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bookmark_borderAMERICA/CHILE – Chilean men and women religious: candidates in the next elections must be up to the task

Santiago – “We are living in a time of crisis, which causes great uncertainty in various areas: lack of security, violence and instability in social life. Every transformation and change of reality carries with it the feeling of not being in control of the events that occur. For this reason it is necessary and urgent to remain firm in what is essential, our identity as human beings created to love and live with God, with ourselves, with each other and with Creation”. This was stated by the Conference of Religious men and women of Chile, in view of the elections on November 21, in a statement sent to Fides. Expressing their concern for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the Chilean men and women religious appeal to the candidates to rise to the occasion, which “requires leaders who have the common good as the foundation of their service to all people without distinction, and the care of the common Home”. Furthermore, they must show availability for meeting and dialogue, to establish bridges that allow consensus for peace and fraternal coexistence among all Chileans, recognizing cultural diversity. In short, they must have “open arms and without borders to welcome, protect, promote and integrate immigrants; achieve justice through equity for a dignified life, which allows mutual relations to be lived in peace”. The statement calls for living conditions that favor freedom, mutual respect, care for nature, seeking a sustainable relationship in the economy, through laws that deal with and protect against the exploitation and extermination of all forms of life and culture. The men and women religious of Chile conclude their message by putting “hope in the God of Life”, and thus renewing the conviction that “the Gospel brings the Good News of a lifestyle that will free us from the slavery of false idolatries that they build walls and create divisions, bringing light to our minds and hearts to see, value and take care of everyone, because we are all brothers”. Chile is still experiencing a long period of crisis and uncertainty in all fields – political, economic, social and ecclesial – which began in October 2019, with the mobilizations against high prices and corruption. Violence and clashes have not spared places of worship. The plebiscite of October 25, 2020 sanctioned the start of the process of drawing up a new Constitution, the drafting of which was entrusted to a “Constituent Convention”, whose members were elected in the elections of 15 and May 16, 2021 . Concerned about the climate of violent polarization in political life, especially in the electoral campaign, the Chilean bishops have published their message, one month before the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections of November 21, entitled “To live the electoral process in peace and citizen harmony “. The bishops call on everyone “to act responsibly”, underlining that “for whoever comes to govern the country in the next period, the task will be difficult and complex” .

bookmark_borderAn all-women coral conservation team is helping to revive Indonesia’s world-famous Gili reefs

The trainees are learning to graft, garden, and restore corals

Originally published on Global Voices

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Coral Catch Gili Air's all-women coral restoration team. Photo courtesy of Coral Catch, used with permission.

There has been no shortage of alarming articles and videos in recent years about the imminent and inevitable destruction of the world's coral reefs — one of the key components to a healthy ocean and marine ecosystem. Heartbreaking images of bleached, broken corals have been the bellwether of the climate crisis for many coastal communities. 

These images paired with messages of hopelessness have made many apathetic and fatalist about the plight of our coral reefs. Luckily, some grassroots environmental groups have looked past the despair to find solutions.

In Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, one such group, Coral Catch Gili Air, is working to regrow the island's coral reefs and launch a training program to teach other citizens to do the same.

The organization is based on Gili Air, part of the Gili island chain in central Indonesia. The group recently received a grant to fund an all-women conservation team to train women from all over Indonesia how to plant, breed, graft, and garden corals. 

Though Gili still has a flourishing reef, some parts have been negatively affected by dynamite fishing, coral bleaching, coastal development, inefficient waste management, anchoring, boat traffic, and earthquakes.

For the group's founder Rose Huizenga, a long-time Indonesia resident from the Netherlands, the group offers an opportunity for both sustainable development and women's empowerment. She shared her vision in an interview with Global Voices.

I believe that empowering women and promoting gender equality is crucial to accelerating sustainable development. To truly learn to live in harmony with our environment, women need to be as much a part of shaping our collective destiny as men. For me, female empowerment is not about excluding men, but about raising the voices of women.

Rose noted that, like many scientific fields, the ocean research and conservation fields have historically been dominated by men, with gender imbalances that continue to this day. A recent study by Women in Ocean Science showed that 78 percent of the women respondents had experienced sexual harassment in marine science. 

“Although we've made great strides in the gender representation in ocean research and conservation, we still have work to do,” said Rose.

For the eight participants, the program offers an opportunity to bring coral conservation methods from Gili Air to their hometowns. One of the program participants, Aulia Zeintrinanda, told Global Voices that the program “[teaches] us to plan the restoration project from zero, so we could do our own coral restoration.” After the program, she plans to move to Nusa Lembongan, Bali, so she can partner with some NGOs to start her own coral restoration project. 

Likewise, participant, Delya Pamela Anggridani, hopes to use her newfound skills to revive tourism on her home island of Lombok, a major diving tourism hotspot in Indonesia. “I like the sea and want to preserve the sea around where I live, because my area is quite famous for the beauty of the sea and I want to inspire other women to love the sea.” She hopes  to “create a program that invite local women, especially those in Lombok to preserve or restore coral reefs, because we are in a promising tourism area which have many dive sites.”

Cynthia Fildza Radiputri, another member of the program, agrees, arguing that environmentalism should extend past identity and divisions:

After completing this training I want to share all my knowledge, my experience, my story to all my friends, my colleagues, my social media friends, influence them to do the same thing to [promote] sustainable marine life and environmentalism. Empowering and inspiring more women from various backgrounds: job, statuses, skill, ability, competency, religion, etc. No matter [who] they are, they can collaborate and contribute to the protecting ocean project.

Coral reefs are vital for coastal communities as they protect coastlines from erosion, provide jobs, food, medicines, and resources, and are a significant tourism driver worldwide. The Coral Reef Alliance explains:

Coral reefs support over 500 million people around the world by providing food, income, coastal protection, and more. They provide over $375 billion per year in goods and services. And despite only covering 0.1% of the earth's surface, they contain the highest number of species of any ecosystem besides rainforests.

Coral conservation

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A coral reef landscape in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Photo by Sonja Geier — Flowave Films, used with permission.

Corals can be planted and gardened just like land-based plants, though, according to Pacific Standard Magazine, it can be slow and quite challenging.

The process begins by trimming a fragment of healthy coral from a living polyp and growing it until it is mature. There are two methods to grow corals: lab- and ocean-based nurseries. The first involves growing corals in a lab until they reach maturity and then transplanting them into the ocean reefs. The second process, similar to grafting plants, involves directly planting the coral fragments into the sea by attaching them to underwater metal structures. They are maintained and grown here for about 6–12 months and then transplanted to existing reefs.

Corals can grow anywhere from 1–20 centimeters per year.

Lab-based nurseries allow scientists to grow corals faster and avoid the unknown variables of the ocean, but they are also more space- and resource-intensive, not to mention expensive. 

Underwater gardening has its own risks as corals can be picky and fickle plants — they are very sensitive to water temperature, pH levels, and water current, so coral gardening may involve a lot of trial and error to find a location where the corals can thrive.

Some researchers believe that coral gardening could be essential to preserving coral ecosystems long-term as it would allow scientists to prioritize resilient corals that would be able to withstand rising ocean temperatures due to the climate crisis. 

Currently, there are local coral restoration efforts all over the world, from Fiji and Tahiti to Miami and Hawaii.

As thousands of scientists, oceanographers, environmentalists, and politicians meet for the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November, the plight of our coral reefs will be a major discussion point. Can local initiatives like these solve one of the most alarming effects of the climate crisis? Only time will tell.

bookmark_borderASIA/PAKISTAN – The bill to protect women rejected: protest campaign by Christians

Karachi – “We must all be united to defend and promote the proposed bill to protect women of religious minorities from forced conversions. Not only do we want this proposal to become law, but we also want it to be implemented. Rejecting the bill that aims to stop forced conversions is against human rights. This refusal hurt our feelings, especially those of women belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the State to provide protection to its citizens, especially women and children, in the midst of the dangers to their lives and their peace of mind”, said Tabassum Yousaf, a Catholic lawyer from Karachi, active in participating in the protest campaign after the rejection of the text of the law which intended to preserve the most vulnerable women and exposed to the phenomenon of kidnapping and forced conversion .
Tabassum Yousaf, who in recent days took part in the protest together with other citizens at the Karachi Press Club, declares to Fides: “There already exists the ‘law on child marriage’ which prohibits the marriage of minors under 18; but when a minor girl belongs minority religious communities are kidnapped and forcibly converted and forced to marry a man two or three times older than her age, this law is ignored. It is a clear sign that there is no correct implementation of the law when it comes to non-Muslim women. There is a selective application of the law. It is serious discrimination”.
The Christian, Shabir Shafaqat, president of the Christian National Party, who led the protest at the Karachi Press Club against the rejection of the bill, tells Fides: “We are fighting for our fundamental rights, we appeal to the Prime Minister, the judiciary and to the Chief of the Pakistani Army to ensure the protection of our women from kidnapping for forced conversions and forced marriages”. And he notes: “Christians and Hindus feel insecure because of the rapidly growing kidnappings, due to forced marriages and forced conversions of teenagers belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan. State intervention is needed”.
Various minority rights groups announced new peaceful protests in various cities of Pakistan on November 13, 2021. The Parliamentary Commission on Forced Conversions rejected the bill prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights and called this bill “non-Islamic” last month, on October 13, 2021.
The draft law in article no. 3 establishes that any non-Muslim, in order to convert to another religion, must request a “conversion certificate” from the first instance judge in the area where he ordinarily resides or carries out his business. The judge must set the date of the interview within 7 days of receiving the application and on the date indicated the personnel must be present to ensure that the religious conversion takes place in a free way, not due to constriction and is not due to any deception or fraudulent declaration.
The article further states that, at the request of the non-Muslim citizen, the judge can arrange meetings with scholars or religious leaders of the religion to which the person wishes to convert. The judge can grant a period of 90 days to undertake a comparative study of religions. Finally, it will be considered that the non-Muslim citizen has officially changed his faith starting from the “conversion certificate” issued by the judge. In article no. 4 of the bill, to prohibit forced conversion, provides that “whoever converts a person to another religion by criminal force commits the crime of forced conversion and is punished with a penalty of at least 5 years and a maximum of 10 years and a fine of at least 100,000 Pakistani rupees”. Furthermore, anyone who carries out, leads, directs, realizes or in any way facilitates a marriage with the knowledge that one or both parties are victims of forced conversion is punished with imprisonment for a minimum of three years and a fine of 100,000 Pakistani rupees. Article no. 6 of the proposed law states that no person can change religion until he becomes an adult and if a minor claims to have changed religion before reaching legal age, this declaration is not considered valid.

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