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Solving the maquiladora murders: Speaker calls on Christians to end ecocide, femicide
Kelley Chambers/Staff Photo - Rev. Daisy Machado of Union Theological Seminary in New York City spoke at Southern Methodist University on Thursday about the plight of humanity and how traditional Christian views have been held responsible throughout the years.
The ongoing murders of countless women at the U.S.-Mexico border, along with devastating environmental damage inflicted by factories, were the subject of "Ecocide and Femicide on the Border: Ecofeminism and the Maquiladora Murders," a presentation held at Southern Methodist University on Thursday.
Guest speaker, the Rev. Daisy L. Machado, dean of academic affairs and professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, used the work of ecofeminists to call on Christians to think about the connections between poverty, violence to both the Earth and humans and immigration.
It is estimated that more than 400 female maquiladora (export assembly plant) workers have been murdered in Juárez, Mexico alone since 1993.
"This desert area, filled with toxic air and water produced by the maquiladoras, are devalued by a patriarchal society and commoditized until they become expendable and invisible," said Machado in a release. "This concerns me because these realities remain unresolved. So I ask the Christian community: Why are we not responding? And how can we advocate social, ecological and gender justice?"
Machado spoke about ecological justice and femicide, and focused on Christianity and the role that Christian theology plays, as how its misuse and misinterpretations have contributed to the exploitation of women and the "Mother Earth."
"How can 1 billion people, almost one-fifth of the world's population, live on less than one dollar a day, unless much of the world simply accepts their fate with indifference and abandons them to their plight," Machado said. "This nation, where individualism and personal monetary success are celebrated, we have created communities that live in fear of one another."
Quoting studies by philosophers, ecologists and theologians, Machado reflected how many modern-day thinkers have connected economic and ecological exploitation have come together to produce a terrible tragedy that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of women in Juarez, Mexico, and how patriarchal Christianity has been placed at the center of these and other global injustices.
From global warming to mass murders to oil spills in the Gulf, Machado said many point the finger at Christianity for its emphasis on dualisms between the spiritual and material realms, which often creates an emphasis on individualism, ultimately resulting in the degradation of the earth's resources for the sake of cash and profit.
"There is not a day that goes by without hearing news about some ecological problem or degradation," Machado said. "Certainly, there are many who blame Christianity for the present ecological crisis, claiming that whether directly or indirectly, the Christian tradition needs to be held responsible."
When Christians are more worried about their life in the hereafter, Machado said. The here and now loses its importance. Such focus negates a rationale for taking care of the earth, she said.
Machado quoted 19th Century German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, who stated, "Nature, the world has no value, no interest of Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul."
"I'm not saying I agree with this but am just telling you what people are saying," Machado said. "We have to think about how it is that religion plays a role in how we live our life, how religion plays a role in shaping and how we understand ourselves as citizens of this world. When nature becomes something that I use, I don't see anything sacred, I see no value to it, that I can exploit it and I don't have to worry about it."
Hierarchy also plays a role in such exploitations, Machado said, not only for the earth's resources, but also for women and children, who are often placed beneath God and men. According to theologian Elizabeth Dodson Gray, Machado said, this allows for the lower orders to be mistreated, violated, sold, sacrificed or killed at the convenience of the higher states of spiritual being, found in males and in God.
"As you can imagine, many people were very upset with Elizabeth Dodson Gray," Machado said.
Perhaps the most accurate example of human and world degradation can be seen in Juarez, Mexico's fifth largest city, a place that faces many ecological problems, such as poor air quality, poverty and lack of education and access to medical attention.
Women have also become a target of abuse and misuse in this city and throughout the country, Machado said. Currently about 1.3 million Mexicans are employed in one or more of approximately 3,000 maquiladoras.
Activists continue to remind the "failed" efforts of the Mexican authorities and the world community of the number of females whose bodies [which is rumored to actually be as many as 1,000, Machado said] have been dumped along the outskirts of Juarez, some as young as their early teens. Approximately one-third of these women were factory workers, Machado said, and mystery still surrounds how these females were killed and who is responsible.
"In Mexico, the maquila worker is typically someone with little education, little property if any, no money, and is a migrant from even poorer regions of the country, which now hosts a conglomerate of factories owned by European, American, Korean, Japanese and multi-national corporations," she said.
"Because global companies all seek to emphasize maximum worker output, worker health and living conditions remain a constant challenge for those who can only earn below minimum wage in the maquiladora industry," Machado said. "In this environment, the workers lose their humanity and are so easily devalue that they become expendable."
Machado called on women of faith to think about the treatment of women, their inferiority according to traditional Christianity and how the "ecological church" can give people a new worldview to help think differently about the connection between God and all of creation.
Machado referenced the book of Genesis, in which God gives humans dominion over all creation, and quoted the works of Christian feminist theologian Sallie McFague, who argued the falseness of hierarchy and individualism by stating that humans have been given permission to love the world by being the carnation of God in the world. Therefore, we all share the resources of our house and we need each other to survive.
"In order for us to do this," Machado said, "McFague says humans have to become ecologically literate which means understanding the worlds most basic law, that there is not way the whole earth can flourish unless all parts are cared for."