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By Maria Murerwa and Kristi Van Sickle, LWF Young adults CSW 55 delegates

These first few days of the Commission on the Status of Women 55 have been inspiring. We have attended many wonderful side NGO events that have been eye opening, hopeful, and emphasized the great progress that has been made for empowering women worldwide, as well as how far we still need to move forward. A few points that we would like to highlight are on a documentary we saw called Tapestries of Hope, and an Innovative Strategies for supporting girls’ Education in West Africa’s side event co-sponsored by WIPSEN, TY Danjuma Foundation and LWF. The main speaker was Ms. Leymah Gbowee of the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell and featured panelists like our very own ecumenical woman, Ms. Facia Harris of WSCF, among others.

We went to see a documentary that considered the healing of girls who had been raped in Zimbabwe. There is a myth that many men still believe that if they rape a virgin they will be cured from AIDS. The woman that created the documentary had suffered from incest as a child and made her first documentary on the sexual abuse of children in the United States. These girls had suffered from great trauma both physically and mentally as a result of their horrifying experiences; however, this documentary was a story of hope. It shared the resilience of these girls and their will to move forward as they heal.

Betty Makoni, the founder of the program has a unique healing process that the girls go through. The girls are immediately given their voices back. When the “rescue man” removes girls from their dangerous situations, the first thing they ask is what they can do to help them? This immediately gives them voices in their healing process. These girls are encouraged to speak out about their experiences, build a support network of women, girls, and male allies and are not given a time limit to stay at the village. One of the main priorities includes getting these girls back into school.

This documentary shared a story that is unfortunately not uncommon. This story was a microcosm of violence against women that is occurring all over the world. After the documentary, the Zimbabwe minister stood up and spoke up in anger about the inaccuracy of the movie as well as all of the wonderful things Zimbabwe has done for women.

This in our opinion was very sad, also not uncommon, and led us to believe that the message of the movie was completely lost. We felt as though politicians from many countries get so caught up in the image of their country to the world that they hide issues that their country is facing. This can only hurt that country’s citizens and those who are marginalized. No one was trying to claim that Zimbabwe was unique in the abuse to girls, their suffering or that they were not making huge strides in women’s rights. Rather this documentary was trying to shed some light and inform people of one very specific issue. Regardless of whether the number of rapes have dropped in Zimbabwe this remains the same – the girls that live in the rescue center were raped and even if those were the only people that suffered such acts of violence that is one girl too many.

We need to legitimize these girls, empower them, and let them know they are worthy, and valued. By hiding this issue we are hiding them. This will continue to perpetrate them rather than the perpetrator.

We were also privileged to attend a West African side event on Innovative Strategies for supporting girls’ education in West Africa by a group of activists in Liberia and Nigeria. Both groups discussed ways they have used to encourage girls to get education and ways to keep them motivated to get higher education. Like other panels that we attended, there were questions at the end of the presentation. We were honored to be introduced to the minister of gender in Liberia who was part of the audience. Unlike the minister of gender in Zimbabwe, who we felt did not want to acknowledge the fact that there is violence against women in her country, the minister of gender in Liberia was pleased by the work women are doing in her country. However, she also highlighted that even though a lot had been done, there is still a lot more work to do in her country.

We think that government officials must look beyond protecting their image to protect the interests of the people, so that issues like violence against women might be addressed and not ignored.

By Alvaina Daniels, Ecumenical Women’s Communication Intern

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

I saw a raised hand this Tuesday afternoon.  It was that of young woman no more than 25 years of age.  Her hand was raised for a good 25 minutes.  By the time the last question was called for, her hand was overlooked for someone “more experienced”.  We were at the US Mission debriefing of the Commission on the Status of Women.  There had to be no more than five young people, including one male counterpart.  I was the only young woman of color as far as I could see.  Only one young person was chosen to speak.  I felt no encouragement to even raise my hand to ask my question.  It was only when one of the panelists, who also was a woman of color, addressed an issue close to my heart that I felt for the first time in that space, in the mission of my country, that what I had to say mattered, to someone at least.

This is my first experience at CSW.  When I was an intern for the WCC, we were making plans for this event and the several months Ecumenical Women spent preparing for this event, I prepared not going.  But the Lord made a way as He always does and I have been blessed to have this opportunity to share this wonderful time with all my colleagues to which we have long prepared for.  Although my experience has been that wonderful, at the same time it has also been weighed with a very heavy burden on my heart and I can no longer remain silent on this matter.  As a young woman, moreover a young woman of color, my experience this past week has been disheartening and unsatisfying.

I cannot and will not speak for the youth voice at CSW. They are not voiceless; in fact no one is and I refuse to be a representative for anyone.  I can only say of what I have seen and experienced and hope that it will allow space for the other youth to speak if they are concerned with this same matter.  There is a intergenerational gap between us and little has been done to correct it.  It is not enough to bring a youth delegation; you must do more and give them the space to speak.  We all must.  I sense a cycle of alienation continuing amongst us that is discouraging and this was the only way I felt my voice could be heard.  We want to learn from you.  There is no doubt about that.  We are hear to learn from the older generation not only because of your wisdom and experience, but because we will carry your torch. But to be honest, we carry it today.  However, I feel that the older generation has forgotten that and more importantly that you can also learn from us.

I do not care about your age.  One thing I have learned is that you are never too old to learn.  I have had the opportunity to speak to several older delegates who have come to learn from me about new technology.  I cannot even begin to express to you how much joy that brought me.  That someone from another generation who has experience so much more, wanted to speak with me and learn from me, even if it was the smallest thing.   I sensed in my presentation today that many of you were alienated by this new technology.  This was not my intention.  My hope was that you learn that this technology though foreign and new can be beneficial in reaching the world, but also the younger generation.  This is how we communicate in 2011!  It does not take the place of friendship or relationship, but allows us to connect on other levels.

I have been fortunate to have several women in my time here to look up to most notably Ms. Elizabeth Lee and Ms. Christine Mangale.  But I would like to especially mention Mrs. Mia Adjali, who has taken the time to sit with me, talk with me, and listen to me.  We have recognized how much we have in common. I have learned so much from her in the past several months and I can only hope that I have been as much of an influence on her as she has meant to me.

There was a time in your lives that you were the up and comers.  When you were brand new and small fish in a big pond.  I hope all you can remember that because the younger generation is now experiencing that from you.  I have rarely felt like an intern at the CCUN and to be truthful this is the second time.  There is a cycle of alienation being continued and it needs to stop.  Again we are here to learn from you.  We are willing to do the hard work, put in the time; that is why we are here and I hope that you can see that.  I am asking and praying that you will give us the space to speak because one day you will not be here and who then will carry your hopes and your work into the future.   Mary was only a child when she was called to her duty.  David was but a young man, when he was called before the Philistine.  Christ was a young man when he fulfilled the Word of God.  Do not forget that the Lord said “your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).  I feel the Lord tugging at my heart and giving me the strength to raise my hand.  My question is:  “Do you have the wisdom and grace to call on it?”

 

 

By Rosa Lizarde, Feminist Task Force Coordinator

The official launch of UN Women took place last night in the great General Assembly hall at the United Nations. “Honouring the Past:  Envisioning the Future for Women and Girls,” was an historic occasion, marking a new era for women not only at the UN but around the world. “Now is the time to give women equal power and rights in every respect!” proclaimed the GA President, Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, opening a polished production of a ceremony which included royal and Hollywood celebrities.  “Now is the time to get serious on gender equality,” President Deiss continued, challenging every member-state to make this the turning point to advance the status of women and girls.”
The General Assembly hall was uncharacteristically done up, with dimmed lights, spot lights and vibrant reds and glowing whites highlighting the great seal of the UN, giving this historic occasion the gravitas it truly deserves.  In the dimmed spotlight, ABC’s ancor, Ju Ju Chang, welcomed Ban ki Moon as the  “the man behind UN Women.” “The birth of UN Women could not be better timed. This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  We have come a long way in a century, but we still have far to go.  UN Women takes us an important step in the right direction,” proclaimed Secretary General Ban ki Moon. “Thanks to the governments who acted with courage. Negotiations were touch but we prevailed. I’m especially proud we got Michelle Bachelet to serve as Executive Director.”  Ms. Bachelet’s desire to make an impact was evident even in her power-packed pink suit.  “The decision to establish UN Women reflects global concern with the slow pace of change,” she said at the start of her speech. “It is no longer acceptable to live in a world where young girls are taken out of school and forced into early marriage, where women’s employment opportunities are limited, and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, in the street, at school and at work.”
The ceremony reflected a diversity of support. No long litany of speeches by government delegates, but inspiration and praise from two Academy Award winning actresses, a Grammy Award winning mega-pop star, a royal princess , a media king, women’s advocates and leaders. Princess Cristina of Spain brought her royal support, and media mogul, Ted Turner—yes, even Ted Turner was supporting women’s rights (after all he is the founder of the UN Foundation, a supporter, among others, of women’s health programs).  He greeted the packed hall with a big and folksy, “Wow! What a night!”  Makes me proud to be a human being! Every now and then something really good happens, and it happened here at the UN.”  Shakira sent a special video message congratulating all and her fellow South American, Michelle Bachelet, on her new role. Nicole Kidman, award winning actress and now upgraded UN Women Goodwill Ambassador (used to be UNIFEM’s goodwill ambassador), linked up for a live, and unfortunately abbreviated video message from San Francisco (another dropped skype call!).  Geena Davis, another Academy-award winning actress was live at the UN, sharing with us her childhood memories of her first acting roles as a little girl, portraying male swashbucklers and cowboys because there weren’t really female heroes on television to portray. “You’d think that times would be different,” she said. She knows the influence of media and is now the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to increase the number of girls and women in media aimed at kids and to reduce stereotyping of both males and females.  And a rock star in our hearts, our own Bandana Rana, GEAR member and president of Saathi in Nepal, represented civil society at the event “on behalf of millions of women and men who advocated for the creation of UN Women.” She praised the work of the GEAR Campaign, “in full gear” standing tall holding the GEAR message.
Everyone was a “UN Woman” at the end of the night. Bringing on the grand finale was the musical score—the singing of a new song written just for the occasion – “One Woman,” which brought everyone to their feet.  Perhaps the company was too stodgy, but at some point Michelle Bachelet left her contingent and ran to join the GEAR women in celebration.  All one saw was a flash of pink dashing down the corridor, then arms linked with Charlotte and others.
It is good to take the time to celebrate achievements, to take it in and let the inspirations and celebrations fill up the fuel tanks for the next set of chores, the next piece of work, because as one speaker said, with the creation of UN Women, it is only the beginning.
We know, the work begins now.
Watch the videos of the Official Launch of UN Women

Check out our photos from Orientation!

 

By Honna Eichler, PCUSA Delegate

I am currently sitting in the PC(USA) office in the UN Church Center, peering out the window at the busy UN complex below. The streets below are vibrantly full and include many from an international community dedicated to the rights and empowerment of all women. In the moments between the dozens of competing events, secondary events and parallel events, I pause to reflect on my experience at CSW so far and how it has informed my conviction on the responsibility of church in accompanying women worldwide wide. I will focus on a theme I have quickly become aware of: empowering an intergenerational community of religious advocates.

I first became acquainted with the other Presbyterian delegates to the 55th Commission on the Status of Women through email and Facebook. I was truly blessed to find that the people I knew only as user names on a screen transformed into a community when I entered the Ecumenical Women’s CSW Orientation just two short days ago. As a PC(USA) delegate, I met and heard from a Presbyterian delegate from the newly formed South Sudan (!!!) and delegates from parts of Africa, New Zealand, the Middle East, South America and Europe. We were joined with similarly minded Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians from around the world.

I could tell right away that this collection of Ecumenical Women was unique for two reasons. First, it was the only ecumenical event I attended (or heard about) that was intergenerational: there was a good balance of women (and a few men) of all ages. The affirmation of the empowerment of a young adult delegation was obvious and enthusiastic. Secondly, there was an emphasis on articulating one’s theological conviction through advocacy in the public sphere.

As a young adult, I am thankful for the generous distribution of collective wisdom from the women here who have gone before me. Several women I have met have decades of experience with Presbyterian Women, social policy and public advocacy and have openly shared their stories, experiences and wisdom. I would say a teaching spirit exists in this space – one I have not frequently encountered. These conversations helped me realize that the church must seek to accompany and empower women at all stages of life.

Accompanying women world-wide begins locally and only then moves abroad. Locally, those within a church can seek to foster intergenerational relationships that are affirming and empowering. (This goes against the age-based segregation often common to many worship communities.) Intergenerational relationships and empowerment can occur as women seek to hear each others stories and find ways to articulate their theological convictions in the public sphere. Often this is difficult and complex work and can only be accomplished through the open sharing of resources and collective wisdom.

In the same vein, the church must listen to the stories from those outside its local context. Some of my greatest learning these past few days has come through  personal stories of oppression from women around the world. In short, there is a need to become aware of the voices of women through intentional outreach and engagement. This doesn’t happen absent hard work, which is often hard to come by, but it must happen in order for theology to be inspired by the relevant events of its historical context.

When there is a lack of intergenerational empowerment, relationships break down and it is harder to continue the work inspired by the dedication of those who have gone on before.

Those who have power within the church must affirm the empowerment of women at all stages. I am thankful and hopeful for the many examples I have already experienced of this empowerment while at the CSW. Through intergnerational empowerment, those within the church become aware of existing and forming oppressive structures and accompany the suffering and oppressed, and, importantly, do so in a way that is sustainable for future generations.

By Hierald Kane-Osorto, Chair of Advocacy and Solidarity Working Group, WSCF-North American Region

“I’ve learnt how this war and armed conflict have caused many sufferings and injustices to humanity particularly to the life Timorese woman during the illegal occupation of Indonesian military in East Timor…it was my faith based on Jesus’ teaching about compassion and radical justice that inspired myself to understand the struggle of Timorese people and to find ways to dealing with those struggles.”

Nina gave a powerful reflection on Sunday during the Ecumenical Women’s Advocacy Training on her story as a member of the WSCF and on advocacy.  Nina spoke about living in a context of diversity and having daily to deal with the tension of struggle, to dialogue, and to listen leading her to take action together in engaging difference.  As she continued her story she gave insight into the role WSCF had in shaping her understanding of the ecumenical movement and inspiration from the vision in John 17:21 that allowed her to comprehend how to serve one another in spite of differences.  It was the WSCF encounter that gave Nina the space to understand what it means to have the abundant life, the fullness of life and finding her unique position in having to make choices that would transform her life such as participating in the Women doing Theology sponsored by the WSCF-Asia Pacific Region.  Her story of transformation, commitment to justice and peace and reaching a point of renewal and understanding her life’s calling to advocate and walk alongside her brothers and sisters was an inspiring one.   Nina ended by reiterating the tools the WSCF provides for its students, such as writing inspiring stories, theological reflections, leadership development, all raising her awareness of compassion, justice, and building the kingdom of God here on earth.

 

By Hierald Kane-Osorto, Chair of Advocacy and Solidarity Working Group, WSCF-North American Region

 

The opening of the CSW-55 was filled with hope, possibilities, and the urgency that the vision of UN Women will only be a reality if we are working hand in hand to move forward the work.  As the day has progressed Under-Secretary of the UN, Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet words of moving forward still continue to resonate in the room as we are working towards changing policies, impacting systems, and creating a different society for all that is about gender equality and empowerment. One of the ways we can keep this conversation moving is by remembering the key points that Ms. Bachelet reflected with us: the core principle’s of UN Women, thematic priorities of UN Women, and follow-up of CSW-55.

 

Five core principle’s of UN Women

1. Demand grassroots driven support

2. Strengthen global normative

3. Advocate for women’s empowerment

4. Build coherence of the UN system

5. Serve as global broker of knowledge and experience such as encourage south-south Corporation

 

Five thematic priorities of UN Women

1. Expanding participation at the grassroots level

2. Enhancing women’s economic empowerment

3. Ending violence against women

4. Strengthening the peace and security resolution agendas

  • Build constituencies of women who would be available to be present at peace talks
  • Increase the role of women groups in post-conflict countries
  • Implementation of resolution 1325

5. Support national partners to give follow-up on national action plans that ensure that governmental budgets are reflecting a financial commitment to gender equality

  • Aggregate results by gender

 

Follow-up to Commission on the Status of Women

1. Improve the quality of education for women not just providing access

2. Create tools to increase gender sensitive and reduce gender stereotypes in the workplace, home, and school environment

3. Review progress of governments on ending discrimination against the girl-child resolution passed at CSW-51

4. Gender Equality and sustainability: Connecting other processes such as follow-up to Cancun COP-16, Rio +20, etc.

5. Tracking progress of implementation of MDG 5 on the elimination of infant mortality

 

These parameters will help guide our work as we return to our communities to give follow-up to the outcomes of CSW-55 and figuring out ways to contextualize our outcomes to our local contexts. It is a necessity to think strategically and to use our caucuses to focus not on how UN women can do everything, but on how we can provide input and contribute to solutions. In the North American region we need to continue holding our governments accountable to actively participate in these processes–for the people not for our corporate interests.  We must advance the work nationally and locally through global mechanisms, thinking strategically on where UN women can make a difference and how it is a tool that takes our voice to another level of presence. As young adults this framework is helpful in making the UN relevant in the 21st century and we will actively be participants in the process. The work is just beginning!

By:  Shantha Ready Alonso, Vice Chair, World Student Christian Federation, Washington, DC, USA

“Where are the young people in our churches?” This is a question I have heard over and over again in Western local church, national, and regional settings. I have listened to church leaders of more senior generations fret that young people no longer care about church nor recognize the instrumental role churches have historically played in society.

It’s not that we young people don’t have faith. We are known (especially in Western contexts) to declare ourselves as spiritual but not religious. Its just that we are feeling a collective ambivalence about whether the church is a force for good in the world. We do not wish to share in the history of colonialism and cultural imperialism that Christianity brought to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We have seen churches that exclude certain people, or churches that treat women in ways we would never tolerate in secular settings. We have observed cover-ups of sex scandals and financial mis-management, greater concern with building preservation than mission, unwillingness to be open to inter-faith experiences…and therefore we look at churches with suspicion. And yet, we still hunger to be part of communities that live out love and engage God’s mission.

Saturday night, about 40 young people representing the Episcopal Church-USA, the PC(USA), National Council of Churches-USA, Church Women United, and World Student Christian Federation gathered in prayer, fellowship, and preparation for advocacy at the 55th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  I sat in a small group with young women from Louisiana, Kentucky, New York, Georgia, and Ohio. We were supposed to be talking about what made us proud about bringing a Christian voice to the United Nations CSW. We looked at each other quizzically. The question did not resonate. The brave New Yorker spoke up: “Working for justice – doing the work Jesus did and calls us to do – helps me re-claim what it means to be Christian in a time when people widely see Christianity in a negative light.” Another agreed: “Christianity has enough of a history of pride and self-righteousness. I am glad to be here to do the work, and let the work speak for itself.” The women from Louisiana joked,” one time my pastor challenged us by saying we Christians suffer from ‘ascension deficit disorder’ – meaning we are too smug and comfortable because we think we are saved.  Actually, if we’re not participating in God’s ongoing work for salvation, we are not honoring the work and witness of the Jesus we profess to follow.”  At the end of our session of discussion and preparation, we experienced a sincere time of prayer and offering our work to God.

Young people are not checked out of church. Perhaps we are more interested than being the church – the body of Christ at work in God’s world – than we are in going to church and sitting on Sunday. I am looking forward to seeing the way the young people of faith at CSW contribute in the coming weeks and take the work home.

If you’re from the U.S. &/or Canada, check out these hotspots for ecumenical youngpeople:

* New Fire Network for Young Adult Ecumenism:  http://www.newfirenetwork.org (A broad network for Christian communions/denominations and young adult-oriented ecumenical organizations to engage in awareness-raising, information-sharing, and capacity-building.)

* Student Christian Movement of Canada: http://scmcanada.org (grassroots-oriented organization that is a part of a global network of national Student Christian Movement and their grassroots campus communities. The global organization is known as the World Student Christian Federation (or WSCF).)

* Student Christian Movement USA: http://scmusa.org (grassroots-oriented organization that is a part of a global network of national Student Christian Movement and their grassroots campus communities. The global organization is known as the World Student Christian Federation (or WSCF).

Students and Young People All Over the World-

* World Student Christian Federation social networking site: http://www.wscfconnection.org

“And it shall come to pass…God says, that I will pour out My spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…”  Acts 2:17

The youth voice and participation within the UN community is both vital and informative in creating positive and objective intergenerational dialogue on global women’s issues.  Understanding this necessity, Ecumenical Women has undertaken the task to ensure delegations of young adults connect on these issues and create networking opportunities for future collaboration.  Students and young professionals have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of older women and men who have participated in CSW in the past, and the older generations learn from the fresh perspectives of youth engaged in their faith communities, universities and grassroots movements at the local level.

This year we will gather our delegations at two different times and locations:

1.   February 19 from 5-8pm at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, 155 E. 22nd Street, New York, NY – which is within walking distance of Seafarers and International House were several delegations are being housed, for time to get to know each other and reflection.

2.  Monday, February 21 from 6-9 in the Chapel at Seafarers and International House, 123 East 15th Street, New York, NY to plan the worship service for the next morning.

We invite you to join us and participate by beginning to reflect on CSW 2011’s theme of ACCESS for our worship service.  “What does access mean to you?  How does it impact the issues you are interested in?”  Please bring bible verses, prayers, interactive and creative liturgies, symbols, songs, or liturgical dances that you think are relevant to this year’s theme.  

The registration deadline has been extended to Friday, February 4th, 2011!!!  There are no extra fees, so do it now!  Please register as soon as possible as we need the information beforehand to properly prepare for your arrival and dinners!!!  Please register online at EventBrite or by downloading the registration forms.  DO NOT FORGET to fill out all your information for sign-in, name tags, etc.  We hope to see you all there and thank you for joining us at CSW 2011!

Be on the lookout for Ecumenical Women’s side events and those of our partner organizations!

As always if you have any questions or concerns, email us at ecumenicalwomen@gmail.com.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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