During COVID-19, women seeking survival from gender-based violence have overwhelmed women’s crisis shelters and social justice agencies. Quarantining and lockdowns make it difficult to escape an aggressor who is an intimate partner. In 1991, Rutgers University initiated the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence – the longest-running women’s rights campaign in history. However, one in three women still will experience gender-based violence, which is unacceptable.
Violence against women results from a perceived power differential in which women are considered inferior. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women formulated the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Declaration outlined 12 critical areas of action related to gender equality. A handful of women leaders in The Episcopal Church attended the conference in Beijing and have continued to participate in advancing human rights through the Church’s participation in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) annual meetings.
According to UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to women’s empowerment, some progress has been made in advancing gender equality, but the dream of the Beijing Platform, now 25 years later, has not yet been realized. For the 64th session of UNCSW in 2020, the theme was Beijing+25: Realizing Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls; however, the worldwide pandemic made it impossible to hold the UNCSW 64 meeting in March 2020. In response, Episcopal Church staff hosted an online study group from July through November 2020, with articles and resources on each of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform. The nine delegates (one from each province) and staff selected by the Presiding Bishop – known as the UNCSW 64 PB delegation – coordinated the online study offerings.
Valuing human rights and meeting basic human needs have been in UTO’s DNA since the beginning. United Thank Offering began with two women, Julia Chester Emery (JCE) and Ida Soule, whose ministry ideas and efforts caught the attention of the all-male Executive Council. The entire Church supported the UTO in sending women missionaries to areas of greatest need in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Our JCE Intern, Isabelle Watkins, participated in the UNCSW 64 PB delegation as part of the staff support, as our previous intern, Katelyn Kenney, did the year prior. Isabelle wrote an article on women and the environment as part of the study group. Before UTO pivoted to COVID-19 emergency grants for 2021, the grant focus had been Creation Care/Environmental Ministries.
Plans for the March 2021 UNCSW 65 meeting are listed on unwomen.org. A conversation on Zoom, “Beijing+25: What Have We Learned,” is scheduled tentatively for March 2021. For information on The Episcopal Church’s participation in these efforts, visit episcopalchurch.org/uncsw. As we all await the end of the pandemic and the time when we can meet in large groups, join daily in the Beijing Noonday prayer:
Dear God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, we pray for all who gathered in Beijing and for all those who were meant to attend and support the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women Meeting. Bless them.
Help us to see one another through eyes enlightened by understanding and compassion.
Release us from prejudice so we can receive the stories of our sisters and brothers with respect and attention.
Open our ears to the cries of a suffering world and the healing melodies of peace.
Empower us to be instruments in bringing about Your justice, peace and equality everywhere.