Where there is no forgiveness, wounds cannot heal
—from the 7 Pillars of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a complex matter. Often people ask: Why should I forgive? How can I forgive? What is the relevance of forgiveness in a situation of on-going conflict? What is the relationship between forgiveness and justice? If I forgive, surely I am condoning wrongful actions and allowing them to continue?

‘Not forgiving’ has become enshrined in culture, tradition, ideology. It is called revenge; an eye for an eye; just deserts; tit for tat; payback; vendetta.  As a result, we can end up cutting ourselves off from loved ones, family, friends. On a bigger scale, we can end up justifying murder on a small and large scale, settling scores that are hundreds of years old. It is considered the right, the honourable course of action.  And yet, bereavement counsellors frequently reflect that when a person is approaching their deathbed, often their greatest terror is not the physical pain, but the emotional pain of what they have not been able to resolve, forgive, let go of. Seemingly, it catches up with all of us in the end.

We don’t have to remain locked in the past. There is a way – a way to restore ourselves to our inherent humanity, where we can find understanding, compassion, hope for the future, and a true release from the bonds of the past, whether we need to forgive ourselves, or forgive others.

The 7 Pillars of Forgiveness

The question that is often posed, is, “How do I actually start the process of forgiveness?  Are there any practical things I can do?”  Through the 7 Pillars of Understanding, Freedom, Remedy, Warmth, Enhancement, Hope and Continuance, Feminenza has created practical pathways, real steps that can be taken, to help people from all backgrounds walk the path of finding a better way. It recognises that forgiveness is a journey, and that the process is different for each person. It can be a short one or a long one. It can take a few days or a lifetime. You do not ‘have to forgive’. There are things you may never forgive. Feminenza’s programme provides tools, should you wish to walk that path.  How does a person, for example, develop the ability to let go of the pain associated with a memory?  Or how does one begin to understand that a person is more than their current actions and how does one therefore separate the person from the act, to enable both of you to move on?  How is it possible, for real, to let go of the pains of the past and move forward into the future?

The 7 Pillars offer profound access into our ability to forgive, and therefore go beyond the path of pain, revenge or violence.

What We Offer
Feminenza’s Forgiveness work can be experienced in the following ways:

  1. AS WORKSHOPS ON ONE OR MORE OF THE 7 PILLARS, FOR INTERESTED GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS

Forgiveness workshops are currently available, on request, in the USA, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Kenya.

Examples of these are:

  • A series of 1-day workshops that were provided for homeless women in the Cascade Women’s Program in Seattle, Washington, North America
  • Workshops on the 7 Pillars as part of a 1 year course on the Role of Forgiveness in the Educational Encounter, for educators in the Gordon Teachers Training College in Haifa, Israel
  • Workshops as an integral part of a two-year Young Women’s Leadership Program in Peekskill, New York
  • 1-day workshops to women refugees in Denmark
  1. A THREE DAY WORKSHOP AS PART OF OUR 5 DAY TRAUMA HEALING PROGRAMME

This workshop has been successfully offered to groups and communities who have experienced severe conflicts and violence and may have been carrying these traumas within themselves for many years, sometimes decades.

It teaches participants to:

  • Understand the Pathways of Forgiveness and their role in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) reduction
  • Leave the past behind
  • Move themselves and others away from the cycle of violence, by ‘re-humanizing the other’
  • Foster empathy and mutual understanding, build trust

The Forgiveness process helps the participants to address, for example, deep issues of pain, hurt, shame and guilt, looking at them in a new light, enabling the participant to let go, to update the story that they tell themselves, to choose to live in the present and future, not the past.

Being able to forgive others

Participants who have experienced hurt, betrayal, perhaps in a broken relationship, or even extreme trauma at the hand of others – rape, torture, abandonment – have frequently expressed a huge shift by the end of the workshop – from ‘I will never forgive’ to ‘forgiveness is an act of empowerment, I deserve it so that I can be free to live my life again.’

Being able to forgive oneself

Often participants feel responsible, rightly or wrongly, for having caused hurt to others, as well as being victims themselves. At one end of the scale, they may have simply made an unfortunate choice at some point in their life, with painful consequences.  At the other end of the scale, they may have found themselves in the role, willingly or unwillingly, of being a perpetrator committing acts of violence (e.g. in a war zone) – so alongside being able to forgive others, self forgiveness and taking responsibility is also a major issue to address.  It is what experts are coming to identify as moral injuryWood, D. 2014. Moral Injury and PTSD: “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations”. In contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which springs from fear, moral injury is a violation of what each of us considers right or wrong. It is like a bruise on the soul, akin to grief or sorrow, with lasting impact on the individuals and on their families.

The impact of the forgiveness work on vulnerable groups and communities

In Kenya in 2015, 2016 and 2017, working with ex-gang members, abused adolescent girls and young women, and community workers and leaders, virtually every participant was able to share, at some stage in the process, a traumatic or deeply troubling event in their lives which had left them in great need of healing. Some may have been ex-perpetrators who had taken part in and/or witnessed many acts of terrifying and brutal violence: Others were survivors of abuse, rape, horrendous torture, wrongful imprisonment.  Many were both victims and ex-perpetrators.

On each occasion, only a few days after the forgiveness workshop, a number of participants in their feedback indicated that forgiveness was now something they could effectively and powerfully use in their life as a healing of themselves and others. Some had already made some remarkable changes in their lives, such as tracking down family members that they had not spoken to for many years, to seek reconciliation, or making plans to do so. Ex-gang members related how, in their past, revenge had been the only option – it was a way of life. Now they had gone back into their communities to explain how forgiveness is a better road than revenge, in some cases having to confront former associates in very difficult circumstances.  Muslim and Christian clerics talked together of the need to offer the true teachings of forgiveness in the Koran and the Bible to their communities.

For grass-roots community organisations working for greater social cohesion, such as peace building NGOs, or NGOs working with ex-perpetrators and victims, gangs, vulnerable youth, refugees, this forgiveness journey creates lasting relationships: firstly between the participants themselves, and then helps them to extend these to their communities, to ‘re-weave the social fabric at the grassroots level in support of long-lasting peace’. It provides the initial knowledge, skills and attitudes to begin that transformation, to understand the role and purpose of forgiveness within oneself, within the family, within the community.

Studies increasingly showUNICEF, 2001. The state of the world’s children 2001. New York, NY that the treatment of traumatized societies is necessary to break the cycle of trauma and violence. Victims of violence are more likely to become perpetrators later on. At the same time, treatment of traumatized survivors is considered to facilitate forgivingness and reconciliation within the society.

  1. FEMINENZA’S FORGIVENESS PRACTITIONER TRAINING

This 9 day training programme is offered around the world, with the most recent one having taken place in August, 2017, in Correymeela, Northern Ireland.

Becoming a Forgiveness Counsellor/Practitioner involves a certification process and is a unique training of the mind, the heart and the will.   Women and men are trained and then individually mentored to establish a project within their community, which can range from taking an active role in stepping down conflict and violence, to working with traumatized girls or women, helping vulnerable youth, to establishing the role of forgiveness in education.  The need for forgiveness is far-reaching and is applicable to all human lives, regardless of circumstance, creed or background. It is deeply human work.

The Role of Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution

Strategies for reconciliation have always called for an understanding of the role of forgiveness in dealing with the cycle of violence and revenge.  Yet there is often a perception that forgiveness is not really necessary or up to the task of helping to fix the underlying, complex geo political and economic problems which are responsible for violence, and more than one person has observed that when ‘preached from the pulpit’, forcing forgiveness on people can do more harm than good. But forgiveness is not a new idea, or purely the provenance of Christianity. The role of forgiveness in many traditional societies was a tried and tested method of restoring peace. It was a means of preventing the injuries between individuals from becoming hostilities between their families and prevented family hostilities from becoming wars between their clans. Forgiveness prevented the spread of hatred.

Many conflicts today are characterised by the manipulation of deep-rooted animosities, reinforced by high levels of violence and direct experiences of atrocities. Psychological and cultural features often drive and sustain the conflict more than substantive issues. Here, learning about the process of forgiveness can really help:  it is about managing, and deliberately choosing to amend one’s attitudes. One needs to be able to distinguish the people from the acts they have committed: and then cease to cultivate a sense of grievance and victimhood with regards to those acts and those people, stem the flow of vitriolic rhetoric, and take initiatives towards decent collaborative relationships.

How It Began And Continues
Feminenza’s work on forgiveness was launched in 2006 during a 4-day international conference, at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, titled Humanity and Gender.

In 2007 we published The Seven Pillars of Forgiveness and based on this, a follow-up conference called Finding Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Peace was held in Nairobi in July 2007 for refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, with very encouraging outcomes.

In 2008-2010 further work was undertaken in Greece, Israel, the UK and the US.

In 2009, with financial support from UN WOMEN, we trained 23 local women leaders as forgiveness counsellors, supervised 13 projects and rolled out the first four year programme in Kenya, targeting localities in the Rift Valley which had experienced 87% of the fatalities and trauma in the 2008 post-election violence.  The work was well received.  For further information download the UN WOMEN pilot project report.

Our work has continued and remains present in Kenya with leaders from communities and the Kenya DREAM project with young girls.

It was an integral part of a two-year Young Women’s Leadership Program in Peekskill, New York and has also reached homeless women in the Cascade Women’s Program in Seattle, Washington.

A week-long process in 2010 about forgiveness hosted by the B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue in New York, culminated in an interfaith discussion about forgiveness, with leaders from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities who had borne the brunt of 9/11.

Forgiveness Concerts in England, and various fundraising events from different chapters around the globe have contributed to our programmes.

The forgiveness work is currently being incorporated into a one-year course, on The Role of Forgiveness in the Educational Encounter, for educators in the Gordon Teachers Training College in Haifa, Israel.

Publications & Articles

For further information about our Forgiveness programmes and how to access them, please email the Forgiveness Faculty.

Participant Testimonials

From the recent Forgiveness Practitioner Training programme in Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, 2017

The grids and techniques offered in the course were really helpful because they were practical and I can use them in my life. For example, ‘how to hold the best of another in yourself’ – this technique was a revelation to me because I have heard the phrase many times, but never before had I thought to find a technique, and the approach taken during the course enabled me to do this safely and very effectively.
In moments where a conflict was about to happen or started to arrive – something held me back and reminded me about what by now I call, the Forgiveness attitude messages. So there is more awareness of location to view life from, like there are more eyes that look at a situation.

From the participants – community cohesion champions – in the Trauma Healing workshop for the Kenya Tuna Uwezo project, for Global Communities Kenya, June 2015

What I learnt is what is spoken about in the mirror exercise and the practice of that to be able to forgive. Facilitators, you are my mentors. Forgiveness is complex. I learned that if you truly love peace, you should also speak with your enemies. So after the training I spoke with my enemies, I said that I forgive them. They were very surprised, and they just stood there with weapons they no longer had use for.
I also realised that ‘what others feel, I feel’. In an argument with my wife I said ‘I forgive’ you. She was very surprised.
For a long time I have been taking painkillers every day, to deal with the stress, the fear, the trauma, the things weighing on my conscience. By the last two days of the workshop I stopped taking the painkillers. I didn’t need them anymore.
Peace starts with you. I had not been able to forgive my father for many years. After the training I travelled to visit my father in his village, and we forgave each other. My father shed many tears of joy in the process.

Reflections from the young women and adolescent girls who took part in the Trauma Healing workshop for the DREAMS Initiative, Global Communities Kenya, June 2016

They (other people) said that it could not be done, that the pain would not go away, but I can tell you that it has gone. It has been done.
We have to continue with the journey of life. Because there are many things you are passing through and it is not me alone. There are other girls out there. So I promised myself to work hard and to be what I want to be in the future.

From the Forgiveness course at the Teacher’s College, Israel

Professionally, this course is a must for all educators, wherever they are! We came out of it better women, less judgmental, more understanding and more knowledgeable, and therefore also better teachers, more conscious about ourselves and our weaknesses. From this more developed self-awareness, we can better identify the developmental and spiritual stages in our students, helping them to make better decisions and choices and to gain experience. This course is unique. Its contents are mandatory for all educators around the world and for humanity in general. What a great gift!!!

From the Young Women’s Leadership Program, New York

One thing I have learned that I have taken the most from is forgiveness. I learned that if I hold a grudge, I will never be happy and I will look for revenge. What I hate most about myself is I dwell on things. I can’t get past things and I end up thinking of bad things to do. But since I learned how to forgive and let things go I have been a happier person. I am glad I learned to forgive and I now take people’s feelings into consideration and I put myself in their shoes so I can understand their view on the situation.

Reflections from participants of the Trauma Healing workshop in Nakuru, Kenya, 2017

Forgiveness is a talent. Forgiveness does not wait for anything. It comes naturally, without somebody caring to gain.
This topic of forgiveness is very important. I could not have a proper definition. It is so wide. To forgive you get healed. You start to get a life. Life is complete only when you forgive.
I forgave myself first. I am another person. I have changed, reborn again. I am a changed man.
The bearer of flowers has fragrant hands,
we came here each soiled from rots in our souls
that refused to clean, clinging and stinking.
Feminenza came, Eileen, Mary and Peter,
the fragrance of freedom in your wake,
like magic dissolving even the toughest stains on our souls.
In humility, softly, gently you reached into the recesses of our souls
and gave us hope and self-belief.

We are forever thankful to you for this life-giving experience.
We were like wilting flowers, poisoned, slowly dying
but your words gave us the belief to wake up
and start pumping life into our dying veins.
An Elixir is what you guys are, a gift from God
with a simple message of forgiveness
yet with far reaching impact on our personal lives.

You have taught me to heal, I will teach others.
You have given me belief, I will propagate that belief.
You have taught me forgiveness, I have forgiven,
I will forgive, I hope I will be forgiven,
but it does not really matter because I have let go,
I’m a clean slate, I can write a new chapter.
Thank you.
Poem by Clive (after the Forgiveness process in Kenya, June 2015)