Cross posted from National Council of Churches USA, Women’s Ministries website
by Meagan Manas

March 2-13 marks the 53rd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Each year, the Commission meets to “evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Throughout the two weeks, work is done to complete and modify a document known as “agreed conclusions.” The agreed conclusions formulated by the representatives of 45 member states at the end of these two weeks will be submitted to the Economic and Social Council for adoption, setting a precedent for governmental and non-governmental action and policy on a certain issue. This year, the theme of the CSW is the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS, and this year’s agreed conclusions can be found here.

But what does all of this international bureaucracy and UN jargon have to do with the National Council of Churches, the ecumenical community, and the Justice for Women Working Group? Lots. Participating as an NGO, Women from the NCC work together as part of a coalition of sixteen organizations called Ecumenical Women , striving to get our recommendations for the agreed conclusions to the representatives who will be debating them. Watching all the women who participate as part of NGO’s in the CSW, nearly 2000 in all, is inspiring, and watching the over 200 delegates who also count themselves as Ecumenical Women is a true witness to the Spirit moving in all contexts and corners of the world.

This sight should not surprise us, though. Women of the ecumenical movement have always been a part of the United Nations, working to influence and advocate for themselves and their sisters and children around the world. In 1941, 100 women representing 70 Protestant denominations and three large interdenominational women’s groups joined together to form the United Council of Church Women, now known as Church Women United. The CWU petitioned the United States to “join and take its full responsibility in a world organization,” and in the inaugural meetings of the UN General Assembly in 1946, it was the American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who spoke to the importance of addressing the situation of women in the world. It was this same year that the CSW was created, and challenged with the task of finding out about the status of women worldwide–no data like this had ever been collected.

Perhaps most visibly, women of the ecumenical movement contributed to the life and discussions of the United Nations as women from the United Methodist Church raised the money to build the Church Center of the United Nations (CCUN). Built in the early 1960’s, the CCUN was envisioned to be, and still functions as today, a space in which the agencies working for peace and human rights could collaborate more fully.

And it was in the CCUN that this diverse coalition called Ecumenical Women gathered on Saturday, February 28, to learn, share, meet one another, and prepare to advocate. Among those representing the National Council of Churches was a group of 9 young women from around the country, some in seminary, some in international and public relations, all with a yearning to follow God through the work of advocacy. Their presence was part of the growing involvement of young people in the ecumenical movement, and their stories will be shared here in the coming weeks.

There is so much to find out about the CSW and what is going on there these two weeks. History, more on the CSW, the Advocacy Statement of Ecumenical Women for this year, and the Ecumenical Women’s Advocacy Guide are all available online. For now, just to pique your appetite, take a look at the report on a panel discussion on Positive Masculinities sponsored by Ecumenical Women, and take with you the words of this song, sung together at the beginning of the Ecumenical Women Orientation last Saturday:

Sister, take my hand; walk with me today.

Walk across this land; God will lead the way

Through the wilderness, to the promised land.

Sister, Walk with me and take my hand.

Note: text and music by © Grace Pugh Hubbard for Ecumenical Women Orientation opening worship at the 53rd Commission on the Status of Women at the UN.

*Credit is due to the Ecumenical Women’s Advocacy Guide for the information they provided about the history of the ecumenical women’s movement and the UN.