UNCSW’s 59th session is fast approaching, and its theme, a 20-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, calls for a review of progress made and challenges remaining over the past 20 years.

While celebrating the successes in the empowerment of women and girls, Ecumenical Women’s joint written statement to UNCSW 59, submitted last October, lifts up four areas where progress remains to be seen: violence and discrimination against women; poverty, inequalities and climate change; education and training of women and girls; women and health – full access to reproductive health and informed decision-making. We invite you to read the statement and add your own voices in lifting up these needs, using your own communications tools and ours.

Your team at Ecumenical Women has been hard at work this past fall preparing for the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Evaluating questionnaire responses, formulating advocacy priorities, drafting and submitting our joint written statement, reconsidering our mission – it’s all been the focus of energetic monthly meetings since September.

Stay tuned for more info about Ecumenical Women’s advocacy and upcoming events for UNCSW 59, the 20-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Two  scripture passages (1John 3:1-2 and Mark 12:28-31 — See below) are at the core of what calls us forth to advocacy, especially to give voice to the concerns and issues of women and girls who do not currently have a voice in this world.  These readings focus on the nature of our relationship with God and how that leads us to be in the world.

1John 3:1-2 reminds us that it is by means of the love of God for us that we are to be called the children of God.  This is what we are: children of God, sisters and brothers of Christ, and by this we are also sisters and brothers of one another.  By our baptisms we are bound forever to God, in the name of the Holy Trinity.  Our walk with Christ informs all aspects of our lives,  especially the question of  how we are to live this out, individually and working together.  In Mark 12:28-31, we can see our way forward to serve both God and this world.  We are called to love the Lord our God with everything we have and are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The love of us by God and our love toward God propels us forward to care for others, not only those who are in our closest circles, but also those neighbors who are new to us, or different from us, or in great need.

This leads directly to advocacy and to outreach.  The work of Ecumenical Women at UNCSW is an opportunity to live this out on a global scale, directly impacting the lives of women and girls throughout the world.  UNCSW 59 is a Review Year for the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  It is very important as we go forward that we see what has been accomplished and what is in great need of attention.  Together as people of faith we are called to make a difference together, as well as in each of our member organizations.  Let us love one another as Christ has loved us.

Let us pray:  Almighty God, in you we live and move and have our being:  We humbly pray you so to guide us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and work of our lives, especially the work of Ecumenical Women, may we not forget you, but be ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 [Revised Standard Version (RSV)] 1John 3:1-2  See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  And, Mark 12:28-31  “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;  and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

qEesBswvyF70LM_ndDRyxELVCGw4e5ImVIsD5Dh-qRk,IPOx3XROmGnbZS8HNJf8adTTxqs_aR6hO7iDXwerzmUWhat follows is a piece written by Kirsten, a young adult delegate from EW member organization the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to CSW58. For more reflections of the ELCA young adult delegation, check out their blog.

I am always moved by what a group of motivated young people can accomplish in just a few short days.

Roughly a dozen young adults from various corners of the US were called together to observe, listen, discuss and contribute to the United Nation’s 58th Commission on the Status of Women. Each of us arrived with diverse perspectives and a different lens through which we view the world, as well as the issues at hand. What resulted in our time together was a mass of ideas, inspirations and challenges.

I observed what you might suspect. Though we are all called to a common goal of fighting for gender justice, the roads to that goal are long, divergent and winding. We heard impassioned and heartbreaking stories affecting women and girls all over the globe regarding violence, maternal & infant mortality, the fight for education, systemic hunger, poverty and disease. The list goes on and on. These issues are heavy and convoluted, not to mention mired in cultural and often religious traditions.

One of the panel discussions I attended (accidentally, I will admit) asked questions that especially resonated with me. Are we trying to change the world at large, or are we trying to change one person at a time? And how do we go about enacting change, either at an individual or a program level? Changing individuals can be accomplished through training, workshops and increasing the number of women willing to work in and through institutions. Changing perspectives on how to design and implement programs are the seedlings of cultural change.

What happens when we start chipping away at the gender gap? Access to resources as well as food production increases. Hunger, disease and infant mortality all decrease. The relationship between men and women becomes more mutual and respectful. Violence decreases. Human rights are valued.

During our time there, I heard a wonderful example of how powerful a movement can be. Picture yourself in a large auditorium filled with people in their seats. One individual gets up and starts dancing. People think to themselves, “What’s that crazy person doing dancing like that?” Then another person gets up to dance. Then another. And another. Soon the whole group is dancing, with the exception of a few individuals. Now, they are the crazy ones.

So why not start or join a movement? Or many movements? Let us begin reducing the gender gap by getting involved: as individuals, as groups, as cultures.

I ask you to engage this cohort to see what we learned and what actions we are planning to take now that we are home. I assure you, there are many. Ask what groups/programs we encountered; which ones are enacting change and which ones are not. This group of young adults all arrived with diverse perspectives. We left with even more, and I dare say that our lenses through which we see the world are a slightly different hue. I can say with absolute certainty, however, that we are all ready to dance.

-Kirsten

1932224_723683241010103_2080516418_nAgreed conclusions on the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls” were reached late in the evening this past Friday, 21 March. To read a statement from UN Women on the news, click here. To read an advance unedited version of the agreed conclusions, click here.

Tina’s Story

Tina Van Ochten, one of the Presbyterian delegates to this year’s CSW shares part of her experience studying math in University and how it relates to this year’s Commission.

Kayleen Sam is an intern with the Salvation Army. Here is the story of her experience at CSW58 and how it relates to life where she is from in Papua New Guinea.

Here is a partial video of the lovely sending song from our final worship. Sadly the camera ran out of battery before it was over, but I think the waving glow sticks make up for that.

This year’s CSW is officially wrapped up and everyone has gone home, but there are still stories to share from our time together. Over the next little while as people process their experiences from CSW58, we will be sharing them on our website with you. In the meantime, here is a video from our final morning worship together. Enjoy!

A song from worship this morning, March 20th led by the Salvation Army band.

This morning, March 20th, the Salvation Army led worship for Ecumenical Women and Josephine, an intern with the Salvation Army and a member of our communications team, offered this dance as a part of the service.

What follows is a piece written by Kristen, a young adult delegate from EW member organization the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to CSW58. For more reflections of the ELCA young adult delegation, check out their blog.

The following are just four of countless stories of incredible women that come to mind when I consider the priority theme for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, “Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls.” I have first included a quick listing of the Millennium Development Goals, followed by four stories that stand independently and do not necessarily flow from one to the next. The stories are united in the concrete expressions and faces that bring the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals to life.

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I encourage you, the reader, to reflect on the women in your life who have also embodied the struggle for a more just world.
Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Global partnership for development.
The face of human trafficking for me sat across the table at a center for people with addictions adjoining a homeless shelter in eastern Hungary. As a volunteer at the shelter I tried to make conversation as best I could with my limited knowledge of the Hungarian language. Our conversations often involved travel since I was the odd foreigner they couldn’t quite figure out and one morning this woman, who I will call Maria, mentioned that she had previously lived in Amsterdam. Both naively and excitedly I latched on to this thread of conversation and asked her a dozen more questions, thinking that we might have something in common in having traveled abroad for work. She revealed few details other than the work that she had done was “very bad work.” Later I learned that there is a street in the red light district of Amsterdam named after the city in eastern Hungary that I too called home because so many women and girls were taken from that city. The tragic social and ethnic backdrop to this story is that most of the exploited women and girls are Roma. As members of an ethnic minority, most Roma women and girls face bleak prospects due to low primary school completion rates, employment discrimination, and high rates of pregnancy among teenagers. Driving west along a rural highway in central Hungary, I also saw several women standing alone on the edge of the road. I will never know where they were and are going, but I can only hope that they too were not setting out on a journey like Maria’s. I do not know how she was able to return home to eastern Hungary nor do I know for sure if she is still safe today, but I do know that universal primary education, health education for women, and equal access to employment in Maria’s neighborhood and many other just like it are essential to ensuring that more of her friends and neighbors do not suffer as she did. “Developed countries” as much as any other must to do more to protect and empower ethnic minorities who are all too often forgotten.

Universal primary education is a goal that is still unmet in the rural villages of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. I know this not from ever being there, but from helping first-generation immigrants to the U.S. Midwest complete job applications available only in English. Most of the clients requesting this service are men and rarely do they list more than a few years of schooling in the education portion of the application. Witnessing the social structures of this particular immigrant community, where girls as young as middle school are expected to care for their younger siblings while their parents are away at work, would lead me to guess that girls in these remote villages receive the same if not less education. I also see this reality as we work to tailor adult English language courses to the needs of the women who attend every session but cannot read or write in their native Spanish. The evidence of the empowering effects of education is clear. Improving school retention rates in rural areas must be a priority for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Education rates among ethnic minorities such as the Roma in Europe, who are often subject to multiple discrimination, must also be closely monitored. In rural eastern Hungary most villages are largely homogenous, with either Roma or non-Roma residents but rarely both. The living conditions in the Roma villages are almost always worse and shockingly few children complete primary school. Without equal access and attainment at this early age, Roma young people will never catch up with their non-Roma peers and ethnic tensions over jobs, demographics, and social services will only worsen. I had the privilege of working with 20 Roma students through a program that supported their university education. Sadly they are the exception, not the norm, but their stories demonstrate that small steps, one student at a time, can make an enormous difference that could one day transform the country in which they too are citizens. When I asked one student how she had come to the university to study, she explained that like many of her peers living in a small village she had little intention of continuing her studies. However, a kind neighbor invited her to attend a visit day at a high school in a neighboring city that prepares students for university. That day she was welcomed so warmly she decided to attend. Four years later seeing her friends apply to local universities she couldn’t help but do the same. Concrete actions such as this simple invitation on the local, national, and international levels are essential to reaching many more students like her, especially those living with the labels of ethnic minorities and growing up in tiny rural villages, so that they too can study beyond the primary level.

One of the women I most look up to lives in eastern Hungary. While the economy values her work as a pastor at a humble salary in forints, it does not recognize her contribution to society as a single mom and primary caretaker for her aging mother who still lives in her rural home with a large garden. “Developed countries” as much as any other must rethink the way that we honor and value caregivers.

Anglicans with Ecumenical Women at UNCSW58

Delegates from the Anglican Communion and various provinces of the Anglican Church around the world are a significant part of Ecumenical Women’s presence at CSW each year. Many of them have been sharing their experiences through their own international, national and local forums. Click the group photo to read about the experience of Ellen Duffield, a first time delegate from the Diocese of Algoma in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Members of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women led worship this morning on the 6th Millennium Development Goal – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. As part of their worship they presented a dramatic reading of the story of Jesus and the woman with the flow of blood from the Gospel of Mark.

Check out this video from Matilda Johnson, a World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women from the Gambia. She discusses why the Millennium Development Goals have a woman’s face. She also evaluates the MDGs and discusses what she hopes will come out of CSW58.

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