Anglican, Episcopal women forge new relationships at UN women's meetings

March 12, 2010

For two Episcopal Church women, attending parts of the 54th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women March 1-12 put the local and the global into sharp focus.

The sessions also reinforced for them the scope of work ahead for people of faith, said Marge Christie of Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Karen Longenecker of San Diego, California.

Both were part of the delegations of Episcopalians and Anglicans who participated in the meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, at the nearby Episcopal Church Center and at other locations in Manhattan.

"The issues are universal -- maybe not in the communities that you and I live in, but we can find places in the U.S. that are just as bad as the backwoods of Uganda or Burundi or wherever," Christie said.

Yet, she said, "it's much harder to move a country like the United States -- the country itself. The best we can really do is work in our church, in our diocese, maybe our states."

Longenecker, a co-convener of the Episcopal Church's young adult delegation to the meeting, said "the delegation left the UNCSW with the hope of bringing the work being done across the world and presented at the United Nations to their local communities."

She reflects on her experience here.

"For all of the delegates, we came home inspired to have experienced the relationship between our church, global politics, social justice and our faith," Longenecker said. "Through this relationship and through our relationships with each other, change is transformative and equity in the world not just a hope, it is the agenda."

The CSW is the oldest U.N. standing commission. It meets annually to examine a different theme as it relates to gender equity. The 2010 UNCSW meeting's main work centered on a 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action. The 15-year appraisal is not yet available. The UNCSW's five-year assessment (done in 2000) can be found here and the 10-year assessment from 2005 is here.

A summary of progress is available here in a background piece released before the meeting began. Pre-meeting reports from across the world are here.

In other work, the UNCSW passed six resolutions on a range of issues concerning gender equality and women’s empowerment, and the approval of one text, by recorded vote, on Palestinian women, to be sent to the UN's Economic and Social Council for adoption.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton addressed the gathering on its last day, saying that "as hard as we have worked in the last 15 years" since Beijing, there is still much more work to be done.

"We must declare with one voice that women's progress is human progress," she said, adding that "the suffering of women and the instability of a nation go hand-in-hand."

"Women are powerful forces for any country's economic growth and social progress, so our development strategies must reflect their roles and the benefits they bring," she said.

Video and text of Clinton's remarks are posted here.

Christie, who has attended nine annual UNCSW meetings, said that "looking at those 12 issues of the basic Beijing platform and realizing how much work there is to do" can feel daunting until one refines one's focus. "I think one of the basic bottom-line issues for people like me is, how do we get this message across to the men of our church?" she said.

The basic message, she said, is that "life isn't good for lots of women."

Another valuable part of the delegates' time in New York was the chance to form new, and often intergenerational, relationships across the Anglican Communion, said both Christie and Longenecker. Anglican Women's Empowerment, founded in 2003 by Phoebe Griswold (wife of then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold), has been instrumental in creating a strong Anglican-Episcopal presence at the UN gatherings.

There are "so many learnings" when Anglican women can sit together and tell their stories, Christie said. "All your stereotypes get shot away" and "all those statistics mean so much more when you're face-to-face in conversation," she added.

Christie said she urged all of the Anglican and Episcopal delegates to bring their granddaughters to the 2011 gathering. The younger women present at this year's meeting, including her granddaughter, Caroline Christie, learned "far beyond what we knew at their age," she said.

Longenecker said that she also experienced the value of that intergenerational connection.

"In order to continue the work of the Beijing Platform, it is necessary to partner with and learn from those who have gone before us, the women who were in Beijing and have been working ever since," she said. "If we are to continue with this work, we must learn from those before us in order to educate those after us."

Other documents and statements released during the UNCSW gathering are here. Archived webcasts of some sessions are available here.