Today I am leaving for the United Nations’ Commission for the Status of Women’s 61st Session. I’ll be blogging about the experience, as I am able. It will be a busy two weeks. But, today, I’d like to just share a little Information with you about UNCSW. It will only take about seven minutes of your time to read this post. Seven minutes doesn’t seem like too much time does it? Consider, however, in the seven minutes you are reading this post 2,000 girls under the age of 18 will be sexually assaulted somewhere on the globe. 64 women will be beaten by their partner in the US. 60 girls under the age of 16 will be married, 40 girls in Africa will have their genitals mutilated. And, somewhere nine women are entering human trafficking against their will.
Those numbers caught my attention, but it’s the stories that captured my passion. We all have stories to tell. Some of the story tellers you know, some you’ve never met, some you’ve heard of in the news, and some have lives you can only imagine. A good number of us have stories which are easy to hear. But for too many of us, the stories are of beatings, rape, murder and human trafficking. The narrative is a narrative of pain and sorrow. You’ve heard some of the stories: the kidnapped girls of Chibok, Malala shot by the Taliban, Brock Turner’s rape victim. But most of the stories are unknown and unimagined by us.
You’ve also heard the names of some of the heroic organizations working for change: Thistle Farms. He4She, Agatha Amani House, just to name a few. But where does the greater Episcopal church fit into all of this?
As a part of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church follows the five marks of mission in our planning and budgeting for programs and outreach. These marks of mission guide the work of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society including Episcopal Relief and Development, Episcopal Migration Ministries, and the Episcopal Public Policy Network. The fourth mark of mission is particularly aligned with the plight of women and in accordance with this mark, The Episcopal Church is working to change the Global culture of rape and violence against women. Much of their work is done quietly at the United Nations level.
In order to transform unjust structures of society, the Episcopal Church and her members have had a long presence at the United Nations. One of my favorite Episcopal Women was instrumental in the formation of the Commission on the Status of Women. During the inaugural meetings of the UN General Assembly in London in February of 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt read an open letter addressed to “the women of the world”, a portion of which is shown below. Just 4 months later, the commission was established.
The Episcopal Church has continued with an active presence at the United Nations. In 1985, the Anglican Communion attained Consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the UN (or ECOSOC) giving them seat and voice at the commissions, and the Episcopal Church has had consistent representation among their delegates. In 2014, the Episcopal Church attained ECOSOC Consultative Status of her own, so now, in addition to our one delegate with the Anglican Communion, we have 20 delegates for The Episcopal Church. This gives us tremendous voice at the UN.
But, what is it we do at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women??? Each session there is a priority theme and a review theme which frame the formation of the Outcomes Document which is presented to the General Assembly for their action. Women and men from all over the globe come together to network and to meet with the member states of the Commission. Last Spring, we explored how the empowerment of women is linked to successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and we reviewed the eradication of violence against women and progress to date. This year, we’ll review the empowerment of women in the changing world of work, and how the Millennial Development Goals (now expired) impacted the status of women and girls, and we will begin to examine the empowerment of indigenous women.
To guide these conversations there are two important framing initiatives: The first is the passage of the Sustainable Development Goals. With the recognition by the United Nations of the importance of engaging women in the solutions for these goals and the breadth of the goals, it is hard to talk about changing the status of women in the world without connecting to the SDGs.
Secondly, the Episcopal delegates are tasked with ensuring the priorities of the Episcopal Church are reflected in the final outcomes document. These priorities are established by the work of the General Convention and the Presiding Bishop. This year’s priorities are promoting women’s and girls’ access to education and the provision of gender equality education to all, expanding socio-economic benefits that support women’s contributions at work, and prioritizing resources and programs for marginalized groups of women and girls.
As delegates, women of our church are able to find their voice and speak out on behalf of those unable to speak for themselves. In addition, the delegates of the Episcopal Church have the opportunity to meet with women and men around the globe who are working hard to eradicate violence against women. One of the sustainable development goals of the UN is to partner with existing organizations. With well over 1,000 non-governmental organizations in attendance, the Episcopal delegates had the opportunity to help build relationships which can lead to collaborative partnerships, allowing us to affect greater change then would be possible in a single organization.
When we look at the conditions in which women live globally, it’s important to not let the size and the pervasiveness of violence against women stop us from acting. Two years ago, I would never have imagined I would have the opportunity to provide input in future international law, meet women from all over the world, or to have my opinions heard by member states of the UN. But because of the work of the Episcopal Church, not only have I been able to do those things but I have also been able to make a small step in changing the stories women of the future will tell.
We will spend 14 days of exhausting, yet uplifting, work. We will build new relationships, develop a more expansive world view, and learn how to be better advocates. At the UN CSW, the Episcopal Church is working for the hope and vision of a world where for the seven minutes that you just spent reading this there had been no sexual assaults, no genital mutilations, no beatings, no trafficking, no murder, no child marriages. When we visualize a world like that, it is a vision where all of us are standing just a little closer to God’s Kingdom, understanding we were ALL created in God’s Image and we all deserve a life without fear.