less.

I want to reiterate the statement made by the Reform movement in 1994, “This unequal treatment is more than a matter of denial of abstract rights – it is a matter of life and death.” If we are to make of this International Women’s Day a new beginning for women around the world, we must take these words to heart and be moved to action. We must decide to act upon the words of Deuteronomy 30:19, “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.

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