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.

Check out this interview with Hannah, an Ecumenical Women youth delegate from the Episcopal Church who returned home after CSW57 and was inspired to start a radio show in her home town that deals with a wide range of issues that contemporary teenagers face. This year at CSW58 Hannah held a parallel event discussing the work of her radio show.

“When I return home, I intend to speak to Presbyterian groups on the local and Presbytery level, give a program in my home for The American Association of University Women, continue updating current UN displays in the library at Indiana University Southeast, encourage pastors in our Church to speak out on issues, get Presbyterian Women to fund a young woman to come to next year’s Commission the Status of Women, etc.

As an active member of the local and state chapters of UNA/USA in Kentucky, I will encourage them to use topics and resources discussed in sessions here in their programming for subsequent meetings – If you are not familiar with this UN Advocacy group, check out its website at www.unausa.org. The United Nations Associaton of the USA is located at 801 end Ave. New York NY 10017.

Thanks to all who planned and carried out the Ecumenical Women’s participation in CSW.”

-Carolyn Smith Diener

Presbyterian Women

An interview with Maria Cristina Rendon, Program Assistant in the Lutheran World Federation’s Department for Theology and Public Witness and Reverend Elitha Moyo, Coordinator of the Gender Justice Project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. Elita and Cristina, both who are also Ecumenical Women delegates to the 58th UN Commission on the Status of Women, discuss how CSW relates to their gender justice work on both the international and grassroots levels.

This morning’s worship service was led by Ecumenical Women’s delegates from the Lutheran World Federation / the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Focusing on Millennium Development Goal #2, “Achieve Universal Primary Education,” the Lutheran delegation worked with a difficult to interpret text, Isaiah 28: 1 – 9, through song, prayer and reflection. Check out the following videos and program from worship below.

Call to Worship

Singing “Salaam Alaikum”

Reading and Reflection on Isaiah 28: 1-9

Singing “Jesu Tawa Pano” / “Jesus We Are Here”

Singing the Sending Hymn, “When You Walk From Here”

Worship Program

Yet another blog from an EW delegate!

Tina is blogging on behalf of the SOPHIA Group while she is here at UNCSW58. Click on the link above to check it out!

More blogs for more adventures!

Judy Dickson, chair of Ecumenical Women‘s advocacy committee for this year’s CSW, has her very own blog this year following her adventures at the UN.

Check out the following video from the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations Rev. Dionne Boissiere, who discusses the use of difficult Bible texts in this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women and how we should interpret such texts. Specifically, she explains the use of 2 Kings 6: 28-29, the story of “The Two Starving Mothers” to center a worship service around Millennium Development Goal #1, “eradicating poverty and extreme hunger” which was led by our young adult delegates on 11 March 2014.

This morning’s worship service was led by Ecumenical Women’s young adult delegates from Church Women United and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Focusing on Millennium Development Goal #1, “Eradicate Poverty and Extreme Hunger,” the young adults worked with an extremely difficult Bible text, 2 Kings 6:28-29, through song, prayer and reflection. Check out the following videos from worship below.

Our Call to Worship/ Welcome

 

Singing “Canticle of the Turning.”

 

Furthermore, we ask you to reflect as well on how to deal with difficult Bible texts like 2 Kings 6: 28 -29. Please send us your comments and we’ll be sure to share them with our delegates!

 

A variety of views about the text were then shared. One woman suggested all the characters in the story were selfish and that this reflected on the selfishness of all those who have privilege. Someone else commented that despite the horrific manner in which she went about it, the woman who cooked her son was acting in a form of solidarity with the other desperate woman. Another delegate stated that there is something powerful about dwelling in anger, in being angry at the desperation of many of those girls and women living in extreme poverty, and that there is hope in action. Another young adult commented that desperation makes people do things that we cannot even imagine, but that righteous indignation at that desperation empowers us to help end systems of injustice. Chaplain Dionne ended the conversation and raised our spirits in proclaiming “the joy of the Lord is our strength!”

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This post was written by Dustin Wright, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminarian who is currently serving as Communications Coordinator for Ecumenical Women. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization.

This past Saturday at Ecumenical Women’s Orientation Day for the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I was honored to give two brief workshops about advocacy, the Millennium Development Goals, and the power of sharing stories. We had extremely powerful conversations in both workshops that opened up a bunch of new insights for me about how the sharing of stories relates to Christian witness and working to end gender inequalities. Most importantly, folks got to share how they had used stories in their own local contexts to organize against gender injustice and accompany other girls and women in processes of liberation. Hopefully we all picked up a few new ideas and were able to share something from our own stories as well. As the crazy, awesome energy that is CSW swarms around me, I figured it’d take a quick break and briefly outline what we talked about. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear any feedback you might have.

We began by talking about the power and use of stories in the Christian tradition… how Jesus used stories and how we organize our Christian community around the story that is Christ death and hope-bringing resurrection over the worst of human sin. The group then got into discussion around one of Jesus’ stories, a parable not regularly heard in many of our congregations called “The Parable of the Growing Seed:

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4: 26 – 29).

Many participants offered interpretations about how this parable related to their advocacy work… some talked about the frustration of spreading seeds and not seeing how they grow into justice. Others talked about the joy when they do succeed in their work. One woman contributed a great interpretation, that she was not the person scattering seed but rather a seed itself. God was helping her grow and change into her calling as she engaged in advocacy work.

We next watched part of the following film from Participate, an organization that is bringing the perspective of the world’s most marginalized people into the debate about what will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015:

While Participate is primarily a secular organization, it’s amazing about how their approach reflects the best of the Christian liberation theology tradition, which believes that Christ chooses to especially locate Himself in the lives of those who are most marginalized in the world, whether it be by poverty or other forms of oppression. The lives of oppressed people then serve as sources of revelation, and thus, prove the main source of liberation from whatever or whoever may oppress them. With this in mind, folks and organizations like the Church cannot simply swoop in and “make things better” in a patriarchal manner, but rather should simply accompaniment those living under oppression in their walk toward liberation, using whatever privilege they may have to amplify those voices who are not currently being listened to by decision makers. Furthermore, the global Church is likely the organization that in practical terms has the most direct contact with those living under oppression, including girls and women. The Church (and we as Christians) are therefore called to accompany oppressed individuals in are local communities as they seek to free themselves.

1975235_716798388365255_964671084_nAfter we discussed this concept, I highlighted two platforms through which the United Nations is providing an avenue for increased participation in evaluating the Millennium Development Goals, the World We Want 2015 platform and the MYWorld global survey of priorities for global development. Whether it pertains to the MDGs or otherwise, amplifying the voices of those living under oppression is important in any community organizing or advocacy effort, whether on a local or global scale. Thus, we spent the second half of the workshop discussing how we had used stories in our local contexts. We heard about the power of stories in combat human trafficking. We heard about the power of stories in helping women reclaiming their lives after being victims of domestic violence. We heard about the power of stories in helping women discern how to interpret privilege and oppression. We heard about the power of stories in helping women gain access to education and sexual/ reproductive health services. At once point, one participant stated that “silence kills” when trying to overcome various forms of oppression. I couldn’t agree more, and I feel extremely grateful for being able to hear the stories of all who participated. What an amazing experience, and I look forward to hearing and sharing more stories throughout the week.

God’s peace,
Dustin

Matilda JohnsonThe following poem is from Matilda Johnson, Area President of West Africa for the World Federation of Methodist & Uniting Church Women. She read this poem, entitled “Woman, This Is Your Day” during one of Ecumenical Women’s worship services on 8 March, International Women’s Day.

Woman, get up and go
Today the 8th of March is your day, -so
Celebrate! Stand up for your right
Don’t ever give up the fight.

My sisters, you are the caretakers,
You are the country’s food producers,
You are the home’s unpaid teachers,
You are the tireless housekeepers.

Women, you toil day and night,
Your work goes on even when there is no light.
You persevere, you endure and take delight
In ensuring that the household is alright.

My sisters, you all have pride,
Don’t let yourselves be taken for a ride.
After all you are always around to guide,
The family safely over life’s stormy tide.

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