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syria-womenEver since I heard UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speak so eloquently on the need for women’s political participation in peacebuilding two weeks ago at a ‘Peacebuilding Commission High-Level Ministerial Event,’ I felt inspired to dig a bit deeper past the headlines coming out of Syria in order to begin learning a bit more about the role of women in the Syrian armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its landmark Resolution 1325 on 31 October 2000, the international community has repeatedly affirmed that women play an essential role in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and conflict prevention. For instance, as Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out in her address, “women’s political participation is associated with lower levels of corruption, more inclusive decision-making, greater investment in social services, job creation for women, and family welfare,” all factors that lead to a more peaceful society. Furthermore, while correlation does not necessarily prove causation, there is a “statistically significant relationship between female representation in government and peace,” as you can read about here.

However, well over a decade after the adoption of Resolution 1325, rates of women’s political participation in formal peacebuilding negotiations remain extremely low. As an August 2010 report released by UN Women indicates, a “reasonably representative sample of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 reveals that only 4 percent of signatories, 2.4 percent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and 9 percent of negotiators are women.” Women have specific concerns in peace negotiations, such as a need for gender training on all levels of armed forces, the elimination of sexual violence, and the protection of women refugees and internally displaced persons, yet these concerns are rarely addressed in final peace accords. As discussed in this video from IREX, violence against girls and women, especially sexual violence, has become widespread in the Syrian armed conflict, and thus it will be especially important that women are represented in any future peace negotiations in order to increase the likelihood that women’s issues are properly addressed. For more information on sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian armed conflict, as well as other issues, you can read this report from Human Rights Watch and this report from International Rescue Committee.

While we need to raise awareness about sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian armed conflict, women are playing many leadership roles as well, both officially and unofficially. As discussed in the video from IREX linked to above, women are leaders of protests, civil society organizations and occasionally serve in the Free Syrian Army, although they are increasingly being marginalized as extremist groups to continue to gain power in the opposition. The work of women to protect other women and girls in refugee camps was also mentioned.

Finally, we would like to lift up three women working providing leadership in Syrian armed conflict, all with different approaches. Although currently in exile, Suheir Atassi is a co-vice-president in the Syrian opposition and is one of the movement’s leading secular activists. Razan Zaitouneh is a Syrian writing and human rights lawyer who still remains in the country, working to document human rights abuses. Finally, the young Yaman Al Qadri is a peace activist who was detained and tortured by Syrian police in 2011. She eventually fled to Canada after being released, and has recently toured in a play called “Let’s Talk” about the complex issues Syrians have about the uprising. To hear more from these three amazing women, check out the videos below.

In the midst of tumultuous change in the Western Asia and North Africa, its encouraging to see girls and young women still rising up to end violence!  Check out this video from UNiTE of the Girl Scouts in Cairo rising through dance:

The Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein, the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-determination and PeaceWomen held an event at UN headquarters yesterday entitled “Men, Peace and Security: Engaging Men and Boys to Promote Gender Equality and Eliminate Gender-Based Violence.”

In recognition of how creating partnerships with boys and men is critical to establishing gender equality and ending gender based violence, this installment of a lecture series on Women, Peace and Security featured an inspiring presentation on the work of Promundo, a Brazilian-based NGO with offices in Rwanda and Washington, DC, which works to engage men and boys in gender equality and violence prevention.

Promundo’s International Director Gary Barker discussed the organization’s research on men and masculinity in several post-conflict settings, including Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and the Balkans.  One particularly powerful report entitled “Bridges to Adulthood” explores Promundo’s quantitative and qualitative research on the lifelong effect of childhood experiences of violence on men.  Simply put, the research indicates that violence begets violence, as a man’s childhood experiences strongly correlate with how he will interact with his own partners and children.

Gary also discussed the work of Promundo and affiliated organizations like MenEngage and MenCare in helping men develop positive masculine identities.  Religious institutions were specifically mentioned as important partners in this work.  Be sure to check out the inspiring video from MenCare below and Promundo’s other great resources as well.

Women_peace_and_security-5d60eThe UN Security Council yesterday held an open debate on sexual violence in conflict to send a strong signal to perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict that their crimes will not be tolerated. The council’s fifteen members unanimously adopted resolution 2106, which can be found here. Resolution 2106 joins other Security Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010) on women peace and security; the pillar resolution being 1325 (2000).

This new resolution particularly emphasizes ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, in stating, “more consistent and rigorous investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes as a central aspect of deterrence, and ultimately prevention.” The resolution also stresses that “effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security; and stresses women’s participation as essential to any prevention and protection response…”

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, addressed the council, particularly emphasizing that it is still largely “cost-free” to rape a woman, child or man in conflict.  Actress and activist Angelina Jolie, the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also spoke, observing “That it is a crime to rape young children is not something I imagine anyone in this room would not be able to agree on,” but that the UN Security Council needed to take the lead in creating political will across the globe to end sexual violence.

To check out a full report on Resolution 2106’s passage, click here.

Rosina Scott-Fyfe is a graduate from Otago University in New Zealand, and part of the Student Christian Movement Aotearoa. She is part of the World Student Christian Federation delegation to the UNCSW57. Written March 11, 2013.


“When we are aware of our inner resources and use them, they help us to be resilient and assertive. It’s when we disconnect from ourselves and react to the world around us that we can become violent. By involving both men and women in this process real sustainable change can occur” –Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University


“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James 2:14-17 (NIV)

I begin with these two quotes because they articulate why I am here: to use my faith to take real action; to use my faith to bring about real transformation in the communities I am a part of; to see the connections between myself and others, globally and locally, and to use my own personal voice to advocate for those who have less. To be part of the transformation of attitudes.

Today I attended three parallel events which moved me and connected to my work in different ways. The first, entitled “Both Men and Women using their inner resources to bring change: relearning peace” and run by Brahma Kumaris, reflected on how we need to draw on our own “inner resources”- what some of us might label God, the Spirit- before we can make meaningful change. We had the honour of hearing from four inspirational panelists- Carl Murrel, Denise Scotto, Luis Mora and Gayatri Naraine, who shared with us through story and experience a richness of ideas. What resonated with me was the idea that we need to go beyond engagement and aim for transformation and elevated conciousness of our communities. And as Gayatri expressed, women we have a pivotal role of healing and transformation; although at our core, our soul does not have a gender, we were born into this body and onto this planet and it is up to every one of us to use our power for justice and peace. The most important tool is ourselves.

So what does this look like? What is the physical manifestation of this inspiration? It’s all very well talking about peace but we need to put it into action. What the actions look like will be different and will depend on our cultural context but they need aspects of innovation and creativity. The second event I attended looked at Primary Prevention tools- stopping violence before it happens, and was presented by Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA). A 15 page toolkit created by AWAVA is available free online here.

I like the idea of primary prevention because it is all about changing attitudes, and addresses the underlying causes of violence. It ties in to our desire to belong. If our assumptions are that humans are innately violent, and if this is the way things roll in our communities, this idea is perpetuated through action. And the inverse is true: if we believe that humans are innately peaceful, and this is the belief of our community, this belief will be lived out.

Nothing could be more important in the eliminations and prevention of violence against women and girls than the involvement of men and boys. The third workshop I went to today was so inspirational, and the room was packed. We heard stories from men working with men and boys on attitudinal change to hold the conversations about violence against women. Part of this is just planting the idea. It is about providing a new lens through which to look at these issues, because they are not just women’s issues: they are men’s issues too because while most men are not the perpetrators, most of the perpetrators against women are men, and, as the panelists shared, we cannot tell by looking at a man what his attitude will be. Men are also victims and survivors of this same violence, perpetuated by assumptions about gender. Some of the key messages from this powerful event were that we do not need a society that “protects” women, we need a society that respects women; and that men can be strong without the use of violence. Fathers and positive male rolemodels have a key role through the messages they give their sons. And a quote I found particularly inspiring, from Q Cochlin from Brooklyn’s Connect programme: “In doing this work, I become a human being”.

Within the midst of this presentation, a conflict arose where a member of the audience spoke out about wanting time to ask questions, felt he was being lectured to, and was quite derogatory to the moderators of the event. I greatly admired the way in which the moderators handled the situation- not reacting, which would be the easiest thing to do, but treating the man who offered the comment with respect but also respecting the time and knowledge of the panelist who were there. It was a ‘wow’ moment for me, seeing this man really practice what he was preaching, using non-violence to proactively negotiate a conflict. I think that this is something all of us can learn from.

So in reflection, our attitudes are how we live out our lives. To live our lives truthfully, we need to put into action the values we are promoting: faith and action is inextricably linked. These ideas are not new to any of us, but I think it is worth taking some time to reflect on.


“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” – Romans 12:2 (KJV)

A poem by Djamillah Samad, National Executive of Church Women United:

imagesee me in no shoes, my feet bare upon the ground,
see me in no shoes barely free from a war of states, they say we are free now
but, see me in no shoes, what does freedom mean?

see me in these shoes, shoes big and broken, not really made for me
see me in these shoes walking roads dark and troubled, in a marriage not meant to be,
see me in a union of race mixing and identities stolen.

see me standing in these shoes, wife of a mill owner, I’m  often denied by him in public,
see me compelled by color, class, and gender, pushed to say so little,

see me in these shoes, brand new for this occasion, never worn before,
listen as my youngest girl is crying by my grave, watch her put her own shoes on,
now, watch the slowness of her walk, her life is rapidly changing,
see her sadness in a few years as her daddy’s mills go sold to others  because I am gone on home.

see me in these shoes, shoes not very new
see me in these shoes owned by another little girl whose story, life and access so different than my own,
see the shoes they passed along to a girl who has no mother.

see me in these shoes, I’m not even 14, standing frightened at the porch door,
telling that ole sheriff that my daddy is not here,
see me now in just one shoe, the other lost in the struggle for my life,
make this man leave me alone, I fight in fear, I cry, I fail.
see me hold my other shoe, rocking and crying all alone,
I know my daddy could not have defended me, he’s almost as powerless as me.

see me in these shoes,  I feel I must leave home,
see me riding this train looking for work up north,
see me in my work shoes, maid to a woman who’s not much better off than me, I hear her sobs at night grieving a life gone south.

see me in these shoes, holding out my hand for my pay, we both knowing she pays me less than is my worth,
now see me in the shadows watching her as she steals it back,
she knows I can’t say a word, I know that she can’t either.

see me in these shoes now new and shiny but leaving once again,
see me in these shoes, years later walking on other streets,

see me say I do for a second time, I don’t really love him, it’s safe.
see me in these slippers staring at this child, too tired to read or hold her, I’ll just buy her a toy, tell her to sleep,
see me in these shoes, no one knows which ones I have on.
see my daughter stare at me in my repose, few words were exchanged these last few years, now in my death it is far too late.

see me in these shoes, running for the bus
this is not the first time my eye has been blackened and screams gone unheard,
I just know the next time will be different.

see me mother these children, they’ve aged before my eyes, look, as the years just whiz right by,
But, see them stop talking, is it them, or is it me, not opening up, never admitting they are hurting too,
see them wearing their own shoes, I wonder how much they hide.

see me in your shoes mommy, they’re  so pretty, heels so high.
see me in your shoes, so big upon my six year old feet.
see me in your shoes mommy, walking down our street,
see me walking in your footsteps, will I be just like you?

by Rochelle Rawls-Shaw

Presbyterians from the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand prepared to lead this morning’s Ecumenical Women (EW)’s worship service at the 57th Session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) for over a month.

As we met and got to know each other on conference calls, we shared our nicknames and their origins; we identified our special talents (or talents we wished we had). We shared what friends or family would say to describe us to a complete stranger. Our conversations were a great beginning for a group of women who were blessed and being used to bless others who would gather together for worship.

IMG_0255The EW worship committee who assigned each organization a scripture passage associated with women in the bible and guidelines for worship services during CSW. We received the story of the woman caught in adultery – John 8:2-11. This story became the focus of our liturgy. Exploring the story, we  began to experience the Divine Momentum leading us.

The momentum built when we were introduced to Pamela Tankersley from Presbyterian Women of Aotearoa New Zealand. She had prepared a liturgy for International Women’s Day (March 8) based on our scripture and in remembrance of the brutal gang rape that occurred in India on December 16, 2012. She entitled the liturgy, “Laying down the Stones.”

The momentum continued to build as planning members suggestions to the liturgy. A prayer of invocation was added to the call to worship and assignments made to the various parts. Our team included talented singers who would lead congregational songs and a soloist who would sing “Safe Within Your Arms.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn for the service: “Christ Would Not Cast the Judgment Stone.”

We planned that the worship service would involve people who were not even present at the Church Center for the United Nations. Planning team members were invited to bring at least 15-20 stones with them to New York. A planning team member from Puerto Rico had members of her congregation bring stones to church that she brought to CSW.

This morning dawned and we made our final plans. We placed larger stones around the communion table and gathered the stones brought by the planning team members into baskets. As worshippers entered the chapel, each received a stone.

There was something about the stones.

A single red candle was lit. The service began. I strongly felt the Divine Presence.

IMG_0403After scripture had been read, songs had been sung, and words had been said, the worshipping community was invited to bring forth their stones and put them down around the table as symbols to remember the violence that our sisters have endured, to express our intention to put aside our complicity in that violence and to renew

Reflecting on the service, Laetitia Wells observed, “As the women brought their various stones to the table, I was moved during worship when I heard the loud sound of the stones hitting the table. Symbolically I felt that WE were taking a definitive STAND against violence against women and girls. Hearing the loud sound of the stones allowed me to think that we were eradicating the horrors that come with violence against women.” Jill Bolander Cohen commented, “This was a deeply spiritual and moving experience. It was really something watching women and men lay down stones which seemed to release something–something that weighed them down.” Jaime Staehle said, “Working together with women from all generations, walks of life, and places in the world was quite meaningful and really helped the theme of the service blossom.”

There was something about the stones–something special about being able to release some things that have burdened us all our lives. The Divine Momentum presented the opportunity for us to release them during our worship here today. Thanks be to God!

Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne

Nearing the end of our first amazing day of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, we absolutely needed to post the following video of a powerful worship experience we had as Ecumenical Women this past Saturday evening.

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.

Photo credit: UN Women/Felix Eldridge

Hi everyone, with only 3 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.

Today we’re posting a link to a powerful story from Kenya that was recently shared by UN Women.  In the run-up to Kenyan national elections on 4 March, students at the Kinyanjui Road Primary School in Kawangware have been participating in an interactive series of plays addressing domestic violence.  Here’s an excerpt from the story:

As the play unfolds, the 700-strong audience is packed into the school auditorium, some leaning in through doors and windows to catch a glimpse of the play. They are captivated. The children in white and blue uniforms wince in collective unison at the violence being portrayed on the stage before them then cheer together as justice is served.

You can check out the story in it’s entirety here: “As elections approach, school kids cast their vote against violence in Kenya.”  The work done at Kinyanjui Road Primary School provides a great example of how we can build societies where violence against girls and women is not acceptable.

Ecumenical Women will be working throughout CSW57 to support the creation of such societies.  See you soon!

Hi everyone, with only 4 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.

Boys and men play an important role in eliminating all forms of violence against girls and women.  Furthermore, we know that violence against girls and women hurts boys and men as well.  With those facts in mind, today we post The Man Prayer,” a short film by Tony Stroebel with words by Eve Ensler.  It provides a powerful example of what it means to develop a positive sense of masculinity.  Thanks so much, and we look forward to seeing you at CSW57!

Hi everyone, with only 5 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.

Today’s post is an amazing video from PreciiousSiikh, a young vlogger from Canada we recently began following on YouTube.  Through word, image and music, PreciiousSiikh presents a powerful message about why we need to eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women.


Hi everyone, with only 6 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.

Today’s post is from The Episcopal Cafe, a website “where Episcopalians and those interested in our church can read, watch, listen and reflect upon contemporary life in a context informed by faith and animated by the spirit of charity.”

One article on the Episcopal Cafe’s Lead news blog reports on a flash mob that took place at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland on 14 February 2013 as part of the One Billion Rising movement to end violence against girls and women.  Take a minute to watch video footage of this powerful event:

For more information, you can read the article in full here.

EW Web Logo Click here to view Ecumenical Women’s recommendation document to member state governments at CSW57. Our Advocacy Team has been hard at work to make sure each individual recommendation cites previously agreed upon language in a number of UN resolutions.

absolutely amazing post (and a great blog in general about #CSW57)

Observations at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

A friend recently asked me:
I do not know if the intent of the blog is to lead to some concrete action.
If so, then I will start at the root of the problem. “violence against
women” is an anonymous and vague topic.

Do you mean “women against women?”
“men against women?”
“children against women?”
“societal laws limiting women, men, and children?”

If you had to assign different weight to each of these scenarios what will
the criteria be and what will be the corresponding weight?
Good questions to address, so here goes.

First – this issue is definitely a personal one. I hesitated to write because so much came up for me as I thought about my own life experiences, but I decided to share some of the things that happened to me.

I was 8 years old, in second grade. It was late in the summer or…

View original post 1,033 more words

A draft document of agreed conclusions for the CSW57 priority theme, “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls,” was recently posted on the UN’s CSW57 website.  For the full text of the document, click here.  Throughout CSW, Ecumenical Women will work to influence the final form of the agreed conclusions document.  Thanks so much, and we greatly look forward to seeing you at CSW!

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