World Women’s Christian Temperance Union president Margaret Ostenstad of Norway gave a keynote address Aug. 18. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Temperance movement never more needed

By 
  • August 30, 2016

OTTAWA – Founded in the United States more than a century ago to battle the “evils of alcohol,” the World Women’s Christian Temperance Union has grown into a world-wide organization confronting 21st-century social ills that include everything from drug addiction to Internet pornography and human trafficking.

The Union held its 40th Triennial Convention in Ottawa Aug. 18-24. Some 200 attendees heard that their work has never been more important in a world plagued by increasing addiction levels and many other social failings.

“Your work, your goals have never been more relevant,” said Rick Hiemstra, a representative from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “Addictions still cripple many lives and governments are moving to normalize and legalize marijuana in Canada.

“Women are still trapped in prostitution and enslaved by human trafficking,” he said. “Newly pervasive addictions like Internet pornography create a climate for all kinds of exploitation while breaking up families and crippling people’s abilities to form them.”

The Union began in the 19th century when there was no public safety net to help families left destitute or women physically abused as a result of alcohol addiction. It was among the various social Gospel movements of that era, such as the abolition of slavery, that not only helped bring about prohibition in the United States, but also in obtaining alcohol bans or restrictions in most Canadian provinces outside Quebec. The non-sectarian Christian movement also played a major role in obtaining the right to vote for women.

Today, the Union is concerned with addiction prevention, promoting sobriety, education about the social and physical effects of addiction, the protection of the family, the promotion of good citizenship, women’s safety and just laws.

“Here in Canada and around the world, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union has been a forerunner for how to work locally for moral reform in individual lives while advocating for social reform at various levels of government,” said Hiemstra to the gathering of women from as far away as New Zealand, Korea, Norway and Zimbabwe.

The Union’s president, Margaret Ostenstad of Norway, reminded attendees that the organization’s first convention, in 1891, was convened to build awareness of the terrible plight of families grappling with addiction, domestic abuse, gambling and prostitution. It also rallied against unsafe working and living conditions faced by immigrants in big cities like Chicago, where unsanitary housing and disease were common.

Ostenstad said the Union took on the task of “educating people on the dangers of alcohol, plus outreach to the poor.”

She cited figures from the World Health Organization that show a harmful link between using alcohol and infectious diseases and gender-based violence. Twenty per cent of all interpersonal violence is attributed to alcohol use, she said. Alcohol has also been linked to breast cancer and tuberculosis, and alcohol abuse is a leading cause of death and disability, she said.

Alcohol use can also impact brain development in young people, she said. “How many immature users never reach their full potential because of alcohol use?” she asked.

Yet figures show 48 per cent of the world adult population has never consumed alcohol, she said, while 62 per cent have not had any in the last 12 months.

“As long as one baby is affected by a mother’s drinking, we will continue to fight,” she said. “As long as one family is destroyed by alcohol . . . destroyed by domestic violence . . . or one person dies of a drug overdose, we will continue to fight.”

Union members pledge to abstain from alcohol in all forms.

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