Sunday, March 22, 2015

Early Morning Reflection

I am looking at a photograph of a Siberian family. Everyone is wearing the equivalent of big, puffy parkas with hoods. The mother has a colorful floral printed scarf over her head. She is pouring steaming hot tea for the children, who appear to be between the ages of 2 and 7 or 8. I am struck by how in their circumstance, a cup of tea is more than just a hot beverage. It may very well be a meal – butter tea, where the main ingredient is butter, meant to supply the calories needed to survive in the cold that surrounds them.

What a cup of tea, indeed!

I sit in the early dawn in my hotel room, bundled up in nightgown and outside jacket, trying to stay warm. Maybe I should crawl back into bed for another hour, before I have to get up and go to my last day of meetings. Afterwards, when we adjourn around lunchtime, I will make my way to the airport and fly home. I’ve been on the road for 21 days, which is unusual for me. The conflation of meetings just worked out that way.

Believe me, I don’t mean to imply I’m any kind of important or anything like that. I’m not important. I’m tired. And I miss my family and my cat.

One of the ways in which my church, the Episcopal Church, does its business and its ministry is that we gather together in groups for meetings, trainings, and workshops to discuss, debate, imagine, plan, agree, disagree, and decide. In the final analysis, it’s the relationship building and nurturing that makes the gathering in person so vital and generative.

When we see each other and hear the stories of what has happened in our lives in the intervening months when we have been apart, we feel connected again. It’s as if no time has passed.

When we hear of the passages that some of our friends and family have made, we are struck by the commonality of those experiences and we are saddened by our friends’ losses. There really aren’t any adequate words to say what we feel about another’s loss. Saying I’m sorry for your loss doesn’t take away its sting or the hole inside you that won’t be filled again.

In the midst of the disagreements and judgments that we make about each other’s motivation, intelligence, and integrity, we also reveal our own motives, wits, and sincerity. I am reminded of the wisdom of the thought that we each do the best we can with what gifts we have. And sometimes, we are lucky enough to have things turn out well in spite of our mucking things up.

You can accuse me of walking in a dream or being a Pollyanna, but I assert that I will always choose to believe the best of you and hope that you will believe the best of me. The burden of believing the worst of you is just too great to carry in my heart. My hope is that my belief in your good intentions will lift you up and cause you to lift yourself up to do more and to do better. That’s the version of parenting and that’s the version of relationship that I aspire to.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A View from Inside: Some thoughts on UNCSW59

A View from Inside . . . What do I mean by that? There was a time some five decades ago when I was a teenage girl in inner city Detroit, Michigan, longing to do something that mattered, longing to be someone who mattered to more than just my immediate family and friends. 
March 13th - the Interngenerational Dialogue from 9:30-6:00 in the 
ECOSOC Chamber. Some 700 people were able to attend the 
Today, I sit in many places of privilege and "importance." The privilege I sit in is exemplified by invitations to give my opinions on camera and in print and to attend receptions where pretty, but not terribly nourishing, food is served and I get to shake hands with other people like me. 

"Importance" is a self-claimed misnomer. After all, according to God whom I worship and serve, we are all equally beloved in God's sight. Important is the meaning we assign to gatherings where we talk about our work and lift it up so others can be influenced to participate. Important is what we must feel if we are eagerly and willingly to continue to do the work that has no end in sight and gets beleaguered in the same way over and over. 

So, why do I do it? Why does anyone do it? 

For me, the answer is that I still believe in the possibility of change and transformation. I still believe that good will prevail over evil. I still believe that there is a core of goodness in humankind - the God Spirit, if you will - that propels us to make life better on earth for all humans. And I still believe that I, in my own small way, can influence that change and transformation to keep on coming towards us. I still believe that my witness to one woman or girl can spark an interest that will grow into a flame of passion that will spark still others. 

Here are some insights from the first week of the United Nations' 59th annual Commission on the Status of Women's gathering in New York City.
This photo exhibition was at the U.N. while
UNCSW59 was taking place. So apropos.

Implementation has been weak.  What an understatement repeated by several of the leaders of UN Women about the status of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action! Most of the signatory nations have enacted legislation to support the Platform for Action. But there is a wide gap between the optics of gender equality legislation and enforcement of those same laws. There is an even wider gap between the legislation and the culture of those nations that remain entrenched in patriarchal systems. Cultural change is the hardest change of all to effect. It tends to happen slowly, in terms of generational time rather than instants in time. We need revolution, not evolution, when it comes to cultural change. 

"When people are busy, that does not mean they are making progress." The truth is that so long as there is an economic and class benefit to men in power to protect the existing patriarchal systems, very little will change. Constant motion around clamoring for change will not necessarily make change happen. Women's hope lies in changing the hearts and minds of boys and girls as they are growing up to see a different choice than patriarchy and to make that choice in how they live as adults. Education beyond the primary level is imperative to lift up the lives of girls worldwide. Educated girls become empowered women. Educated girls develop self-agency that allows them to make choices as adults and to find their own ways towards post-secondary educations, self-supporting jobs, and delayed choices to marry and bear children. 

Stereotypes are our enemy. When anyone has privilege, it is difficult for them to see stereotypes. Instead, they tend to see a status quo which is comforting and satisfying to them. The stereotypes of what a typical girl and a typical women should look and behave like, trap girls and women into roles that have been normalized at a sub-par level. We have normalized the 80%-20% stereotyped levels of girls and women as servers and caregivers versus the 50%-50% level of girls and women being equal, having equal opportunity and equal agency, in society with boys and men. 

Unequal pay, that is, lesser pay for women doing the same jobs as men, means relegating women to remain poor and unable to rise above their poverty. Worst yet is that women do tremendous amounts of work required by many societies -- such as walking miles to carry water home to their families, working hard scrabble dirt farms, and bearing and raising children and caring for the elderly -- without any sort of recompense, much less recognition. The unpaid labor of women contributes to the functioning of all societies, but that same unpaid labor does not contribute to the women's own livelihoods when they are abandoned or widowed. A statistic offered by a UNCSW59 speaker from the World Economic Forum "suggests we’ll have to wait 81 years for gender parity in the workplace." We'll all be dead by then. We can't wait that long.
Soon-Young Yoon, Chair of the International Alliance of Women.
We saw many of the speakers this way, on jumbo screens from a 
distance. It was noted that allowances were missing for women
with disabilities, such as deafness (no sign language interpreters)
and mobility (many stairs with no ramps and spaces for wheelchairs).

Affirmative Action for Women. We have lived in a world that has had Affirmative Action for men for millennia. It's now time for Affirmative Action for women. It is only by paying attention and spending our resources on women that we will level the world playground for women and girls. It is time to favor funding to equalize the gender equality gap. It is time to front-load resources to promote and encourage girls' education and women's economic opportunities in obtaining jobs and becoming entrepreneurs. The fact is, that women, who are used to being at the bottom of the ladder, have a greater tolerance for risk-taking and innovation, because we have historically had so little to lose. Fear of loss is the great inhibitor to innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. Who better than women to take those risks and achieve the unexpected rewards? Women will bring their sisters along with them.
One of many signs created by young women at UNCSW59.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, raises three foci that are critical to overcoming the thus-far, collective failure of the nations signatory to the Beijing Platform for Action:

  • Unrelenting Political Commitment. We must keep talking the talk and holding our statesmen and stateswomen accountable for keeping their attention focused.
  • Investment in Gender Equality. We must lobby for and hold accountable our government and business leaders to expend resources specifically for the purposes of achieving gender equality whether it is in providing more subsidized educational slots for girls, more business incubators directed towards women, or more industrial internships to attract girls and women. 
  • Strengthen Civil Society. Civil society refers to the numerous non-governmental organizations in every country that aim to do social good and to develop stronger communities. For many NGOs, small amounts of grant monies make big differences, because these NGOs are creative and nimble. Not only do these NGOs need additional resources, but they also need additional outlets where their voices can be not just heard, but listened to; where their messages are not just shared, but adopted and acted upon.
More in blogs to follow! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

UNCSW59 -- Step it Up for Women's Equality

Hello, Everyone! I've fallen behind in blogging all the wonderful things and people I've seen and heard while here at the United Nations 59th Annual Conference on the Status of Women. Being here is a lot like being at the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention: many long days filled with uplifting worship, great speakers and panelists, meaningful Q&As and conversation, and meeting interesting people from around the world who have something to say for themselves and their communities and who want to influence the conversations here at the U.N. and back home. And like General Convention, there are caucuses for the various groups who have traveled together and evening debriefs to check in on everyone's day and plans for the next days.

For someone who has been a feminist since my teen years in the mid-60's, this conference feels like a great, big women's rally where sisterhood is palpable. In fact, check out some news coverage on the march and rally that were held in conjunction with UNCSW on Sunday, March 8, International Women's Day here and images from the events here. And we get to experience it in the glorious halls of the United Nations. As a teen, I visited the U.N. each time I came to New York and New Jersey to visit relatives. I would take the visitors' tour in English or in French and imagine myself walking these halls as someone who belonged here. Now, five decades later, here I am! I belong here, and so do all the other women and men who have come to UNCSW59.

The conference is both a review and an update of the CSW held in Beijing in 1995 when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted. That Platform for Action is one of the major influencers for the Millennium Development Goals which expire this September. It is anticipated that a new set of Millennium Sustainable Goals will be promulgated in September.
This is the handbook for the over 
450 parallel events put on by 
"Civil Society," which refers to 
all the Non-Governmental 
Organizations supporting the
work of UN Women.

In terms of themes, the overarching themes are gender equality for women and women's empowerment. In specific, I have noticed a large emphasis on human trafficking and especially sex trafficking of women and girls and lifting up the voices, perspectives, and contributions of young women, including LGBTQI women. (Did you know that something upwards of 20 to 30 Million - yes, that's right, 20-30 Million - women, girls, and boys are sex trafficked? Sex trafficking operates in the Deep Web or Grey Web, the hidden part of the Internet that accounts for 90% of Web traffic where illegal, unsavory transactions are made and sex slaves are bought and sold. See here and here for more information about sex trafficking.)

The speakers from various countries have been both self-congratulatory as to the advancements in gender equality that they claim and also confessional in lamenting the lack of progress in their countries. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of U.N. Women, in a couple of opening remarks in different settings, noted that not a single U.N. member nation has achieved all of the items on Platform for Action to date. That does not mean that progress has not been made, but it is incremental and deadly slow.
Phumzile Mlamba-Ngcuka

I chose the word "deadly" purposefully, because lack of gender equality can, in fact, be deadly for women in developing countries. It is a fact that women are the farmers, child bearers and raisers, caretakers of the farm animals (if any), and food and water gatherers. Doing all of this work without benefit of vehicles, whether self-propelled or gas-propelled, amidst harsh drought conditions and armed conflict is deadly for the women. Their bodies soon wear out even if their spirits remain rooted in the hope of a better future for their children.

Lack of gender equality for these women means that they don't qualify for the small grants that might be available to help a local farmer and don't get consideration for the few slots in the educational system to gain something beyond a primary education. Lack of gender equality also means that girls are often married off in their early teens, because their families make the choice to feed and raise the boys while gaining a dowry for marrying off their young daughters. One of the cultural paradigm shifts that must happen, especially in countries with rigid and enforced patriarchal systems, is to move to a culture that values girl children as gifts from the Creator who have the potential, with education and nurture, to make a valuable contribution to their societies.

Thus, U.N. Women has created a new nations' initiative. "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality" is a call for nations to commit to doing the things necessary to move towards gender equality by 2030. Presumably, signatory nations will be signing on not only for the prestige and optics of being a signatory, but also as being sincerely committed to changes in legislation, elections, governmental appointments, and tax and subsidy programs to give women the equality that we deserve by virtue of our humanity. As many of the speakers from the podiums have pointed out over the past few days, women's rights are human rights. Women just want to have the same human rights as men do.

I will be posting about what some of the speakers have addressed in a future blog in order to share with you memorable thoughts too good not to share. Stay tuned!

Third Day at UNCSW59 - March 9, 2015

I'm a little behind in posting to the blog about UNCSW59. Each day is packed, beginning with ecumenical worship at the U.N. Church Center, about 5 blocks from our hotel, and ending with a debrief from 6:00-8:00 PM in the Episcopal Church Center, sometimes just the Episcopal Church delegation and sometimes with the women from Anglican Women's Empowerment. During the day the delegation spreads out, attending hearings at the U.N. and parallel events in several other venues. There is a lot of walking and talking together. Everyone is friendly, and we easily greet women from other parts of the world with smiles, "Hi, How are you," and "Can I help take your picture for you?"

Bishop Chilton Knudsen preaching at the Opening Eucharist

The Episcopal Church's delegation with Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori after the opening Eucharist

Digna de la Cruz (Dominican Republic), Coromoto Jimenez (Venezuela), Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Vaike Madisson (Honduras), and Connie Sanchez (Honduras)
Helen Abyei (Colorado), Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Joan Fraser (Provincial Representative from Long Island), and Lelanda Lee (Colorado)
Christina Hing and Inez Saley from the Diocese of New York, part of the Anglican Women's Empowerment host group, organizing snacks and meals during some of our ecumenical gatherings in the Episcopal Church Center's mezzanine gathering space. These women are long-time attendees at UNCSW over the years.

Ginny Doctor and Lelanda Lee. It was great to greet Canon Ginny, from the Mohawk tribe, who is the coordinator of Indigenous Ministries for the Anglican Church in Canada.  
Stacy Walker-Frontjes, a fellow blogger and Tweeter on the Episcopal Church's delegation.

Shirley Greiman, National Vice President for Program of the Episcopal Church Women, and Barbara Schafter, member of the Episcopal Church delegation and President of the United Thank Offering. 

Joan Grimm Fraser making some comments during a conversation in the Mezzanine space.

Gawain de Leeuw (Diocese of New York) and our only male delegate with Stacy Walker-Frontjes. Gawain serves on the board of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and cares deeply about reproductive rights for women, which is a major issue in gender equality and empowerment of women and part of the Beijing Platform for Action. 

Glenda McQueen, Episcopal Church Partnership Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. Glenda teams with Lynnaia Main, Global Relations Officer and the church's primary United Nations link, to shepherd all of us, and most especially the Spanish speaking delegates.

Helen Achol Abyei (Colorado) leads us in prayer, using her smart phone. 

Jayce Hafner is the church's Domestic Policy Analyst out of our Washington DC Office of Government Relations. Joyce will be teaching us how to bring the advocacy messages of UNCSW59 home to our dioceses and communities. 

Lelanda Lee and Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church's Chief Operating Officer, in a selfie. Bishop Sauls welcomed the delegation to the Church Center in a session directly after the Opening Eucharist.
Helen Abyei and Joan Fraser.

Lynnaia Main and Barbara Schafer in a casual moment in the kitchen of the Mezzanine gathering space. 

Lynnaia Main making remarks in our evening debrief. She is the guide,  mentor, and leader par excellence of the Episcopal Church's UNCSW59 delegation. And she writes the most beautifully inspiring and informative emails that get posted sometime around 1:45 AM each evening. When does she sleep? Thank you for all that you do, Lynnaia! 

Our only "veteran" of UNCSW, Nellie Adkins (Virginia), representing the Native American cohort on our delegation. This is not her first experience with the women of the world interacting with the United Nations.

Reem Fouad El Far of Jordan gave a presentation in the afternoon on the Diocese of Jerusalem, where she serves on their Vestry Committee focused especially on the women of the diocese. She explained the cultural aspects of women's participation in their region in both society and church. She pointed out that the Christians in the region have been Christians for generations and are not converts from Islam as some people in and outside the region surmise.

A view of the audience during a presentation in the Mezzanine.

And another view . . .

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Second Day at UNCSW59 - March 8, 2015

This is a post devoted primarily to photos with commentary from our second day at the United Nations 59th annual Conference on the Status of Women. Day 2 is actually a pre-conference day, featuring a celebration known as "Consultation Day," hosted by the Ecumenical Women NGO at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. The theater is on West 125th Street, and we traveled from our hotel, the Fitzpatrick Grand Central, located on East 44th Street a block from Grand Central Station, one of the two train stations in New York City. Some of us traveled by subway in a group, and a couple of us arrived by taxi, thus avoiding the stairs down and up from the subway stations.

Apollo Theater in Harlem at 8:00 AM! 

The celebratory spirit of Consultation Day began as we entered the lobby of the Apollo Theater. An all women mariachi band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache, greeted us with joyful music. 
Those who arrived early by taxi got into the theater as it opened close to 9:00 AM. The theater personnel stamped our hands, just like they do for concerts. The audience was overwhelmingly women with a handful of men scattered around the theater. There were a lot of enthusiastic greetings, hugs, and photo-taking.
First up on the program was the Women of the World ensemble, four women from different parts of the world - Italy, India, Japan, and USA/Haiti - who sing songs from various countries in the countries' native languages. Their short medley of songs roused us to our feet to clap and sway with their music.
The program began with a historical perspective. There have been four World Conferences on Women organized by the U.N.: 1975 in Mexico City; 1980 in Copenhagen; 1985 in Nairobi; and 1995 in Beijing. Since Beijing there have been five-year reviews, and 2015 brings us to Beijing+20. To commemorate the four conferences, four women came on stage individually to give a brief reading from the documents of those conferences.
I admire the confidence, poise, and grace of the young women who have found their core values, developed their voices, and claimed their places among the leaders and decision-makers of the world to speak out on issues that matter to them and their sisters and brothers. It gives us who have become elders in our communities great pride and hope that the work of advocating for human rights for all people has been shared forward with our younger generations. It is only through the vision and persistence of all of us hand-in-hand through the generations that equality, justice, and peace will prevail over discrimination, oppression, and violence among humankind and Creation.

The above photo shows the various chapters of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women that have been instrumental in producing Consultation Day this year. There are chapters in a number of geographical areas throughout the world such as the Arab States, Geneva, and New York. 

Keynote speaker Ruchira Gupta is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and activist from India, who founded the NGO Apne Aap. The Hindi phrase "Apne aap" is translated as "Self-empowerment." Gupta was named the Woman of Distinction by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women.

Gupta spoke on how she came to make the film "The Selling of Innocents" about the sex trafficking of low-caste Indian women to brothels in Bihar and India. I've been involved in heightening awareness of human trafficking for a while and began the Facebook Page "Episcopalians Against Human Trafficking" with several other activists, and Gupta's telling of the stories brought me to tears.

Gupta shared an insightful concept: avoid "skimming the top of the bottom." In other words, we must go deeper than just superficial attention to changing the wrongs of society and intentionally focus attention to change the root causes of evils such as sexual human trafficking. We must practice consistent and persistent activism against violence directed at women and girls. Gupta pointed out that one kind of crime is connected to other kinds of crime, and that violence against a woman of low-caste normalizes violence against all. Gupta said, "We can only walk the last mile if we walk with the last girl."

The Beijing+20 panel "Voices from the Regions" brought together women from eight regions of the world and a discussant (respondent) on a panel to bear witness to the progress or lack of progress and current issues and hopes regarding the 12 action foci of the Beijing Platform for Action. These women raised issues such as how class plays a major role in the gaps in benefits (such as access to housing, education, and jobs and freedom from violence) of women living in poverty compared to women with more affluence. They pointed out it is important to ally with women in other movements besides the particular segment of the human rights movement in which you participate. 

Several of the women spoke against religious extremism that is "distilled and exaggerated," which has become a fault line in all people's lives, having the potential to cause serious harmful consequences in many communities. The panelists cited violence against "women human rights defenders (WHRD)" as something that women must rally together to name and combat. They challenged the audience: "Can we defend women human rights defenders in our neighborhoods?" The panelists spoke forcefully against the political use of religion to achieve political purposes, which leads to dividing the people in communities from each other. They cited the need for accountability in connecting local movements with global movements. 

The women closed with some important reminders for all people who care about human rights:
  • Keep the fire burning.
  • With equality, there is no deadline.
  • Who do you want to be equal to?
    Pictured here is Dr. Gertrude Mongella, Former Under-Secretary-General of the Fourth U.N. World Conference on Women. Mongella spoke after another wonderful panel featuring Young Activists joined by Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002). The young activists shared their dreams and hopes for what the world could be like and how the NGOs which they have joined and started are helping to create a more equitable future for all.

    Mongella helped summarize a packed day at the Apollo Theater, rocking with world music and universal messages of hope and renewal for humanity:
    • Have confidence. Instill confidence.
    • Build teams. You can't go it alone.
    • Remember your constituents. Walk alongside them. Invite them to walk with you.
    • Gather evidence. Do the research.
    • Develop trust as you work with institutions and governments in order to build capacity.
    • Maintain multi-level, multi-faceted relationships.

    Sunday, March 8, 2015

    First Day at UNCSW59 - March 7, 2015

    This is a post devoted to photos from my arrival in New York City for the United Nations 59th annual Conference on the Status of Women (UNCSW59) through yesterday, the first day of events with the NGO "Ecumenical Women." I'm a delegate from the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Colorado, and I also serve on the church's Executive Council (its board of directors) as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission. 

    As someone who has focused intently on social justice and public policy issues for the church during my soon-to-end six-year term, being here at UNCSW59 has been "right up my alley," with presentations, panel discussions, and workshops on human rights for women and girls. My intention with this post is to give the wider church a sense of the flavor of being here at UNCSW59.

    I'm with Helen Achol Abyei, also from the Diocese of Colorado. We met up in Denver for an interview that will be published in the diocesan newspaper, The Colorado Episcopalian. Helen is in her native dress from Sudan.

    We arrived at LaGuardia Airport the day after a plane slid off the runway. Air traffic delays kept us on the ground an extra hour before our plane was released to fly. There was still a lot of snow and ice on the ground in New York, and we waited almost an hour in a very long queue for a taxi to take us to our mid-town hotel near the Church Center and the Untied Nations. Luckily, although it was very cold, the wind was not blowing.
    Helen, Julia Ayala Harris from the Diocese of Oklahoma, and I walked over to Grand Central Station on our arrival night to find dinner on a budget in the food court on the lower level.
    The orientation for the NGO Ecumenical Women, of which the Episcopal Church delegation is a member, took place a 9-block walk away at the Salvation Army's site, which included a ground floor chapel and upstairs meeting rooms. Here we are piling into the building for a hosted continental breakfast and a 9:00 AM worship start in the chapel. 
    Some of our delegates before morning worship started: Glenda McQueen, Partnership Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean (R), Vaike Marika Madisson Lopez de Molina from the Diocese of Honduras (L), and Consuelo Sanchez Navarro, also from the Diocese of Honduras (R).
    Joan Grimm Fraser from the Diocese of Long Island, who represents the church as our Provincial Representative in the Anglican Communion's delegation, and I tried a selfie after meeting each other for the first time. It turned out that Joan knows some of the same people I know from the Diocese of Colorado.
    Another selfie:  I connected with Fern Lee Hagedorn from the ELCA Young Adult Cohort, and we chatted about being raised as Chinese American daughters and becoming lay Christian leaders.
    Lynnaia Main, a member of our delegation, is the Global Relations Officer with primary responsibility for the church's United Nations relationship. She is the coordinator for our delegation. 
    Lopa Banerjee, Chief of the Civil Society Section in UN Women, from India, moderated a panel discussion titled "Beijing Then and Now." She reiterated the three focal points that Executive Director Mlambo-Ngcuka cited as necessary to make progress on the Beijing Platform for Action: 1) Unrelenting political commitment; 2) Investment in gender equality; and 3) Strengthened civil society. During the panel discussion, the point was made that gender equality is a shared focus for human rights for all people, not just for women.
    Prior to going to the United Nations Church Center for the afternoon's panel discussions and workshops, several of us stopped at the United Nations to register and obtain our official delegate's badge. One enters through a security building after showing identification and our official registration form. This is the lobby of the United Nations after we went through the separate security screening building.
    Three of the church's delegation were just joining the line to get their U.N. badges:  Grace Aheron from the Diocese of Virginia (L), Hollee Martinez, Diocese of Texas (C), and Jayce Hafner, the church's Domestic Policy Analyst (R).
    The orientation day closed with a worship service filled with intercessory prayer for the global family in the first floor chapel of the UN Church Center. 

    UNCSW59 - Day 1

    Lelanda Lee at the U.N.
    UNCSW59 is the abbreviation for the 59th annual United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (UNCSW) being held in New York City from March 9 to 20. This year, for the first time, the Episcopal Church is participating as an official 20-person delegation, led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The church received official status as a non-governmental agency member of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in May 2014.

    For the Episcopal Church delegation the conference began on March 7th with the Ecumenical Women orientation day filled with vibrant worship led by the United Nations chaplain, the Rev. Dionne Boissière, greetings from UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, panel discussions, and workshops. 

    UNCSW is the principal global intergovernmental organization working on gender equality and empowerment for women. The commission focuses on issues such as including girls in education for all children, eliminating violence against women and girls, improving maternal and childbirth health, and empowering women to achieve political and social leadership roles.

    This year’s UNCSW is particularly significant, because it is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action established in 1995 in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women. Implementing the Beijing Platform for Women is this year’s UNCSW theme. However, as can be seen in a message from Director Mlambo-Ngcuka to “step it up” for gender equality, the world has fallen far short of its lofty goals established two decades ago, and women together with men are called to action to make gender equity a reality.

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
    In September 1995, more than 3,000 people plus representatives from 189 governments, meeting in Beijing, participated in forums and intense discussions about human rights and equality for women and girls worldwide. The Beijing Declaration and Platform arose out of those conversations, covering 12 critical areas:

    1.     Women and Poverty
    2.     Education and Training of Women
    3.     Women and Health
    4.     Violence against Women
    5.     Women and Armed Conflict
    6.     Women and the Economy
    7.     Women in Power and Decision Making
    8.     Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women
    9.     Human Rights of Women
    10. Women and the Media
    11. Women and Environment
    12. The Girl Child

    Look familiar? Those 12 critical areas align with the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were identified by the United Nations in 2000, listed below. The Chinese say, “women hold up half the sky,” and achieving the MDGs relies upon empowering women and girls so that they can contribute fully to improving life in their communities. From our Christian perspective, we are called to respect the dignity of every human being, and it is good stewardship to utilize fully all the resources God has given us.

                Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015)
    1      To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
    2      To achieve universal primary education
    3      To promote gender equality and empower women
    4      To reduce child mortality
    5      To improve maternal health
    6      To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
    7      To ensure environmental sustainability
    8      To develop a global partnership for development

    UNCSW59 offers the opportunity for women from many participating countries to put a human face on the critical issues facing women and girls and to commit together to raise those issues when they return to their home countries and communities.

    I plan to blog and post photos daily from our activities in this blog and to Tweet from @LelandaLee.

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