Anglican women gather in New York for 54th annual UNCSW

Published March 3, 2010

Thousands of women from around the world, including more than 90 representing the Anglican Communion, will gather in New York March 1-12 for the 54th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women to undertake a 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The CSW is the oldest U.N. standing commission. It meets annually to examine a different theme as it relates to gender equity — global poverty, economics, peacekeeping, human rights, etc. — from the lens of the most vulnerable and exploited communities, mostly women and children, said Alessandra Peña, a consultant for the Anglican United Nations Thematic Working Group on Women’s Right and Empowerment.

“This year is a review year … there was a five-year review in 2000 and a 10-year review in 2005,” she said. “Beijing (is important) because it is still considered the most comprehensive platform on issues of gender equity … the MDGs were informed by the Beijing platform.”

In September 1995, the U.N. convened the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, which focused on action for equality, development and peace and during which 189 U.N. member governments adopted the declaration and platform for action. The 12 critical issues included in the platform influenced the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000.

Anglican Observer at the United Nations Hellen Wangusa and her office coordinate the commission’s Episcopal-Anglican delegation. Prior to the commission meeting, delegates were asked to familiarize themselves with the overall objectives of the Beijing platform and the MDGs; to deepen their understanding of the Anglican theological perspective on the issues raised in the platform; and to select one of the platform’s critical issue and write a five- to seven-page report documenting the advances and obstacles to implementation in the delegate’s home country. This was to prepare the delegates to make reports and answer questions in meetings with U.N. bodies, NGOs and church officials, and to advocate effectively with their national government’s representatives. 

“When we bring women, we are using our voice as a critical resource. Critical in the sense that it brings persons from all over the globe, and being the largest women’s delegation, and most comprehensive, we believe that the impact is going to be very visible, and is going to be very useful,” said Wangusa, in an interview at her office in the Episcopal Church Center. “We are using the same voice to raise critical challenges; they have to do with the conceptual development of what we have been using as tools to advocate for women’s empowerment, women’s issues, girls’ issues …”

Deroe A. Weeks of the Episcopal Church of Liberia focused her country’s report on universal access to primary education for girls. Girls’ enrollment has increased in her country as attitudes and policies toward “traditional schools” – a barrier to education – have changed, she said.

It used to be, Weeks said, that girls would be taken out of primary schools and enrolled in traditional schools that teach them how to be better wives and mothers. As a result of Liberia’s National Girls’ Education Policy, enacted in 2006 by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration, girls can attend traditional schools only during regular school breaks.  

Attitudes toward traditional schools vary countrywide and tend to be more favorable in rural areas; the practice of female genital mutilation, which is associated with traditional schools, is also addressed by the change in girls’ educational policy, she added.

Weeks is a member of Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, and works with the Children’s Assistance Program, an NGO that educates youth and adolescent girls about sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. She attended the 2000 Beijing conference, she said. 
Alice Garrick, of the Diocese of Lahore, Pakistan, focused her report on the education and training of women.

“If women are educated, skilled and trained, they can deal with life,” she said, adding that she speaks of her experience in Pakistan, where fundamentalists rule over government and society. “If they are not, it is hard to deal with a male-dominated society.”

Since 1995, Garrick said, the diocese has used the Beijing platform as a basis for addressing and discussing social taboos such as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS awareness, child abuse and the rehabilitation of home-based female sex workers.

Garrick coordinates four programs in the Lahore diocese that help women and children.

“Social harmony within families, society and the church is an outcome of educating women,” Garrick said.

Both Weeks and Garrick attended an opening Eucharist and luncheon for CSW delegates at the church center Feb. 26.

The UNCSW meets once a year for eight working days; participants include representatives of its 45 member states, observers from other U.N. member states and non-member states (the U.N. currently has 192 member states), representatives of U.N. organizations, intergovernmental, governmental, and non-governmental organizations.

— Lynette Wilson is a reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service


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