Anglican delegates attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York have returned home pledging to “change the world“ after what they described as a life-changing event.
The group, drawn from more than 20 countries, said UNCSW61— which focused on women’s economic empowerment – had been “an invaluable experience of spiritual and political benefit to us and to our communities.“
In a statement to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), members of the group said: “We return to our home settings transformed with a new passion, energy and many ideas to pursue gender justice, be it locally or on the international stage…”
They said economic empowerment required women to be included in leadership and decision-making at all levels of society. They added that the ability of women to earn a living wage was critical to their livelihood, independence and ability to provide for their families. Economic empowerment could be facilitated in a number of ways including providing access to quality education, healthcare, finance and trade opportunities.
The statement also urged the ACC to take several actions, including:
- Encouraging provinces to act to ensure the full participation of women and girls in church life;
- Supporting provinces to encourage the full participation of women at all levels of church leadership;
- Raising funds to train women to participate in government and church; and
- Publicly denouncing leaders who are implicitly or explicitly involved in gender-based violence.
The Anglican delegates – plus others from The Episcopal Church and the Mothers’ Union – were among more than 3,900 people at the two-week event in New York. In all, 580 civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations and faith-based bodies were represented.
Hundreds of events ran in parallel alongside the conference. The Anglican Communion organized an event on women of faith and peace-building in South Sudan and a second on Hiroshima as a place of pilgrimage. There was also a presentation from Fereshteh Forough, founder and CEO of Code to Inspire, the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan, on the economic status of Afghan women.
Establishing friendships and building networks is another significant part of the work at UNCSW events. One delegate, Noreen Njovu from Zambia, said the Anglicans had learned a lot from each other.
“We realized that we have almost the same problems and it was interesting to learn how other are trying to solve the problems,” she said. “Every woman and girl has their rights. We know that there are a lot of organizations that can help the woman and girls when they suffer discrimination.”
Sar Kabaw Htoo from Myanmar said she had been inspired and empowered to speak confidently for social justice in her own community.
“The strength we have had for each other while we have been here in New York cannot be taken away,” she said. “There were so many issues around the world but we were all trying to help our neighbours who are in need. And I felt blessed being an Anglican there under the umbrella of the Anglican Communion.”
Terrie Robinson, Anglican Communion director for Women in Church and Society, was positive about the outcome of UNCSW.
“A faith voice ambitious for the equal status of women in society is vital at CSW as well as at sessions of other UN mechanisms,“ she said. “Our Anglican delegates have the dynamic values of their faith as well as grassroots experience and stories to share. In a sense, their presence in the corridors of the UN headquarters is a reminder to UN member state negotiators that we want to see an agenda for women and girls that is moving forward – and that we will call them to account.“
Robinson noted that “the Agreed Conclusions negotiated during this year’s session have now been published and will serve to shape policy, legislation and action for women’s economic empowerment around the world.“They include recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies, civil society and other stakeholders, for implementation at international and local levels, she said.
However, she said, “agreed conclusions on paper won’t change much. We now have to work faithfully and persistently to ensure that such good intentions enter into the consciousness of our nations and communities and make a difference there.“