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The following is a short reflection by Rev. Marta Benavides that was published recently in a book titled:   Global MOSAIC: Favorite prayers and reflections from inspiring world humanitarians and given the context of CSW 56 this year I thought it would be appropriate to share it as we begin to process the work ahead.  This is also a reflection that I went back to meditate on later today as I participated in a powerful conversation with a group of women discussing the use of the word empowerment within the context of women and equality.  What was particular interesting was how these long time veterans actual saw empowerment as a diminishing word because it doesn’t fully capture the power that everyone is and our ability to excercise that power. Lots of food for thought.

Blessings on the journey looking forward to the remaining week and half at CSW 56.

Hierald Kane-Osorto

Reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer
By Rev. Marta Benavides

Rev. Marta Benavides was born and raised in El Salvador. She was responsible for setting up the first refugee centers and for much of the humanitarian work organised by Monsignor Oscar Romero, who died a martyr in 1980 during El Salvador’s civil war. Throughout this armed conflict (1980-1992), Marta worked nationally and internationally for a peaceful solution which was eventually achieved through United Nations peace accords. As leader of the Global Movement for Culture of Peace, Marta works ecumenically and with secular groups educating people for a culture of peace. Committed to social transformation, Martha’s focus is on peaceful relations with all humanity, and care for Mother Earth (

Reflection on The Lord’s Prayer – Pray then like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed is thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6: 9-13.

The Lord’s Prayer appears in the Bible, the sacred book for all Christians around the world, as it was taught by our Brother Jesus, to be in communion with Our Father. For me, it is the most important and symbolic prayer.  It also affirms all of Jesus’ teachings. I call it the Our Father and Mother Prayer, in order to recognize both the Father and Mother presence in the Creator Spirit, and I recite it now as an affirmation not as a wish nor as a request, but  in recognition that all has been given to us already by the Great Spirit.

 Our Father- Mother who are in heaven, hallowed is thy name
Your kingdom is. Your will is done, on earth as it is in heaven,
You give us each day our daily bread and I work to make sure we all enjoy it.
You have forgiven us, since the beginning.
We have never had any debts, so no one owes me anything.
You never lead us into temptation, but you give us a life that challenges us to grow in wisdom and grace, thus you do not have to deliver us from evil for you are my and our light, if I so choose it, thus no evil is in my path and life.
For, I am in you as you are in me. And so it is.

This prayer, and the way I understand it, is fundamental to how I lead my life and ministry, understand the relationship with the Higher Spirit, and the way I understand how the Higher Spirit relates to humanity. Therefore, my ministry is about a responsible, caring relationship with each other, Mother Earth, and the Divine Being.  This prayer affirms the ‘how and why’ we are on earth; how we must go about manifesting God’s will here ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’  I affirm that this is our call and challenge – to discern and manifest God’s will in real time and intentionally here on earth.

Cindy Eschliman from Hutchinson, Kansas but currently studying at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary had the privilege of participating in CSW for the second time this year with the National Network of Presbyterian College Women of  PCUSA.  She takes a moment to reflect on her time here and retells a funny story for which she is now known as the lady with the big coat that got the elevator stuck at the Church Center for the United Nations.

Margryette Boyd from Aurburn, AL and here at CSW 56 with a delegation from Racial Ethnic Young Women PC, USA. Margryette gives a few remarks on the contradiction between a commission focusing on women’s equality and the prevalent realities of male dominated leadership within the United Nations system.

As I sat in the Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership workshop, I was reminded of the power of influence and expectation. Two mentees described their introduction to the Women of Spirit and Faith Group. No one asked them for their credentials. They were not required to pay their dues first before they could have a voice that was valued within the larger circle. Rather, they were accepted as leaders with gifts to bring to the larger group. They were surprised by this reception as many of us would be if we all had this experience. We know the unwritten rules of advancement, acceptance, and gaining respect in our society. The ethos of the group, brought to mind what happens when we imagine “that we can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us?” What happens when we internalized that “the one who calls us also equips us for that in which we are call?” I left that experienced inspired to see people already equipped, already in process, and already blessed. In the days ahead I will look to see what difference this will make as I encounter others. I will consider more deeply what will happen within me if I assume this new position of the faith.

– SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, associate for gender and racial justice, GAMC

My experience so far at the UNCSW has been really informative, and I’ve been coming away with expanded knowledge about women’s issues and great NGOs that I hope will continue to inform my interest in social justice. But one thing has been bugging me. I’m coming to the UNCSW as a pretty privileged middle class white girl with little personal experience with prejudice. I’ve been extremely lucky to be presented by great opportunities, and surrounded by strong women who have helped support me. My concern is that any aid or work I might want to do in another culture (or even domestically) would be met with skepticism due to my lack of experience with what they’re going through. It’s almost like a catch-22. I want to help, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to without seeming elitist. But I can’t sit back and do nothing, because doing nothing is worse.

But then I attended Leymah Gbowee’s panel discussion yesterday, and she said something that completely reassured me. “There might be people who should occupy the space that you do, but need help getting there.” Hearing about the work that she’s done, and the kind of person she is, I knew what she was saying was exactly right. It reminded me that even if I can’t immediately get a job with an NGO and work abroad, there’s plenty I can do in my own community to create helpful, empowering opportunities for women and girls right where I live. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but Leymah’s inspiring words are helping me make strides!

I’ve been Increasingly dismayed about the state of the world – until today.

Four thousand women are gathered in and around the United Nations this week and next  to address the challenges faced by rural women from around the world. Yesterday Michele Bachale, former president of Chile, reported on the first year of UN-Women, the new organization which she heads. Her words were appreciated, but she was also challenged almost immediately  by Nobel Peace Prize Laureat, Leymah Gbowee, of Liberia to connect faster with civil society, with women on the ground.   Leymah expressed the impatience that rural  women from Egypt to Japan to Colombia to Gambia are feeling. They are determined to break through the barriers that have held them in poverty, invisibility, violence and fear.  They are on the move and they will be heard! 

This morning I listened to a discussion of an individual  woman in rural Panama who is fighting to keep the rain forest in Darien from being destroyed by tea plantations.  These mono crop plantations are pushing local farmers off the land. Next,  four women  who are connected through Women’s Federation for World Peace, spoke about projects they have designed  in Mongolia, Haiti, Philippians, and Cameroon.   The first speaker, an American living in Oregon,  connected with a woman from Mongolia who lives in her town.  Together they have started a scholarship fund that has allowed 20 rural Mongolian women to go to university.

I look forward to learning more and more about what is working in the days ahead.

Cathy Surgenor,

Presbyterian Pastor

Leah reflects on her “Ah-ha moment” of the CSW.

Participants in Ecumenical Women's Advanced Advocacy Workshop take a look at the agreed conclusions

The 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations (UN) is gathering from February 27 through March 9 to discuss and debate this year’s theme of “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges.” The commission will develop a set of “agreed conclusions” that offers priorities for member countries in their work to improve the lives of women. The commission meets with a different theme each year and draws up a set of conclusions. The NGO community provides statements to the Commission which help the body to create a starting document from which it works throughout the two weeks.

A group of women gathered last Saturday, through an organization of religious NGOs called Ecumenical Women at the United Nations (, to review the document as it relates to hunger. They discovered that while the document names nutrition and food security as issues in the introductory materials, nutrition is not brought up again in the recommended actions for the countries. Nutrition is critical, especially for women and children in the window between pregnancy and the child’s second birthday. Without proper nutrition, pregnancy is more risky, children can suffer from permanent cognitive and physical delays that can ultimately lead of a 2-3% reduction in GDP in countries where malnutrition is widespread. It is particularly important for women to know the importance of nutrition and have the power to choose healthy food both in the market and in their farms.

Ecumenical Women is advocating for including language about nutrition in both the food security and the health sections of the agreed conclusions. They will advocate for these changes as they meet with country delegations to the commission and as they ask questions in briefings offered by these country delegations.

 Nancy Neal, associate for denominational women’s organization relations, Bread for the World 

(L to R) Arakawa with Peng, a volunteer at the Presbyterian Ministry to the UN, and Myah, a delegate from Myanmar. She words for the Kaya Phu Baptist Association.

 Arakawa, from the Asian Rural Institute, spoke on rural farming in Japan and the empowerment of women farmers.  Of special interest is the emphasis on organic farming in Japan, which young farming couples are able to organize into productive enterprises.

Watch Karen Neely’s reflection on this event below.  If you are interested in more information on this topic, Karen recommends Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, and  Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by MIT grad Eric Brende.


The Advocacy Team has been hard at work this late afternoon and evening. Some have had to leave; some have come back.

Thanks to them all!

Ann reflects on the words of a woman farmer and how they apply to our churches and ecumenical life:


Sisters and brothers in Christ,

How I wish you could all have heard Ms. Leymah Gbowee speak this morning!  She spoke so eloquently on the need for

Leymah Gbowee speaking on Feb. 26, 2012 at the NGO CSW forum

mentorship of young girls, transformation of attitudes in communities, and the power of the grassroots.

But what really hit home for me was her searing indictment of religious communities serving as an impediment to the empowerment of young women.  In the four West African countries in which she works, all the girls and young women she speaks with name religious affiliation as a major stumbling block to community leadership.  Muslims, Christians – all religions were implicated in this sin of sexism, worldly politics, and love of money over neighbors.  She spoke passionately about the need for the church to return to its place as an advocate for social justice.  Preach against domestic violence from the pulpit!  Establish mentor relationships between women and girls!  Set up support structures for students away from their families!

As she spoke, I realized that these are not just African issues.  These are issues right here in the United States.  Young women see the church as standing in their way – and we, as church leaders, must unblock that way and declare that women’s rights are human rights.  Women’s rights matter to God.  If the church is serving as a stumbling block for women’s leadership, then we must declare that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to proclaim release.  We must act to stop this sin.

I pray that we will all accept this calling to empower women and men to stop the sin of sexism in our churches and in our world.


Did you learn about the “Doctrine of Discovery” in your history class?  Sarah Eagleheart and Elsie Dennis have a thing or two to teach us all.



The day before the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) officially convened, hundreds of women gathered in Salvation Army’s palatial auditorium for the CSW NGO (Non-governmental organization) Forum.  I was one of these women.

I am here as an employee of the advocacy ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), member of the Lutheran World Federation.  But today, I write not as an employee who is here to support Lutheran presence and encourage advocacy after CSW… today, I write as a woman humbled and inspired by other women.

Advocacy, at the very heart, is driven by stories—stories about the lives of real people in real places facing real challenges.  When we share our stories, we help organizations decide what to prioritize, we give our elected officials insight into the lives of their constituents, and we—purely, honestly, and intentionally—influence policy and public perception.  Events, like CSW, are valuable in that they bring people face-to-face to share stories and create organic conversations about the struggle and the hope in working towards a world that is just and safe for all women.

My role here as a communications director presents unique challenges and responsibility—specifically because I am often floating around events taking pictures and video.  I am honored by this role of documenting these precious moments of worship, education, conversation, and human connection.  These pictures and videos are invaluable in telling the world the important stories shared here.  During my very brief time here, I want to contribute hundreds of quality photographs that women can use in their personal reflections, spiritual growth, and advocacy efforts in their communities and capital cities as they go forth from this event.   Yet I am not always able to simply sit and listen.  I am often not a part of the conversations, I am on the “outside” recording them.  (The camera, unfortunately, often creates a wall between me and other women, because cameras can make people feel uncomfortable and make the moment feel unnatural.)  I sometimes feel that I cannot give the speaker at the microphone my undivided attention, because I am thinking of lighting, angles, flash, battery life, background noise, and contrast.  Frequently I am moving from group to group to capture images of these women, rather than dwelling in their powerful presence.

In jest, I told a friend and colleague that I feel like a “Martha at CSW”, referencing the New Testament story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who played different roles when in the presence of Christ.  Martha was busy, fluttering around the house, preparing for and facilitating Jesus’ visit to their home.  Mary sat with Christ, dwelled in his presence, learning and conversing from her friend and Lord.  Yet it was exactly through this role, as a photographer, that God reached down and touched my heart… when I was “Martha”, my Lord—in his mysterious and beautiful way—transformed me into “Mary.”

In the vast auditorium during the NGO CSW forum, my role permitted close proximity to the global leaders that were speaking from podiums of prestige on stage.  One of the esteemed panelists was Layla Alkhafaji, a leader in bringing democracy and equality in post-Sadaam Hussein Iraq.  Ms. Alkhafaji’s credentials are extremely impressive: she was a member of the first Iraqi parliament and now is the Director of International Relations for the Al-Hakim Foundation, promoting intellectual excellence, religious dialogue, and cultural understanding.  She shared how her organization works to encourage religious leaders to be involved in the Islamic Day for Anti-Violence Against Women, and teaches people that violence against women “is not accepted in any religion, including Islam.”

Yes, indeed Ms. Alkhafaji’s work, vision, and accomplishments are remarkable.  Yet her personal story is as heartbreaking as her resume is notable.  From her place on the panel, Ms. Alkhafaji described to the audience that under Sadaam’s regime she was “scrutinized, arrested, tortured, sentenced to execution” (a sentence later converted)—not for terrorism, but for being “outspoken” and refusing to join Hussein’s Baath party.  In painful irony, she was arrested on International Women’s Day, and spent ten years of her life (as a young woman—like me) in prison before escaping to Toronto in 1993.   She saw the execution of twenty-five women, telling the crowd, “I witnessed that and carried that with me to Canada.”

A few hours later I was near the first few rows—designated for “VIP’s and Speakers”—snapping photographs of these leaders, when I encountered Ms. Alkhafaji posing for pictures with women who were inspired by her.  I clicked my camera’s button to capture a few for Ecumenical Women’s website and, to my great surprise, Ms. Alkhafaji gently summoned me to her.  She kindly asked me if I would email her the pictures and handed me her business card.  I was humbled to receive her contact information, shook her hand and thanked her for her work as a global leader, and went back to taking pictures.

After another speaker, Ms. Alkhafaji and I crossed paths again.  We were able to converse this time, and I shared that I work in communications and grassroots advocacy for the ELCA.  She looked at me with her gentle eyes—eyes that had witnessed horrendous violence and murder, and yet eyes that once belonged to a girl-child… her gentle eyes that recognize foreign soil (and a nation I’ve never visited) as home, and yet reminded me of my own mother’s gentle, beautiful eyes.  She earnestly said, “I want to work with you—I want to work with Christians in the U.S.  I want to work with Christians in Iraq, and the Christians here—we need everyone.  We must work together.”  And then, in one of the most humbling moments of my life, Ms. Alkhafaji asked to take a picture with me.  In that moment, I wasn’t the photographer—I was a woman, standing beside another woman.  I wasn’t Martha, I was Mary.  For that moment, I could dwell in the presence of a strong, hopeful, and purposeful woman.  I was in the conversation.  This was personal, this was moving, and this was humbling.

The line separating us—me, a lonely and lowly photographer, and her, a global leader and honored speaker, disappeared.  The wall separating American Christian and Iraqi Muslim was gone.  No lines, no walls—just two women.  This moment of a sincere call for interfaith and international collaboration to help all hurting and vulnerable people is forever captured for me.

The photograph of me, Kate, aside her, Layla, is a well at which I can revisit the spirit of this powerful moment.  It is a well at which I can gather my thoughts and my prayers for peace, equality, and justice.  I can invite others—my family, my friends, my church, and my elected officials—to meet me at this well.  At this well, I can share Layla’s story, I can offer my story, and I can listen to others’ stories.

As I leave CSW tonight to return to my life and work in Washington, D.C., I ask the God of my mothers and fathers to bless, protect, and strengthen all women and men who gather here to listen and share.  I pray for courage, perseverance, and wisdom as we go forth and work for peace, equality, and justice in our world.  I thank God for these moments of unity, collaboration, and dialogue.

And I thank you, dear sister, for sharing on this blog, and for reading a piece of my story today.

Kate Gaskill  (

🙂 And I’m currently working to post all those pictures!  It’s a slow process, but I’m hoping to have all Ecumenical Women photographs and video that I worked on posted to the Ecumenical Women Picasa by Friday, March 2

 ( / username: ecumenicalwomencsw56 / password: uncsw56)

Come and join us for a Rural Women’s Speak Out with UN Women.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

2nd Floor
Church Center for UN

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