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What follows is a short piece from Casey Liston, a young adult women delegate from the US National Council of Churches and Church Women United reflecting on her experience at CSW57. As we enter into final preparations for CSW58, we will frequently be posting similar pieces from other young women delegates to CSW as well.

My experience at the United Nation’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women was, in one word, kindling. The dual purpose of “kindling”—as a verb and a noun—reflects the depth of what I have taken away from five days of lectures, panels, trainings, worships, and new personal connection. The CSW kindled a new, personal call to action that I had never felt with such urgency: during a panel discussion hosted by UNAIDS, I listened to speaker after speaker discuss the ways that the economic and social empowerment of women could help lower HIV transmission rates in Africa and prevent related violence against women and girls. As each presenter went through long lists of the different barriers women are facing in accessing protection, treatment, and counseling for HIV and violence alike, I found myself wondering when these panelist were going to explain what they were doing to solve this issue. At that moment, the realization hit me: it is my job to solve those issues. When I came to the CSW with an NGO (and as an active member of civil society), I put myself forward as someone with the capacity or compassion to make the necessary changes to end violence against women and girls. Of course, this will not be my job alone—and that is where the role of “kindling” as a noun enters my experience at the CSW. For those five days, I represented the National Council of Churches USA and Church Women United, the United Church of Christ, and young ecumenical women everywhere. As a delegate, it was my duty to absorb and learn for every member of those groups who weren’t in attendance. Not only did the knowledge and experience I gained at the CSW kindle my personal call to action, it will act as kindling to a much larger fire, one burning across the planet as people of faith call for an end to the violence that has pervaded women since the dawn of time. With every speech I heard and every note I took during my time in New York, I increased my capacity and ability to enact change, and I am now able to increase the capacity of others to do the same. My time at the Commission on the Status of Women was enlightening, deeply spiritual, and at times, disconcerting. But above all, it was kindling, for myself and for the larger movement to end and prevent all types of violence against women and girls.

Casey Liston
United Church of Christ

Dear Ecumenical Women delegate:

Welcome to CSW58!

Your team at Ecumenical Women (EW) has been planning for months for your arrival and participation at the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58). We hope that you are as excited as we are at the prospect of gathering in worship, prayer, celebration, discussion, witness and advocacy as we seek to learn from each other and influence for the better the lives of women and girls worldwide.

Our first gathering as Ecumenical Women delegates and team will be on Saturday, March 8th for a full-day Orientation. Please plan on arriving at 8:30 am at the Church Center for the United Nations, 777 First Avenue at East 44th Street. We will end at 6:00 pm.

Whether you will be participating in official United Nations (UN) proceedings, side and parallel events or all of these, you have a unique and important voice and perspective to bring to this global discussion. We are confident that as you share your voice, we all will be transformed and inspired. And when you go home, and we continue on with this work in our offices, we all will be newly energized to share what we’ve learned from one another, making a difference in the lives of women around the world.

This welcome letter aims to prepare you for your advocacy role. You are already a witness, a voice, an advocate. Delve deeply into the websites and the resources suggested below. Reflect, pray and discern: how does your own life experience connect to the CSW58 themes? What stories might you share from your unique experience?

~~~

If you are new to the UN or CSW, prepare ahead
Before arriving, it will be important to understand a little about the United Nations system and the Commission on the Status of Women, which meets annually to promote women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields, and to make recommendations on urgent problems regarding women’s rights.  Start by reading basic information about them in Ecumenical Women’s Guide to Advocacy: “Faith at the UN: Gender in the Church. Dive further into the history of the United Nations and its purposes. Then hone in on UN Women, the umbrella organization at the UN that works for the empowerment of women and which hosts CSW. On its website you will find reference to “focus areas” that will deepen your understanding of the issues facing women and girls. Click on the right-hand side box for information on the 58th Commission on the Status of Women. Read carefully about this year’s priority theme, “challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls,” and the program and events planned.

Understand Ecumenical Women’s purpose, advocacy and message
Ecumenical Women is an international coalition of church denominations and ecumenical organizations with status (an official relationship) at the Economic and Social Council or the Department of Public Information at the UN. EW seeks to train and empower a network that advocates for gender equality and justice at the UN. By connecting to our Ecumenical Women website, you can consult our advocacy resources and statements, read our blogs and learn about past Commissions. Since you have already read EW’s Guide to Advocacy mentioned above, you are ready to turn to the joint written statement that EW has prepared. This document is a collective statement of priorities based on feedback from questionnaires sent to member organizations such as yours. It is one of the cornerstones of our advocacy. Another important document to read is the draft Agreed Conclusions which member states will be negotiating and which will, we hope, result in Agreed Conclusions by the end of CSW.

How do I fit in?
Once you have an idea of what the UN does and what member-state representatives and members of non-governmental organizations are trying to accomplish at UNCSW, it’s time to reflect within. Jot down the answers to a few key questions: How does violence against women and girls manifest itself in my part of the world? What is my government doing about it? What is my church denomination doing? What organizations already work on this and how can I connect? What particular stories and voices can I bring from my part of the world to illustrate the challenges, problems, successes and celebrations? What strikes me deeply, personally and profoundly? What aspect makes me feel passionately about the subject? For what issues and situations do I feel called to pray? To speak out?

The big day arrives: what awaits in New York
Once you’ve arrived, the New York EW team will prepare you with a full day’s Orientation on Saturday, March 8th, including a full afternoon of advocacy training. This training continues throughout CSW in your individual delegations. We will introduce you to talking points, the draft Agreed Conclusions and guide you through visits to your permanent missions and to UN meetings. Before you return home, we’ll review together what has been learned and experienced and then work together to see how all you learned might best be used as a tool of change and empowerment in your local communities.

~~~

The Commission on the Status of Women is a unique moment to contemplate the complexities, challenges and joys of living in God’s world. We share these in common as women, men and children of faith. We trust and pray that God will guide your understanding and deepen your faith as you experience this shared moment of living out the Gospel call for a better world for all, and especially this year as we consider how women and girls have fared in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. Our prayers are with you as you prepare. We look forward to meeting you soon.

Sincerely,
The Ecumenical Women Advocacy Team

Hi everyone,

We have great news! As we still have a few spots remaining at our Ecumenical Women Orientation for the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, we’ve extended the registration deadline to this Tuesday, 18 February 2014. To register, go to our Eventbrite page here.

For details about all our joint events during CSW58, check out the information below. Thanks so much, and we hope to see you at CSW58!

CSW Orientation

When: Saturday, 8 March from 8:30am – 6:00pm (EST)

Where: Church Center for the United Nations
 777 UN Plaza
 New York, NY 10017

Cost: $40.00 per attendee.

Prior registration is required to attend this event.

CSW Orientation consists of worship, discussion of how to do advocacy at the United Nations and time to explore the CSW58 priority theme, “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.” Breakfast, lunch and a copy of our advocacy guide are provided with registration.

You can find a complete schedule for EW’s CSW58 Orientation here.

Advocacy Dinners

When: Wednesday, 12 March and Wednesday, 19 March from 6:00pm – 8:00pm (EDT)

Where: Church Center for the United Nations
 777 UN Plaza
 New York, NY 10017

Cost: $18.00 per attendee per dinner.

Prior registration is required to attend this event.

Ecumenical Women delegates gathered to eat together, reflect on our experiences and consolidate our advocacy strategies for the days ahead.

Daily Worship

When: Monday, 10 March to Friday, 21 March from 8:00am – 8:30am (EDT)

Where: Church Center for the United Nations
 777 UN Plaza
 New York, NY 10017

Prior registration is NOT required to attend daily worship.

Daily worship in the Church Center’s chapel allows us to rally together and worship God as we get ready for the day ahead.

Reflecting the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls,” over the coming months Ecumenical Women will be posting stories about our individual member organizations’ efforts to implement the MDGs. This is our ninth installment, a story from EW member organization United Methodist Women has partnered with the Ecumenical Development Foundation to support rural Zambian women in ending sex work by encouraging sustainable agriculture. This relates to a number of the MDGs, including MDG #6 – combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. What follows is an excerpt, but you can find the complete story at UMW’s website here.

… In a village in Zambia, Nelly and her family once depended exclusively on chemical fertilizers to produce the crops on their farm. As years went by, the quality of their soil degraded to a point that hunger and poverty took over the family’s already precarious situation. Nelly’s family tried shifting cultivation to charcoal burning as a source of income, but their situation worsened due to scarce rain and the resulting bare fields. Nelly’s father migrated to the city to look for provisional jobs, leaving Nelly’s mother with seven children without an income or means of support. At the ages of 13 and 15, Nelly and her sister began a life as sex workers to earn a subsistence income and help their mother and siblings survive. In just a short time Nelly’s sister contracted HIV and passed away from AIDS.

The Ecumenical Development Foundation (EDF), a partner of United Methodist Women, became aware of Nelly’s situation and began a rehabilitation program for sex workers. The program emphasized empowerment through the acquisition of basic skills, such as sustainable farming. The program required that all participants learn to raise chickens and pigs, as well as basic land farming without the use of chemical fertilizers. Nelly completed the program and with the help of EDF staff implemented the skills she had learned on her family farm…

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