By: Charlotte Mildenberger- Lutheran Office for World Community ew-blog

Last week during the United Nations General Assembly general debate week, I attended a side event titled “Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religion and Health”. The side-event was co-hosted by UNAIDS, UN Women, UNFPA, (as part of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development), the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, and Islamic Relief USA.

The event brought together some of the report authors, editors, and producers, as well as religious scholars, faith leaders and faith-based organizations, such as: Rabbi Burton Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary; Imam Shamsi Ali, president of Nusantara Foundation; Mr Luis Mora, UNFPA; Ms Sally Smith, UNAIDS; Mr Luca Badini-Confalonieri, Wijngaards Institute; Ms Gillian Paterson, Heythrop College, London, Ms Julie Clague, University of Glasgow, Mr Ulrich Nitschke, International Partnership for Religions and Sustainable Development (PaRD) and Ms. Safira Rameshfar, Baha’i International Community.

The reports address the taboo issues faith communities encounter when seeking to address sexual and reproductive health challenges, and propose theological and practical responses that simultaneously respect the tenets of faith traditions. The event explored areas of conflict and the “faith-full” ways to resolve them. The participants were invited to put forward recommendations for action to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This symposium launched three reports examining the intersections and areas of contention between health, human rights and lived theology:

Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunities (a joint UNFPA –NORAD Paper).

Dignity Freedom and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS and Human Rights (Paterson and Long, 2016) is published by the World Council of Churches.

Promoting good health & good conscience – The Ethics of Using Contraceptives (Wijngaards Institute).

During the Q & A section, I was shocked to learn that there is only one toilet for women in a remote village of 16,000 people in in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Leaving the event, I could not stop thinking about it and did some research. I have since learned that of the world’s seven billion people, 2.4 billion people do not have improved sanitation. 1 billion people still defecate in the open. Poor sanitation increases the risk of disease and malnutrition, especially for women and children. 1 in 3 people on this planet still don’t have access to a clean and safe toilet; 1,000 children die each day due to poor sanitation.  Women and girls in many parts of the world are living out there right now under these terrifying circumstances. It’s also a matter of safety – women and girls are getting raped while seeking sanitation.

One toilet for women and girls in a village of 16,000 people is an example of the dire need to build toilets and create safe spaces for women and girls. It is a call for the full implementation of SDGs especially SDG6 “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”. Better sanitation supports better nutrition and improved health, especially for women and children. Let’s do something about it! We can’t wait while a lack of access to sanitation affects health, education, gender equality, nutrition, the environment. #wecantwait

By: Lia Hansen- Lutheran Office for World Community


making-every-woman-countDuring the general debate of the 71st session of the General Session, I attended a side event hosted by UN women titled: “Making Every Woman and Girl Count”. This event highlighted the importance of gendered data in the implementation of international, regional, and national policies. Eleven out of the fourteen indicators of gender inequality currently lack sufficient data. The gender data initiative has three main goals: To enable an environment to strengthen policies for the production of gender statistics, to increase data production efforts, and to increase data accessibility for more members of society. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, noted that we do not have 80% of data to monitor SDG5, and emphasized the lack of political will on the issue, as only 13% of countries dedicate resources to gender data.  The Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop emphasized the importance of collecting data at an individual rather than a household level, known as the individual deprivation measure (IDM), in order to create effective policies.

The panel included Melinda Gates from the Gates foundation, who declared that we “can’t close gender gap if we don’t close the gender data gap”, noting that “what gets measured gets done”. She stated that it is necessary to build a data set and track data, since decisions cannot be made on estimates. She also emphasized the importance of data on women’s unpaid work, since it is part of a root inequity affecting women worldwide. Emily Courey Pryor, Senior Director of Women and Girls Initiatives for the Women and Population team at the UN Foundation, urged member states to “not just talk about gender equality, but measure and celebrate it”. She advocated for the use of data in communities and countries to drive policy change and for the accessibility of such data to community members that can hold decision makers accountable. Many heads of state, leaders of civil society and the private sector, and UN affiliates gave interventions during the session. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico emphasized the importance of disaggregating data, to include all groups of women and girls.

The main outcome of “Making every woman and girl count” is the idea of enabling an environment for gender statistics, to produce more disaggregated data, and increase its accessibility to every sector of society. These efforts can aid in producing more gender-sensitive policies worldwide. This discussion and initiative is essential, as it helps to mainstream gender issues into the UN bodies and initiatives, while honoring the SDG’s promise of leaving no one behind.

For more information on UN Women’s Flagship Programme, click here.

By: Rachel Chardon, Anglican CommunionCapture_Rachel


The 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW61) will focus on the Priority Theme: Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, studying how to empower women economically by promoting the equality and accessibility of women to obtain an education, to enter the workforce, and to control their financial savings. For women and girls, an accessible education is an important component in obtaining competitive jobs with higher incomes. As more women earn money, families have greater combined household incomes that women can control. Women’s growing capabilities in spending coupled with access to savings accounts at financial institutions can help achieve faster economic growth. The changing world of work acknowledges the growth of women in the workforce and the lack of equality women face in obtaining high-level jobs, similar wages, mobility to formal work sectors, and economic independence.

When women and girls are solely responsible for household chores, they are more likely to work in low-paid and undervalued jobs that inhibit their participation in the formal workplace. Legal restrictions and spousal objections have repressed women’s economic opportunities and the types of jobs they can obtain. Amongst all major racial and ethnic groups, women’s economic equality is significantly lower than that of the median earnings of white men. Alongside the important facts outlined above, our delegates at UNCSW61 are also asked to report on any progress made (or challenges remaining) in their nation regarding the Review Theme: Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

By: Lori Kochanski, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America/Lutheran World Federation, CSW Delegate


Entering this Holy Week I reflect on the sacred holy week I experienced as a participant in the events at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Every Good Friday I remember a little girl in the congregation in New Haven, CT, where I served as intern.  As we were walking the stations of the cross and listening to the story of Jesus she pulled at my hand and asked THE question: “why did he have to die if he didn’t do nothing?”  In a neighborhood where she witnessed violence every day she had grown used to understanding the consequences of life on the street.  She could not reconcile the innocent Jesus dying the same death as the drug dealers.

The question still goes to my heart and names the tensions in my own believing.  For me this is where faith is more important than belief.  Here is where I hope it is true that God can take my anger and questioning in the face of the world of injustices. Because after the holy week in New York of sacred walking and listening I hear echoes of the same question a little girl asked a long time ago:  “Why do girls and women have to die every day?  They have done nothing except be born.”  If Jesus died so that we are free then why are there still women and girls dying at the hands of violence and persecution.

My prayer right there is to find the places where hope can rise at intersections of suffering and pain.  In the rising I believe we will catch a glimpse of the promise of Christ rising from the dead.  This place of hope is constructed by the power of people to lament realities that only serve to harm another through misuse of power.  Hope takes flesh when we lay down our own swords and reach out to our neighbors in order to create a vision of humanity that includes both justice and freedom.  Hope is born from truth of reconciliation.  And it takes time and deliberate plans and collective advocacy.

As global partners in achieving the sustainable goals set out for the world by the United Nations we must hold each other accountable to our actions and inaction. We also must be willing to keep noticing the things that cause greatest harm, in particular harm to those who are most vulnerable.  To be more specific – women and girls.

Today, it is very easy to act as if the time at the United Nations was a dream, a parallel reality I can step out of and forget.  So for as tired as my brain was last week, I pray to become even more tired in my purpose and prayer of how to be of continued use in my own context.  I pray my vocation meets my call and a vision is revealed.  I trust there will be partners in the journey that it may be so.

Yet, we still have so far to go and so much to learn.  We have to find our place in the order of things.  Because…well, because promise.  Because, grace.  Because, freedom.  Because, faith.

By Mavis Duncanson, Association of Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand, CSW Delegate


Wednesday (3/16/16) started with worship where I heard the story of a rice farmer in Korea. At a time of economic hardship global aid agencies sent large volumes of rice at a low price so that the people could eat their staple food. Which meant the price the farmer could get for his produce was seriously deflated, at the time that his fifth daughter was born. Only a son could inherit his property, and he needed a son to grow up and work the fields, yet every child was another mouth to feed, and he wanted his children to have a warm, secure life free from hunger. He made the difficult, so difficult decision to allow his beloved daughter to be adopted far away to the United States of America. She was loved deeply by her adoptive parents and well provided for, growing in grace and stature and telling this story as she led in worship on Wednesday.

Later in the day women upholding faith, family and motherhood shared what they had done to make a difference for those less fortunate. With seemingly boundless love and energy teams of people are ensuring that dolls are being sewn and dressed, booklets coloured in and bound, foam shapes cut out so that children can learn to distinguish circles from triangles, stars from squares. The passion and enthusiasm were undeniable. Provision of washable sanitary towels to girls who previously sat in their bedrooms on a piece of cardboard and training of midwives to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality will undoubtedly have a positive impact on gender equality. Yet I couldn’t help wondering to what extent women like me, women of privilege, sending item after item to children perceived as being in need might not undercut development of local solutions to local issues or put local manufacturers out of business.

In a third event a speaker from the floor reminded me that violence takes many forms, and that corporate violence taking land and testing agricultural chemicals is often backed up with the power of legal strategies and even military intervention when women and girls stand up for the right to clean air and water in their communities. In my own country Aotearoa New Zealand we know the long term effects of alienation from land for tangata whenua (the people of the land). How can private corporations be held to account when their need for product development undercuts local economies and directly impacts health and education?

As I reflect I realise that all this undercutting can be framed as coming from a positive motivation: to avoid starvation in a country in dire economic circumstances; to provide special items to needy children and find personal joy and fulfilment; to develop fertilisers and pesticides that can make agriculture more efficient. But it can also be framed as philanthropy without partnership or corporate exploitation. Thinking of our pivotal scriptures this week the starting points were entitlement to inheritance and sharing of resources. Moses affirmed the rightness of the daughters of Zelophehad having the inheritance that was theirs. They were the ones to decide what crops to grow and stock to raise. And the widow of Zarephath did not receive a delivery of bulk discounted oil. Rather she poured out what she had and found that it was more than sufficient. So somehow we need wisdom to distinguish paternalism from partnership, self-fulfilment from solidarity. I pray for that wisdom.

Written by: Holly Hanitrinirina Sthela Gun, Lutheran World Federation, ELCA International Leaders Program, CSW Delegate


The Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is always a life changing event for me, and I am hoping that it does the same to all people who join this event. It is a way to engage with your own country. Any CSW conference is a new experience. The more you listen to others’ stories – the more you learn, the more you speak – the more you advocate. The more you engage in discussion, join meetings, you help the grassroots voice to be heard.

In CSW 60, I was able to engage and be in discussion about the status of women and the policies in which my church stands, as well as in discussion regarding a proposition that the church wants to bring to the table, with my Mission at the United Nations (Madagascar) and government representatives. This ability to be in consultation with them helped the voice of the church to be heard. Because of this, when they make decisions, I hope they will consider the importance of those voices.The government itself will never be able to reach any goals by themselves. They need collaboration with other sectors. 

Being a participant in this Commission on Status of Women has shaped me to be more of my church, to help other voices to be heard. I think anyone who takes part in CSW should be responsible to share their experiences. The only job you do in the United Nations is representing the voice of your brothers and sisters.



Agnes and GaramAnita Coleman, a member of the Presbyterian delegation, writes about an ecumenical witness involving Presbyterians, United Methodists, and Lutherans that took place during one of the parallel events held during the NGO Committee on the Status of Women Forum.

Here are some excerpts:

‘Comfort women.’ I didn’t know anything about them until I heard the announcement at our orientation.  It appeared that there was to be an event where the sexual slavery of the South Korean women by the Japanese military was going to be denied and those interested were invited to gather for a conversation. I found myself doing so.

I had done my own research before coming to this meeting and found it eye-opening. ‘Comfort women’ refers to women, young girls (and some boys too), who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War 2. The victims came from Asia and the Pacific, primarily Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, and Philippines but also from elsewhere such as Burma. I even found one reference to the ‘Nederlands” (as Netherlands was called then).

For now, I invite you, to get informed about the ‘comfort women’ issue. My second invite is to my faith family in California. If you have any south-east Asian, Korean or Japanese American ancestry/interest, or have friends of these ethnicities, I ask you to share this post with them. Also, I urge you to pray about becoming a ‘comfort women’ witness.  This issue highlights all sorts of injustices such as how patriarchy and colonialism are embedded invisibly in systems of defense (including our defense budgets), the insidious relationship between domestic violence and violence against women in conflict and war situations, and last, but not least, issues of human identity and use of women’s bodies.

Check out Anita’s whole post for more about the witness and a list of resources.

Anita Coleman is an independent scholar and researcher who lives in Southern California with her husband, son, and their pet cat Smokie. This is her first visit to New York, the United Nations, and the Commission on the Status of Women!Anita’s books are on Amazon and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram,Tumblr and Twitter @chariscol.

The photo shows Agnes Jallah and Garam Han during the planning session for the witness.

By Addie Domske

Today I participated in worship for the Commission on the Status of Women, along with other women here with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I was fortunate enough to write part of the liturgy for our short worship time, found below. (It is partially inspired by a Presbyterian women’s history month liturgy.) May we all name what needs to be named in the world!

Leader: O God, for your Church universal, which throughout the ages has called women to serve in this world that you love,
People: we thank you.
Leader: For Mary of Bethany, who used her alabaster jar to teach us how to praise,
People: we thank you.
Leader: For Martha, who served others to model for us true hospitality,
People: we thank you.
Leader: For Priscilla and Lydia who showed us church leadership in the creation of the early Christian church,
People: we give you praise.
Leader: For the widow with oil, who taught us about renewal in the pouring out of our gifts,
People: we thank you.
Leader: For Rahab, who sheltered and facilitated her brothers toward safety.
People: we thank you.
Leader: For Hagar, who out of trauma created new life,
People: we thank you.
Leader: For the ministry of women in the Church universal today. who joyfully accepted their new responsibilities with diligence,
People: we thank you and we celebrate their lives and their commitment to the ministry of the whole Church.
All: Together, may we move forward with women and men as fully equal partners in the ministry of Christ to which you call us all. Amen.

SCRIPTURE (Genesis 16:7-15)
7 The Lord’s messenger found Hagar at a spring in the desert, the spring on the road to Shur, 8 and said, “Hagar! Sarai’s servant! Where did you come from and where are you going?”
She said, “From Sarai my mistress. I’m running away.”
9 The Lord’s messenger said to her, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her harsh treatment of you.” 10 The Lord’s messenger also said to her,
“I will give you many children,
so many they can’t be counted!”
11 The Lord’s messenger said to her,
“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son.
You will name him Ishmael [which means, “God hears”]
because the Lord has heard about your harsh treatment.
12 He will be a wild mule of a man;
he will fight everyone, and they will fight him.
He will live at odds with all his relatives.”
13 Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El Roi” [which means “God who sees” or “God whom I’ve seen”] because she said, “Can I still see after he saw me?” 14 Therefore, that well is called Beer-lahai-roi; [which means the Well of the Living One who sees me or whom I’ve seen] it’s the well between Kadesh and Bered. 15 Hagar gave birth to a son for Abram, and Abram named him Ishmael.

Holy God, as women we are called to name. Like Hagar gives God a name, so too are we called to name things in the world. Whether we step back to amplify the voices of others or step forward to sing our own song, we are call to name. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, birthed out of trauma, “God hears” is a reflection that God is on our side. From trauma comes the birthed resistance of knowing that the one who hears is our God.

We will now enter into a time of embodied prayer. As women, our bodies have often been used as commodities, but we reject that notion in our worship. Today our group will use our bodies to name the realities of women in the world who have a lack access surrounding the goal of education. As we use our body to illustration truth, we remember the legacy of naming that we women must live into.

[compiled by fellow PC(USA) seminarian, Jess Rigel of Princeton Theological Seminary]

About the author: Addie Domske is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) delegation and a student at McCormick Theological Seminary.

Written by: Mavis Duncanson, Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand


I was privileged to be able to observe and listen to this high-level event which was organised by the OECD Development Assistance Committee Network on Gender Equality, and the Missions of Switzerland, France, Peru, Morocco, Italy and Fiji in partnership with others. At the very start we were reminded that this conversation could not be more timely nor more urgent, especially in light of the recent catastrophic damage experienced by the people of Fiji.  Although women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change and are also drivers of effective action, an OECD review in 2013 found that gender equality was targeted in only 29% of DAC members’ bilateral aid for climate change action. It is encouraging to learn that private sector funders of climate change action have been very strong in seeking gender equity training, and including gender equity in their proposed projects. I hope this will lead to better results in future OECD audits and that more organisations will follow the example of Green Climate Fund which has mandatory gender analysis in funding applications. The interrelatedness of the SDGs and need for explicit links between CSW60 and COP22 was highlighted in the report from Peru that adolescent girls from rural areas are increasingly subject to sexual violence as El Nino weather patterns badly affect rural areas and changing social patterns increase their exposure to harm. The association between climate change and violence against women and girls is well established and the panel also noted that in Vanuatu there was a 300% increase in sexual violence after Cyclone Pam. Women are at the front line of climate change crisis and solutions, and action must be informed by their experience. With the panel my hope is that women will be right at the heart of the process to translate political commitments into effective gender-responsive climate solutions.

An emphasis on education, and on free public education, has been a hallmark of churches that stand in the Reformed tradition since the days of John Calvin.

The Presbyterian parallel event at the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women focused on the role of education in breaking cycles of poverty, particularly for women.

A panel presentation lifted up ways Presbyterians support education in Kenya, Aotearoa New Zealand, the United States and around the world.

Beth Olker, Field Staff for Presbyterian College Women & Young Women’s Ministries, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) moderated the panel.

Panel members were:

Wanda Beauman, Vice Moderator for Justice and Peace Concerns, Churchwide Coordinating Team, Presbyterian Women Inc., in the Presbyterian Church USA

Carol Grant, United Nations Convenor, Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand

Veronica Muchiri, National Women’s Guild Organizer/Secretary, Presbyterian Church of East Africa

Frank Dimmock, Catalyst Addressing the Root Causes of Global Poverty, Presbyterian World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

A discussion followed with attendees sharing additional ways to educate girls and women.

The Presbyterian parallel event at the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women focused on education as a key to breaking cycles of poverty and empowering women. Education, free, public education, is a central value within the Reformed tradition as affirmed in the introduction to the parallel event:

In different places we are known as members of Reformed, Evangelical, United or Uniting Churches. Depending on the state we are in, we may be called Congregationalists, Waldensians or Presbyterians.

We are some 80 million Christians in more than 225 member churches present in over 100 countries who trace our roots to the French Reformer John Calvin, who was active in Geneva from 1541-1564.

Calvin sought to reform the church’s theology of the day, placing a renewed emphasis on the sovereignty and grace of God.

Affirming that God is God of all of life and that all people are made in God’s image, Calvin also worked to reform the day-to-day existence of the community of Geneva.

Calvin broke with medieval theology and he broke with medieval pedagogy that limited education primarily to an aristocratic elite. He established a system of broad-based education for Geneva.

Calvin’s academy, founded in 1559, featured two levels of curricula: one for the public education of Geneva’s youth and the other a seminary to train ministers. Both schools, as historians have observed, were tuition-free and forerunners of modern public education. In a day when education was normally reserved for aristocratic scions or members of Catholic societies, the public education of young people was transformative.

An emphasis on advocacy for, and the provision of, quality education has remained a hallmark of the witness of the Reformed tradition since that time. In many communities around the world, members of the Reformed tradition were the first to provide girls with opportunities for formal education.

We welcome the inclusion of education in the Sustainable Development Goals and recommend that the 60th Commission on the Status of Women also identify the importance of education and its links to sustainable development as a key component to empowering women around the world.

Written by: Sarah Roure, Programme Officer -Brazil, Christian Aid, Member of ACT Alliance


On March 12th, I joined a number of people at the Salvation Army for the Ecumenical Women orientation meeting.  I didn´t expect the variety of women that I found there: women from different parts of the world, different churches and denominations, but the same dedication to the Kingdom of God and it values.

To meet other women of faith and women from various faith-based organizations committed to the Sustainable Development Goals and committed to the right of every women to live a life with dignity was the best start to my first time at the CSW.

The challenge to women´s empowerment and sustainable development has to consider the key message of the SDGs of leaving no one behind. More than just a long list of goals, the agenda was shaped considering that message.

This day was filled with strong messages about inequality and the important role of FBO´s in making possible that no one will be left behind. If every creation belongs to God then all creation is entitled to a sustainable and good life. If it all belongs to God, then no one should be left behind.

by The Rev. Anna George Traynham

This morning, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addressed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). One line has been ringing around the assembly halls since it left her lips: “There can be no business as usual.”

She was speaking in reference to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. “Excellencies,” she said in her striking South African accent, “the Agenda you adopted is bold, ambitious and transformational. Now we gather to seek implementation modalities that match this bold agenda, where there can be no business as usual.

The down-to-earth phrase stood out in her elegantly crafted speech, hitting the ears of the room with a thud. Her point was bold, concise, and clear: If we are going to end discrimination in any or all forms, we need more than advocacy and charity. We need transformation.

Around the world, women are raped, beaten, and murdered by intimate partners.

No more business as usual.

There are 4 UN member states with no women in Parliament, and there are 8 with no women in the cabinet.

No more business as usual.

Perpetrators of human trafficking roam free, while child victims are criminalized.

No more business as usual.

Girl children are sold as child brides.

No more business as usual.

The UN has been meeting about gender equality for 60 years.

No more business as usual.

We serve the God who spoke fire through the prophets. We follow the Christ who turned over tables. We are lead by the Spirit who breathes peace into chaos. Hear this good news of the gospel: There can be no business as usual.

Read Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s full address.

About the Author: Rev. Anna George Traynham serves as Pastor in Residence at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. 


Thanks to Virginia Wanjiru Njenga of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) delegation for the photo.

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