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The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.
—Terry Tempest Williams
I THINK OF Moving Toward the Millionth Circle as a sequel to The Millionth Circle (1999) but with a different focus. The Millionth Circle was a guide on how to create and sustain women's circles with a sacred center, which I called "Zen and the Art of Circle Maintenance." It proposed nothing short of bringing humanity into a post-patriarchal era via the proliferation of women's circles through a principle that can be intuitively grasped: when a critical number of people change how they think and behave, the culture does also and a new era begins. The "millionth circle" is a metaphoric number for the tipping point. This second small book was inspired by being at the United Nations during meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women each spring where several thousand activists from grassroots non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that help women and girls present panels and workshops, sharing information and meeting each other. I realized how their effectiveness and numbers would grow exponentially through a world conference on women, and how circles with a sacred center would support women who work for change in their lives and in the world. I became an advocate for a UN conference, not as a goal in itself, but as a huge step toward reaching the tipping point.
Moving Toward the Millionth Circle is especially meant for heart-centered activists who are motivated to act by compassionate action, a sense of sisterhood, or fierce mother-bear protectiveness which is a combination of love and outrage. It is for women wherever they are, who are activists because of a promise made to others, to divinity, or to themselves. It may have been a calling or is the result of one step leading to another. It may be a vow to stop a multi-generational pattern of family or institutional or political indifference toward abuse or injustice. It may be a deep conviction that this is yours to do. Activism is a personal choice. It is a passion for a cause expressed through actions, funding, communication, as well as prayer, rituals, and art.
I have been a persevering advocate for a UN 5th World Conference on Women and women's circles because I see the potential for transformative change when women come together in common cause. A world conference would energize a global women's movement by raising consciousness about what needs doing and can be done once political will is mobilized: implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and Security Council Resolution 1325 about women, peace, and security are examples. The vision of a world in which women's rights and human rights are one and the same needs to be kept alive, which a global conference would do.
I hope my words will reach younger women who want to get involved in the millionth circle vision and that when there is global conference that they will come and support others to be there. I see possibilities for inter-generational, international mentoring at this conference as a two-way experience that will give to both and change the world. In the late 1960s, consciousness-raising groups formed in the United States and appeared to be just women talking to each other about patriarchy and equality. They validated each other's reality and potential for action. They took their perceptions seriously and with support from their sister-activists whom they did not want to let down, individually and in groups took actions that added up to make history. These circles were the basis of the Women's Movement that changed the world for American women in the 1970s and led to four UN World Conferences on Women between 1975 and 1995.
I am convinced that we can contribute by what we do to how history will turn out. I believe that empowered women in sufficient numbers can truly influence the course of humanity at this time in history and fulfill Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Sun Kyi's vision about the ability of women to contribute to peace. She was under house arrest for fifteen of twenty-one years between 1989 and 2010 for her opposition to the military junta's seizure of the democratic government of Burma. In her opening keynote via videotape to the 1995 NGO Forum on Women at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, she said:
For millennia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of peace that favour life as a whole ... Now that we are gaining control of the primary historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands of years. The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.
Grassroots efforts to mobilize support for a World Conference on Women gained the support of the two most important leaders of the United Nations. On March 8, 2012, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the 66th General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser announced their support in a joint statement. They said "it is high time for a global women's conference, all the more important because of the enormous changes the world is going through, with both positive and other implications for women." They noted the enthusiasm of civil society, particularly women's organizations, for such a conference had added extra strength to their support. It seemed likely that they were responding to the Fifth World Conference for Women Campaign. The symbol "5WCW" on big blue buttons was worn by supporters at the UN and displayed on websites and newsletters. The petition for the conference had over fifteen thousand signatures when they made their joint proposal to have a global women's conference.
The Secretary General and President of the General Assembly asked for member states to submit and pass a draft resolution for a world conference on women in 2015, which would have happened if ambassadors in the General Assembly had responded favorably. They did not.
When "why not?" is asked, the bland and true answer is that "it was not the right time" for this proposal. Later developments suggest support for a global women's conference with UN auspices might be forthcoming if a conference were held without the simultaneous meeting of the member states. The reasons why not were complex, speculative, and based on hearsay and confidential conversations. However, since "why not?" is the very first response by everyone who learns of this, I did want to share my perspective. In the General Assembly, most resolutions are passed by consensus. There was lobbying against the proposal by ambassadors from member states that are against reproductive rights and equality for women. There was displeasure that there had not been consultation before the joint statement was made. Some major NGOs were very concerned about the potential danger to the strong existing UN position on women embodied in the Beijing Platform for Action, and they let this be known. When support from the United States and European Union was not forthcoming, support from countries that initially indicated that they supported the proposal faded.
The idea of a UN global women's conference got a huge boost, however. The possibility had gone from "Forget it, the time of women's conferences is over" to being a hot topic.
The Fourth World Conference on Women, known as the Beijing Conference, was in two parts: the official meeting with representatives from the member states (currently 193 countries) and the NGO Forum, attended by all the others—people from organizations and individuals concerned with women and girls (nongovernmental organizations, civil society). Of the forty thousand people who attended, over 90 percent participated in the forum that was, for many, a life-changing experience which then rippled out through their organizations and through what they have since done in the world. The stories I have heard of the effects on the girls and women who went to any of the four UN women's world conferences is what inspires me most about the potential for a 21st century World Conference on Women, which could easily not only draw twice as many people, but also through media, technology, and connections through circles reach millions more. Ideas from such a conference could go viral. The result can be a global women's movement that would accelerate reaching the tipping point.
UN Women (the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) was established at the UN in July 2010. There was no such organization when the first four conferences were held. UN entities such as UNICEF (children) and WHO (health) sponsor or co-sponsor international summits and conferences without the 193 member states meeting simultaneously. Support from philanthropy, from individuals and foundations, and from various governments is required to not just hold a conference, but also to provide grants to individual women from organizations in developing countries who do much on the ground but would not have funds to send members to an international meeting. Yet these are the women who inspire and do much with the support that we can provide, and whose reports most touch outrage and hearts to stop the exploitation and abuse of girls and women.
Our first buttons and website used "5WWC" for Fifth Women's World Conference back in 2003 (see the current 5wcw.org and the archival site 5wwc.org). We changed to 5WCW when it seemed that this was the only form possible, but now that UN Women exists, there may be a way to have it under UN auspices but without the same structure as in Beijing. Since women from many developing countries may not be able attend unless it is endorsed by the UN, this is important. And if, as we were told, "5WCW" is now a red flag because it connotes member state participation, we may return to "5WWC" or drop it. The intention is to not lose what the button-logo stands for: a grassroots movement to have a global women's conference.
It has been made absolutely clear that women need to become activists on their own behalf. This was the conclusion reached by the largest global study on violence against women (American Political Science Review, Weldon, S.L. & Hun, M. Cambridge University Press, 2012). Only strong feminist movements are able to voice and organize around their top priorities as women. This study found astonishingly high rates of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, and violence in intimate relationships, as well as other violations of women's bodies and psyches. The study included every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of the world's religions. It covered 85 percent of the world's population. Without strong feminist movements, abuse of women is sidelined, subordinated to men's needs or to the priorities of institutions or political parties.
Now is the time for circles instead of hierarchies, for people to meet together in a form in which everyone is equal, in person and in virtual online circles. Circles with a sacred center support those in them to be true to themselves, to follow whatever the calling or assignment might be, to support each other, make wise choices, and call upon invisible help through prayers, intentions, and meditation. Moving Toward the Millionth Circle is about circles and about heart-centered activists. It is about seeding circles and a global feminist movement. It is about spiritual equality and the healing power of the sacred feminine.CHAPTER 2
What would I do today if I were brave? What if we all meant to do what we secretly dream? If I refused to listen to the voice of fear? and listened to the voice of courage whispering in my ear? And never lose faith even when losing my way?
ANY WOMAN WHO realizes the potential of being in a women's circle that can support and sustain the women in them to be true to themselves—and who carries the intention through to midwife a new circle, adds one more toward the metaphoric "millionth circle," that one that tips the culture from patriarchal toward egalitarian, from hierarchy toward collaboration, and from dominance toward interdependence. Truly an epic intention.
Each new circle draws from and adds its energy to the morphic or archetypal field of the circle. The more circles there are the easier and faster it is for new circles with a sacred center to form.
Each established circle that considers itself part of the movement toward the millionth circle, that aligns itself each time it meets with this as a conscious intention, adds energy to the field and reminds its members that they are part of a quiet yet evolutionary effort.
It's sacred feminine feminism, or simply heart-centered activism to be doing work in the world, community, or family on behalf of women and girls, for the principle of equality, or as an advocate for what is true for you. I believe every activist needs the nourishment that a circle of women can provide to keep on keeping on.
It takes work to be an activist of any kind. There are twists and turns, setbacks, large and small victories. always much to be done and more to do. If you are called to be an activist "take heart" applies.
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It will be a labyrinthine journey that will test you. Sometimes it will seem that the path is going straight to the goal, and then it turns sharply and you feel back to square one, as in a board game. Will you give up or will you keep on?
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Circumstances change, people you counted on may not come through. May join forces with others, abandon ship. Or just run out of steam.
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It helps all concerned to be in a circle of support with shared meaning at the center. Activism is really not a job for a do-it-yourself action hero even if it depends on one person doing her job at a particular moment. When activism is your assignment in the way that I define it, meaningful, fun, motivated by love, then it also is soul work.
The idea of recognizing an assignment when one comes along grows through personal encounters with people whose lives and "assignments" are congruent, authentic, and involved in service. There are many, many good causes to become involved with, but the assignment about which I write is one that has your name on it, written so only you know that this one is for you. It is something you volunteer to do. Taking on an assignment is an aspect of individuation—of becoming authentically oneself, of being on a path with heart or on a chosen life path. It is doing soul work. And as many may tell you who began with something small but significant, one step leads to another.
The idea that an "assignment" could be your soul work begins with a premise that we have a soul as most everyone throughout time has assumed; if so, there must be some point in being here. An immortal soul comes in through the body of a biological mother, into a world of family, society, culture, and time, that is either welcoming or not. I remember the series of insights that led me to think that we are "spiritual beings on a human path, rather than human beings who may or may not be on a spiritual path" as I wrote in Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey. Our lives are short, time passes quickly, and we will have our share of suffering and joy. Time, place, skin color, and gender will greatly affect the expectations, opportunities, and limitations placed on us. And yet, if we have a soul, then what we do here in the time we have matters.
In this particular historical and cosmological time, the excesses of alpha male psychology and patriarchy has brought humanity and the planet to the brink, and some of the wiser men look to women to save the situation: "We men have made a proper mess of things, it's up to women to save us," said Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Laureate, or as the nineteenth-century philosopher Matthew Arnold foresaw, "If ever the women of the world came together solely for the benefit of mankind, it would be a force the world has never seen."
I took on the assignment of advocacy for a UN Fifth World Conference on Women (5WCW) as a direct outgrowth of the idea behind the metaphoric millionth circle. My advocacy was not a goal in itself, but a giant step toward reaching the millionth circle—just as smaller conferences of women and gatherings with this intention also will be. Circles that form during a workshop, as well as ones I have been in for many years, continue to inspire me. I can say from my own experience that "Each circle supports each woman in it to believe in herself and live authentically, to be who she could be with support from the circle and spiritual energy from her deepest sources, and to live into her assignment."
Excerpted from MOVING TOWARD THE MILLIONTH CIRCLE by JEAN SHINODA BOLEN. Copyright © 2013 Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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