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Writing Samples

Success Story for UProot Mississippi, State Health Department and Public Health Institute

Many people across the state are contributing to create a culture of health in Mississippi.  The first example we want to highlight is the extraordinary work of Jeff Good and Up in Farms.  Jeff is well known around Jackson as a top restaurateur, but he is also working hard to improve the health of people all over the state.  He’s working across sectors, “to build a resilient, just and economically viable food supply chain here in the state of Mississippi.”

 

Jeff explains, “even though we are an agricultural state, we have one of the highest percentages of food insecurity in the nation.”  A large portion of our population does not have reliable access to food that is affordable and nutritious, even though, as Jeff points out, “we grow 7.5 billion dollars in agriculture of which 120 million are fruits and vegetables.”  Up in Farms is working to create more demand for local products, connect farmers to schools and businesses, and to develop the infrastructure and physical assets necessary to make it happen.  In the future, they will launch a brand called Mississippi Farmed to certify products created in Mississippi for easy recognition.

 

In addition to making locally grown produce more accessible to Mississippians, the Up in Farms Food Hub is providing opportunities for people to develop sustainable small businesses.  “We will help people who have never grown before figure out what to grow, how to grow, and then how to deliver,” says Jeff.  He recognizes that health and wealth go hand in hand; “jobs and opportunities create a pathway to health, comfort, and security.” 

 

Check out the video of Jeff Good’s presentation at the Central MS UProot launch meeting.  There he summarizes, “simply put in a nutshell, we’re about the business of bringing health and wealth to communities that have traditionally had neither.”

 

Stay tuned for more examples of how people all across the state are taking action to create a culture of health.

Excerpt from a summary report I wrote after a 3 day Sexuality Policy Watch workshop in Durban, South Africa

PART II – Thematic Analysis

On the afternoon of the second day of the workshop, the focus shifted to address a number of realms that cut across all regional dynamics. The discussion began with what the SPW framework has for some time referred to as the said return of the religious. The discussion looked at trends at play in the domains of the religious as manifested in Catholicism, Evangelism, & Islamic societies.

The Catholic Church's legal strategies: The re-naturalization of law and the religious embedding of citizenship – Juan Marco Vaggioni

Juan Marco Vaggioni analyzed how the Catholic Church has invested in juridification as a means to utilize the realm of law to extend their influence beyond their believers to all citizens.  He began by acknowledging the progress that feminist and sexual diversity movements have achieved in legitimizing sexual rights and revealing how conservative religious doctrine has been enshrined in the legislative process.  These movements successfully articulated an alternative paradigm for the intersection between the law and sexuality in direct confrontation with the power and influence of the Catholic Church.

Despite recognizing laïcité, the Catholic Church affirms that secular law should be based on a universal natural morality that the Church authorities and lay people have a responsibility to propagate. Juan described various strategies now being used to restrict ethical plurality such as the appropriation of human rights language particularly in relation to abortion, which is interpreted by these voices as a “tragic negation” of human rights that exalts women’s individual freedom above the potential life of the embryo. This discourse goes yet further in affirming that abortion rights target the embryo as an ‘enemy’.  The Church is triggering disputes over the language and meanings of human rights discourse and aims to revoke legislation that already exists or has been proposed. In response to the rise of sexual citizenship, the Catholic Church promoted citizenship rights embedded with religious beliefs as political rights.  They are very effective at mobilizing their believers/followers as citizens to expand the domain of religious freedom, even when it flagrantly clashes with LGBT equality or reproductive rights of women, and especially in the US have established a premise for conscious objection.

Sexuality and the Rise of Political Islamist Movements: Where it comes from and where it is headed – Fahima Hashim & Shareen Gokal

Fahima Hashim started off by giving an overview of the history of the rise of extremist Islamist movements in the Middle East and North Africa with a special emphasis on women and sexuality.  She cautioned against the frequent use of the word Islamist as a political ideology, when it must be addressed always as a religious or theological construct as other religions are. But she pointed out as well that that unlike Catholicism and Evangelicism, in Islam, predominantly, the political realm is not conceptualized as a separate sphere and Islamist extremism has been on the rise since the 1960’s as a distinct, but not always entirely distant from, the Arab secular nationalist movement. The convergence between secular and religious forces in the Middle East coalesced around political responses to Western geopolitics.  

In order to understand the effects of extreme forms of Islamism on gender and sexuality is important to map out recent legal, cultural, political and economic trends and shifts that are relevant, especially to women and their expression of sexuality.  She argues that “women in particular, are often used to symbolize a society’s collectivity; ‘its culture and tradition’, its boundaries and its future’s production.”  For this reason, the brunt of identity politics and gender relations fall on women as their life choices are more tightly controlled to maintain and regulate collective morals.   The uprisings of the Arab Spring have been quite critical in that regard, despite the somber aftermath, as women appeared as core political actors of the upheavals. 

But even before that, women had been successfully organizing to challenge cultural and religious norms in the region and have won some important legal battles.  Looking more specifucally into the realm of religion, today a group of Feminist Islamic scholars is also  gaining traction in terms of offering alternative interpretations of the four texts (out of over 6000) in the Quran that are heavily cited and often form the basis for discriminatory civil laws that derive from Islamic verse.  Their scholarly work has been embedded in well organized regional and international advocacy efforts.

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