Written by Joseph Nagle, March 2, 2010
I am at the UNCSW as part of a joint delegation of the World Student Christian Federation http://www.wscfglobal.org/ and the World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/ . I am the Gender Interest Group Coordinator WSCF Europe.
This is a brief reflection on what it means to do advocacy. It came to me during worship on the first day of the CSW. The worship took as its text the song of Miriam which she led the Israelites in singing to glorify God. Taking the theme of women in leadership and of overcoming barriers and breaking chains, the youth delegation of the Ecumenical Women led the congregation in joyful singing and dancing, following in the footsteps of Miriam. This was a worship of hope and of celebration. Hope that the chains would be broken, celebration at the barriers already being broken down.
The centerpiece of the worship was a lone figure, wrapped in paper chains which had different barriers written on them which needed to be broken down. The congregation were invited to come up and break these chains to free the woman and then throw the chains into the font, symbolizing the sea. Now what made this really powerful for me, what made this into such a statement of what advocacy is, was what happened at the very end of the worship. As people were dispersing, the lone woman still had some chains hanging from her. She took them, and threw them, with all the others into the font. Not many people saw this. But in an instant I understood it as a symbol of immense hope. Our role is not to completely emancipate women from the oppressive system which binds them and acts violently against them. It is to break down enough of the barriers that the women themselves can bring about their own liberation. Advocacy is about breaking down the institutional barriers as far as they need to be broken down so that those who once needed help, can free themselves and cast all the remaining barriers into the sea.