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I am because they did…

My name is Sthela Gun Holly Hanitrinirina, I am 24 years old, Volunteer Youth Liaison in Malagasy Lutheran Church. This was my first experience in United Nation and at the Commission for Status of Women.

Women Department at Mahamanina Lutheran Church Congregation in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

Women Department at Mahamanina Lutheran Church Congregation in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

20 years ago, when I was 4 years old, 5,000 men and women, was gathered in Beijing, China for the 4th world Conference of Women. Now it is, 2015, I am 24, and we are celebrated the Beijing Platform at the Commission for the status of Women CSW 59. Being in the CSW 59 is witnessed the effort of many women, 20 years ago, and heard that the world is moving toward change even if it is slowly. Change is two steps forward and one step back.  If I have greater ability to vote, speak out my mind, wear pants, know my rights, get education than my 29 years old cousin, it is because I was raised after the Beijing platform 20 years. So being at the United Nation, for the women Status is standing for the next generation. If we want to reach our goal, seeing women, free, claiming their rights, then we must start today, with you and me.

Two months ago, March 4th, 2015, I took the late flight from Antananarivo, Madagascar to New York, United States.  There I was, in the middle of Manhattan, New York, US, representing the the voice of my Lutheran sisters, jet lagged but excited to learn and hear people’s stories. I was at the United Nation, for the commission for status of Women 2015 CSW 59 with the great opportunity to learn and expand my knowledge about women and our rights. One of my biggest challenges was to hear things that are taboo in Madagascar. But it is empowering to know that Madagascar and the other African nations are not the only ones who want gender equality.  It is an issue for everyone from the richest country to the poorest country.

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During the two weeks of workshop, I focused my CSW 59 experience on Education and Training women and Girls, and Violence against Women (VAW). The workshop, I attended were mostly about Gender Based Violence, breakthrough cultures, women and girls education and women and girls leadership. It is amazing what simple things people do in other countries that, can change the entire world.  A 16 year old girl, from Ecuador, shared about her cooking class for both boys and girls high school. While boys learn to cook and clean, the girls being supportive cook and clean with them. So easy and simple. Also, breakthrough to end early girl’s marriage in India, an approach started in India to end early marriage. It is not the same context in Madagascar, my country, but I do believe that we can take something to learn from the approach, especially to sensitively navigate in the culture.

Explain the Commission for Status of Women and share stories

Explain the Commission for Status of Women and share stories

After two weeks of experiencing the CSW 59, I felt like sponges soaked in the water, I have gathered a lot of information.  For a month, I have wondered how to share this information with other. Finally, the women group leader from a church in Mahamanina Lutheran Church Congregation in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar heard about my experience and wanted to hear more about status of women. Women’s department from Mahamanina Lutheran Church Congregation, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar met and requested talk about gender based violence and how other countries deal with those issues and what the CSW’s?    On a cloudy day, Mai 16th, 2015, eighty five (85) Malagasy Men, women and youth  were gathered in Sahambavy, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar  It was little challenging to talk about sexual violence at church because in Malagasy culture, sex and domestic violence discussions are considered only for private life, the people who attended are from a traditional and church context.

Christina (Right) and Sthela ( Left) Sahambavy, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

Christina (Right) and Sthela ( Left) Sahambavy, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

I had the great pleasure to invite a guest during this information work. Miss Christina Espegren, a Young Adult in Global Mission, studied about Women and Gender at California Lutheran University and serving for a year in Madagascar. She explained what Gender based violence and talked about gender equality was such great opportunity. I explained what we should do if violence happens, how we can, as a church, be a safe space for women  and Girls, to talk about and fight against a violence that happens in our community. And, starting as simple an action as we can, let’s say, the cooking class, just to teach the children at home or school to know that house

cleaning is for both boys and girls, not just girls. Finally, shared the stories from other women all over the world. People were really interested in the gender based violence and wanted to know how to start a safe space for women in church to talk about the violence that happens in their life.

Now, I have three more presentations to do, for youth, family and my local congregation.

The Right Reverend Chilton R Knudsen, Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island preached a very moving sermon about Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection, and about its connection to our call to action as women of faith in the UNCSW 2015 and as we go forth into the world.  This sermon was given at the UNCSW 2015 Opening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church Center, New York City, NY, March 9, 2015

Text: John 20: 11-18  Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed after his death on the Cross.  She came to mourn his absence, to remember. She wanted assurance that she could find hope to live the rest of her life without Jesus. Her precious friend Jesus.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sister Brenda Smith from the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women was inspired by CSW to share the story of Hazel Kurian, a brave young woman from India who survived a huge accident is now a testimony of God`s grace: Here you find her story:Hazel`s Story

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The EW-pictures of the CSW59 are now on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ecumenicalwomen/.

Please share also your best CSW-photos with us and mail them to: ecumenicalwomen@gmail.com

Events sponsored by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Young Adult Cohort

While we are at UNCSW 59 you can follow the ELCA Young Adult Cohort on Twitter at @elcayoungadults and by using #elcayacohort and #uncsw59.

Learn more about the ELCA Young Adult Cohort.

Faith, Justice, & Culture
Monday, March 9 – 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Tuttles Bar and Grill, 735 2nd Avenue

Connect with young adults from around the country interested in talking about faith, justice and culture. You don’t have to have faith, you need to care about justice, and want to create inclusive culture. Food’s on us; drinks on you.

Worship: To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live
Wednesday March 11 – 8:00-8:45 a.m.
Church Center United Nations, Chapel, 777 UN Plaza (44th street/1st Ave)

Every morning during CSW, one member organization of Ecumenical Women prepares a morning worship referring to one of the 12 areas of concern of the Beijing platform for Action. The topic of the Lutheran worship will be the area of “Education and Training for Women”. On the basis of Proverbs 8:1-11, Lutheran Delegates from all over the world prepare this worship for all who are interested.

Silent No More: How Can Faith Communities Address Sexism and GBV?
Wednesday, March 11 – 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Salvation Army Downstairs, 221 East 52nd Street (bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave)

Every community is affected by gender-based violence (GBV), yet the topic is often avoided, silenced, or at least neglected. People of faith, faith leaders, communities, and institutions can break this silence in their own communities and in society through direct support, advocacy, and prevention. This meet-up is sponsored by the ELCA World Hunger, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and will feature small group dialogue, reflection, artistic expression, prayer and examples of the church’s work on GBV and gender justice. Light food will be provided.

Three Lives of Women 20 Years After Beijing
Thursday, March 12 – 12:30-2:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Downstairs, 221 East 52nd Street (bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave)
Sponsored by: Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches

A series of portrayals of women from Palestine, Kenya and United States. The panel will focus on how women’s lives have evolved since the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) in 1995, and what role faith and faith based organizations have played in this evolution.  The panel will also share examples of how churches and faith-based organizations have impacted the major issues affecting women (poverty, violence, access to land and financial resources, political participation, etc.) within the church, in the public space and at the policy level. 

Events sponsored by Lutheran World Federation

The role of faith in realizing the promise of Beijing: Where do we come from and where do we need to go to accelerate progress on transformative gender equity

Tuesday, March 10 – 9:00 a.m.-Noon
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 619 Lexington Avenue
Sponsored by: ACT Alliance, World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation

Local People, Global Impact: The role of community based organizations in the fight against the Ebola virus

Tuesday, March 10 – 4:30-6:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Downstairs, 221 East 52nd Street (bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave), New York
Sponsored by: Gbowee Peace Foundation, Lutheran World Federation

Women have been disproportionately affected by the Ebola virus. Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee’s foundation provides community-based accurate information, materials, and rapid mini grants to promote education and disease prevention. Join us for a discussion on local women’s initiatives in addressing the ongoing crisis.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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