Women have crucial role in international development, speakers say

February 24, 2011

Anglican and Episcopal participants in the 55th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Womenheard Feb. 25 from an Episcopal third-year seminarian from Haiti and the head of a new Anglican development effort about the role women have in changing the world.

"Women have been made to feel inferior, but I think now we just need to remember that we are equal," said Marie Carmel Chery, who just completed her third year at the Episcopal Church's Seminarie de Theologie in Port-au-Prince. "We have heart as the men. We have blood as the men. We can feel as men. We can do whatever he does, but we need self-confidence."

Women worked hard before the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, but they are faced with even greater challenges now, she said.

When Chery said that while women make up more than half of the Haitian population, there were only three Episcopal Church female seminarians, one female priest, a delegate from Nigeria, told her that some Anglican provinces would be proud of such a number. "We are still working on it," she added.

Sally Keeble, who was appointed in December to direct The Anglican Alliance: Development, Relief, Advocacy organization, told the gathering at the Episcopal Church Center that she has always worked "on the basis that international development is all about women because if we don't deal with the economic and social injustices in the world, it's women who bear the brunt of it."

"The face of poverty in the world clearly is the face of women; the face of HIV is the face of women. If the international community fails in its MDGs … it will be women who bear the brunt of the international community's shortcomings," Keeble said.

She predicted that the Anglican alliance "will be largely about women because women are about poverty and about development, and those are the issues that we jointly have to tackle and those are the challenges we jointly have] to advocate."

Several of the Anglican and Episcopal women who attend the UNCSW gathering were nominated by their primates based on their women's-issues work in their provinces. They officially represent the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's main policy-making body, which has been an U.N.-accredited non-governmental organization since 1985. Other women participate because of their interest in the UNCSW's work, their expertise and their involvement in past meetings.

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 for the last eight years, according to AWE chair Kim Robey.

The UN gathering continues next week when there will also be a meeting of the International Anglican Women's Network in New York, Robey said.

Members of the Episcopal Young Adult Delegation to the UNCSW are blogging about their experience here.

The U.N. sessions are attended by representatives of the U.N.'s member states, various U.N. organizations and NGOs. Many of the CSW participants attended the Feb. 24 launch of UN Women, formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The organization combines four previous UN bodies and "represents the United Nations' most ambitious effort ever to accelerate actions to achieve gender equality," according to a news release.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told those at the launch that "the challenges are great, but I believe that with the new energy, the new momentum and the new authority that UN Women brings, these challenges will be met. True gender equality should be our shared legacy in the 21st century."

He has appointed former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to be the first executive director of UN Women. Bachelet told the opening session of the UNCSW meeting on Feb. 22 that "despite encouraging examples, the progress [on gender equality] is uneven and fragile."

"There are still too many women or children who are trafficked; too many domestic workers who left their families to live in new places, unprotected by labor laws or policies; too many girls forced to leave school or marry early; too many women and girls who lack access to services … and, worldwide, there are too few women at decision-making tables when peace, trade or climate change treaties are being negotiated."

The CSW is the oldest U.N. standing commission. It advocates for gender equality and advancement of women. Its annual meetings evaluate progress towards those goals, indentify challenges yet to be met, and formulate policies and standards for meeting those goals. Each of its meetings examines a different theme related to gender equity. The theme of the 2011 gathering centers on promoting women's and girls' access to education, training, science and technology, as well as equal access to full employment and decent work.

A draft of the UNCSW meeting's agreed conclusions is available here. The agreed conclusions are due to be issued at the close of the meeting on March 4.

Links to already-completed panel discussions and other events are here, near the bottom of the page.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for Episcopal News Service.