The Commission on the Status of Women, part of the United Nations Social and Economic Council met in New York recently. The Anglican Consultative Council, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited to the UN, had delegates to the Commission led by Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, who is the official Anglican Observer to the UN on behalf of the ACC. Lack of adequate funding meant that our membership was limited to women from the United States, and only myself from Canada, although invitations had gone to every province in the Anglican Communion. We took every opportunity to connect with other Anglican women who were attending on behalf of other organizations and ecumenical meetings were held daily at the Church Center opposite the UN. As part of the 500 women from non-governmental organizations we attended the discussions by the Commission itself, or took part in any of the 120 side panels and caucus meetings, or we lobbied our own governmental representatives on the Commission. Each of the NGOs wrote position papers to be shared with other NGOs and voting members of the CSW. Our statement recognized violence in many forms:
- War is responsible for poverty, displacement of people, foreign occupation, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, death and destruction;
- Domestic violence (including control by shouting, swearing or diminishing another, physical attacks, stalking and murder);
- Social or cultural violence was defined as caste systems, genital mutilation, indentured labour or sweat shops, lack of access to education and health services including reproductive choice, widow inheritance and spiritual manipulation;
- Trafficking, forced prostitution, rape, slavery and abuse of women and girls.
A major interface occurred when the Commission debated the inclusion of the word “religion” in a statement that tradition, culture, practice or religion could not be used as a tool or reason for imposing any form of violence against women. The U.S. and Iran refused to allow the resolution to pass and by the close of the event, no agreement had been achieved. The Anglican statement specifically named religious institutions in urging the Commission to develop mechanisms for holding all religious institutions accountable for any forms of violence against women. We urged states to dismantle harmful religious and cultural practices by bringing them into line with the international human rights standards. Finally, the Anglican brief recognized the complexity of the many forms of violence against women. It condemned the role that fundamentalism in every faith group has played in perpetuating different forms of violence against them. It urged the governments making up the Commission to create the necessary mechanisms to hold member states accountable for the implementation of UN resolutions to protect women and girls from all forms of violence. Overall the ecumenical group made similar statements within their own denominations as did secular groups, including Voice of Women, Canada. Among the NGO representatives a Kenyan woman stands out in my mind. She had come as a leader of one of the sessions. Her concerns centred on the needs of women in her own country and as we talked, we spoke of our shared faith and commitment to justice as Anglican women. We spoke of the poverty which grips so much of our world and grinds down so many men, women and children. I spoke with her and with others on issues around transnational corporations and the power they wield to create real development or to leave increased poverty in their wake. What impact or influence can the church have with them? During the two weeks of meetings I was invited to meet with an Anglican delegation from West Africa visiting the Episcopal church?s national office and various churches to describe their work and to seek support. I was struck by the number of times that I had spoken with women from other countries who simply hoped to communicate with others from around the world. It opened the way for discussions about the role of the Anglican Communion. Our island home, this planet, is much smaller now than it was even a few years ago and there is now more need to build strong relationships among ourselves. There is much to be hoped for if the International Women’s Network, established by the Anglican Consultative Council becomes a living, breathing vital organ of the whole church. Perhaps the image that brought it all together was that of the chapel in the Episcopal national office. A sign on the street invited people to come in and light a candle for peace. There were many who paused amid the uncertainty of their hurried lives to say a brief and heartfelt prayer. Elizabeth Loweth is the recently retired executive director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Policy and past president of the Anglican Church Women of the diocese of Toronto.