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Renewed federal funding gives boost to KAIROS Women of Courage program

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Jennifer Henry of KAIROS Canada. Photo by Dennis Gruending.

With wars and conflicts raging, 65 million refugees in the world, and authoritarians in too many of the palaces, it is good to have some good news. The ecumenical social justice group KAIROS has received $4.5 million from Global Affairs Canada over five years to support women-focused organizations working to heal the female victims of war, and assist them to become peacemakers. Specifically, the programs provide psycho-social counselling, legal accompaniment and human rights training for women survivors.

Those local groups work in some of the most violent and conflict-ridden areas of the world, including Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Philippines, South Sudan, and the West Bank. KAIROS will invest an additional $1.3 million in the project to bring the total combined investment to $5.8 million. To take one example, the money will support the work of Héritiers de la Justice in the DRC to operate a legal clinic for women who have been the victims of the violence associated with conflicts in that country.

Old news is good news

Actually, the grant from Global Affairs is not news to the 10 Canadian churches and faith-based organizations that belong to KAIROS because the announcement was made in May 2018. However, it will be news to most Canadians because there has been little to no mention of it in the mainstream media. As well, there are fewer church-based publications than ever to report on such encouraging developments.

Jennifer Henry, the executive director of KAIROS, said in a news release that "Canadians should be proud partners with these women -- the ones who know the solutions in their contexts -- expand their capacity to build and sustain just peace."

Dirty tricks

Henry also talked about the government of Canada "renewing [its] commitment." There is a back story to be told here -- although Henry does not do so in the release. Back in 2009, the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper suddenly suspended all of its support to KAIROS. There was $7 million in the pipeline which was to be delivered by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). A portion of that money was to be used to support the very programs described above.

At first in 2009 KAIROS was confused about what was happening. KAIROS and its predecessor organizations had a partnership with CIDA that existed for 35 years, and the reports on their projects and management had been positive.

Kenney's claims

A couple of months later then immigration minister Jason Kenney spoke at a global forum in Jerusalem and made the stunning accusation that KAIROS was an anti-Semitic organization and would have its entire funding suspended. Kenney was a key player in an attempt to weld a Conservative-friendly coalition of conservative Jewish, Catholic, and evangelical Christian groups, and likely he believed that bashing KAIROS would play well with them. Kenney was congratulated publicly by an Israeli group called NGO Monitor, which levies accusations of anti-Semitism against anyone who questions Israeli government policies or actions.

Unlike some other church-based international development groups that had been bullied by the Conservatives, KAIROS refused to remain silent. The group replied that Kenney's accusations were "false" and its church-based members organized their constituents to contact MPs asking that the decision be reversed. It wasn't reversed, but KAIROS persevered -- and also maintained a level of support for the women's support programs in the DRC and elsewhere.

The Harper government was defeated by the Liberals in 2015. Jason Kenney left federal politics to become leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta. Kenney had accused KAIROS and other organizations such as Rights and Democracy as being anti-Semitic. Ironically, according to reports by the Broadbent Institute's PressProgress, Kenney's UCP in Alberta has become a magnet for white supremacists who are Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and openly contemptuous of Indigenous people.

Page turned

But for KAIROS the page has turned and with the new five-year financial agreement it can continue its important international work on a firmer foundation.

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former member of Parliament. He has worked as a print and television journalist and a CBC Radio host. This post appeared on Gruending's Pulpit and Politics blog on December 20, 2018.  

Photo by Dennis Gruending

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