( L to R) Anglicans Roselind Halder, Bangladesh; JoAnn Todd, Canada; Claudette Kigeme, Burundi; and June Nderitu, Kenya, prepare a statement at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York. Photo: Canon Alice Medcof
Anglican women and men representing 17 provinces of the Anglican Communion have urged U.N. member states to address the plight of rural women who lack access to food security, clean water and sanitation, affordable healthcare and education.
About 80 Anglicans engaged with the U.N.’s 56th Commission on the Status of Women, which met Feb. 27 to March 9, at the UN Headquarters in New York.
The delegation included seven Canadian Anglicans from the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN).
In a statement released at the end of the meeting, the Anglicans delegation noted that rural women account for one quarter (1.7 billion) of the world’s population of 7 billion. One half billion of rural women are smallholder farmers.
The Anglican delegation stressed the importance of empowering all women through education, entitlement to land ownership and inheritance rights and access to resources, such as financing, markets for their products and transportation. “It must be said that these issues affect not only rural women and girls in developing countries but also the rural poor and indigenous women and girls in developed countries,” they said in their statement.
In her opening address, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said supporting rural women is “fundamental to ending poverty and hunger and achieving peace and development that is sustainable.”
The recent uprisings in the Arab world have demonstrated the need to reduce inequality, said Bachelet. “We need to urgently and systematically open up participation, opportunity and choices for all human beings, women and men, young and old,” she said. “This is particularly important for rural women and girls who face such high disparities in access to education and other services and cannot reach their potential.”
The Rev. JoAnn Todd, from the Anglican diocese of Huron, spoke about how women in small towns are “increasingly isolated” with little access to services such as transportation, health care and counseling. Todd, who is a sheep farmer, represented North America and Europe at a panel discussion sponsored by various U.N. groups.
Activists from Africa and Latin America discussed how the sale of forested lands has forced many rural families to migrate to cities where they end up among the urban poor. This situation often makes women more vulnerable to various forms of violence, said a U.N. Women report.
In an interview, Canon Alice Medcof, IAWN coordinator for Canada, said many delegations have expressed their disappointment that the meeting failed to arrive at “agreed conclusions” that traditionally mark the end of the Commission’s session. There were two to three unnamed countries that questioned the phrase “gender equality,” said Canon Medcof, who also attended the meeting.
Bachelet has expressed the hope that this would not mean that “member states are not ready to do what still needs to be done” to address women’s human rights.
A youth representative, Caitlin Reilley Beck, from diocese of Ottawa, said the lack of consensus left her “very frustrated at the seeming immovability of large, powerful institutions.”
In a written reflection, Beck, who attended the meeting for the first time, noted that young people are “significantly under-represented” in the delegation. She urged the church to begin a bursary fund to enable them to participate. She described the experience of meeting rural women as “energizing and inspiring.”
Todd also wrote a reflection, saying that hearing about the stories of women in the developing world “reinforced that we in developed countries must take a more active role in supporting women and girls around the globe.”
The Canadian Anglican delegation also included: Judy Dickson, the Rev. Penelope Lewis, Mary Elizabeth Loweth, and Emanuela Mousley, all from the diocese of Toronto.
The other members of the Anglican delegation came from the provinces of Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Korea, New Zealand, North India, Pakistan, Philippines, Scotland, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom and United States.