Gender equality still a dream

Anglican women urge action in church and world after attending U.N. commission
March 31, 2006

Nearly 100 women representing the 38 provinces in the Anglican Communion recently participated in the 50th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The U.N. commission meets annually to consider the progress made towards the equality of women in health, education, work and, especially this year, increased participation at all levels of decision-making processes. 

Meeting for two weeks in late February and early March, delegates representing the Anglican Consultative Council were sponsored by Anglican Women’s Empowerment and composed the largest NGO group. Delegates said they came to learn, to be inspired and to return home carrying the commitment to women’s equality in their corners of the church and the world. 

Anglican delegates attended U.N. plenary sessions and high-level roundtable discussions, led caucuses, met with ambassadors, shared stories of horror and hope, worshipped and broke bread together.  They represented the Anglican Communion at its best -- engaged, sharing, listening and open to one another -- and contributed to the work and outcomes of the CSW.

Gender equity discussed

According to social researcher Dr. Karina Batthyány, there is no country in the world where women enjoy the same opportunities as men, especially economically and politically.  Gender equity is far from a reality in a world where nearly 70 percent of the world’s poor are women.  Laws about marriage, divorce, property inheritance, land ownership and access to loans and credits are only some of the areas where women lag behind men in their formal rights.

To help change this situation, the U.N. General Assembly adopted The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women more than 25 years ago.  This international bill of rights for women provides an outline and a mandate for work at both the grassroots and highest levels of government to end such discrimination. 

Members of the Anglican delegation led the United States Caucus, the African Women’s Caucus, a caucus on violence against women and several others. The U.S. Caucus, headed by Marge Christie of Newark diocese, presented a statement to Patricia Brister, U. S. Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women, asking the United States to ratify the convention. 

The ACC delegates also sent an outcome statement to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and to the ACC standing committee.

Poverty, health-care issues

In Burundi, life expectancy is 40 years, said Claudette Kigeme, a delegate from Burundi.  She spoke of the inherent culture, lack of education, poverty and inadequate health care that foster women’s inequality and lack of access to decision-making bodies.

Jocelyn Tengatenga, schools and colleges chaplain for the Diocese of Southern Malawi in Central Africa, told participants in a panel discussion that the church provides 40 percent of the health care in Malawi.  Literacy programs are run by women, although few hold leadership roles in the church and may not be ordained. 

Women are marginalized by social attitudes within the culture and by male-dominated church teachings, she said.  "We are trying to change the teachings and help women to participate in full ministry,” said Tengatenga, the wife of Malawi’s bishop.  “If we train the younger generation, they will grow up with that knowledge and take up leadership roles in the future.

Seek greater parity

In the coffee shop between the conference rooms conversations turned to what is next.  “Let’s have our own conference,” said one woman to passionate head nods from her colleagues.

When delegates return home, there will be an accounting across the communion.  Where do women share equally in helping to lead the church?  How many women are on the vestry, the hospital board, the town council? 

Today, nearly 800 people sit at the decision-making tables of the Anglican Communion.  Thirty of them are women.  In their report, as they did last year, delegates called on the church’s highest council to seek equal representation of women and men at all levels of decision-making, to recognize and support the International Anglican Women’s Network and to encourage affirmation for the advancements made by some governments while charging them to do more. 

In daily worship, delegates echoed the Lord’s Prayer in multiple languages, raising a sacred cacophony that rings daily throughout the Communion.  In their outcome statement to the ACC, they said: “Our time together as women has proved that the things that unite us in the communion are greater and mightier than those that divide us.” 

Read the women’s statement at:

 -- Carol Barnwell was a delegate to the UNCSW from Province VII of ECUSA and is the communication director of the Diocese of Texas.