Ten years after the close of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), we continue to learn from the lessons gathered. We continue to struggle. Although it was before my time as an international ecumenist, I have read that much of the progress made during the decade was largely due to the “solidarity of women with other women.” This was a time where we looked within, affirmed one another in the image of God and recognized gender inequality in our own house.

During this time of renewal and repentance; we set many goals to achieve greater equality for women. Part of the call during this Decade, indeed a recommendation, was for churches to create programmes, educational materials, networks and opportunities that specifically supported and empowered women.

Today, a similar call is happening within the United Nations. Ecumenical Women has been working with other women worldwide to support an initiative to create a single women-specific independent entity within the United Nations system and led by an Under-Secretary General at the highest level.

This independent entity would ensure accountability for gender equality and women’s rights efforts while promoting gender commitments effectively. It would operate across all levels of the United Nations, at both the international and country levels. The request is that this entity would be well funded and well staffed in order to coherently coordinate the United Nations’ work with women worldwide.

Civil-society has created an international, women-led campaign called the GEAR Campaign (Gender Equality Architecture Reform).Thanks in part to many discussions and much support for this addition to the United Nations from civil society, including the 150 women strong Ecumenical Women delegation during CSW 2008, things have really begun moving.

In July, we were heartened when a paper was presented by the Deputy Secretary General. Entitled “Institutional Options to Strengthen United Nations Work on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women,” this paper outlined operational models for discussion.

In mid-September, the outgoing President of the General Assembly recommended continued discussion of this possibility, including a specific request for the Secretary General has been requested to provide detailed modalities in respect to those options in preparation for discussions during the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Ecumenical Women is continuing to engage in this process. We are in the final stages of preparing a letter to ask that the United Nations Secretariat appoint an independent expert to undertake the work of drafting those modalities as well as to support those key structural elements we believe would be the most effective model.

October 2008 – Advocacy Letter on U.N. Gender Architecture Reform

As advocates, we are committed to reforming the way the United Nations is able to deliver for gender justice. As Christians, we are committed to answering Jesus’ question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Beyond answering, we are committed to challenging the powers, systems and structures that deny women equal access, rights and protection.

As churches and ecumenical organizations, we believe that God’s world was meant to be a world of abundance for all persons. The U.N. is positioned to set powerful norms which urge countries and institutions to invest in the creation of a more equal and just world. We urge each of us to recognize the need for a stronger U.N. gender entity as a significant step in the support of millions of women and girls around the world who suffer from poverty, illness, violence, lack of opportunities, and who have no voice in this debate.

In doing so, we continue to take up that call set forth in the letter from the Decade in Solidarity with Women to the World Council of Churches 8th Assembly asking for church leaders to “take actions to correct the gender imbalances that exist in your midst, and make all levels of administration in churches and ecumenical organizations accessible and just for women.”