I was changed by two weeks of working side by side with sisters from around the world to influence the outcome of the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I heard the stories from their homes: working to free those locked in home-based prostitution in Pakistan; working dual jobs as farmers and priests in Canada and Australia; living the aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan; organizing the Mother’s Union in Burundi; and many more. These are women who are working at the grass roots as pastors, organizers, social service workers, farmers, and church workers. They are nurturing and challenging others. They are fighting injustice, demanding equal access, and working for the future. We came as UNCSW as veterans and rookies. We came for this year’s theme, “the empowerment of rural women.” We came concerned not about what divides us as a worldwide communion, but rather what unites us. We are one, we are sisters in Christ.
We were at the UNCSW as a delegation with the office of the Anglican Observer to the UN. The office of the observer works year-round with the UN, bringing an Anglican perspective and advocating for justice and peace. We worked as part of an ecumenical coalition of 16 denominations, with a membership of 200 million. I got to be part of the advocacy committee of Ecumenical Women, and helped to shape our policy proposals and advocacy strategy. Our hard work paid off when our amendment on access to transportation was taken up and supported.
Returning home, I am more excited than ever to engage in the ministries to which I have been called in El Camino Real. The work the UN does is so important, and yet the view I saw from those hallowed halls is that the real and lasting change starts at the grass roots. The UN can encourage change to spread, but the changing is dreamed up and carried out at the local level.
The work we do every day, right here, is so critically important. We have the opportunity every day to stand up for justice and encourage change in our communities, but we don’t always see it. In our country 1,000-1,600 women are killed each year by their spouses or partners. Women in the U.S. lose 7.9 million work days a year due to injury from domestic violence. The total cost of domestic violence annually in our country is 8.3 billion dollars (in lost wages and medical care). One in five women in the U.S. has been raped. Violence against women is largely hidden, plagues all parts of our society, and is not taken seriously enough. In Topeka, Kansas, last October, the city council voted to decriminalize domestic violence so that they wouldn’t have to pay for the trials.
There are structural changes that need to be made in our society as well. Women still make 88 cents on the dollar compared to men, doing jobs for which they are equally qualified. The U.S. ranks 94 out of 190 nations in terms of women’s representation in congress. We have the highest maternal mortality rate of the forty most industrialized nations. In a quarter of rural counties in the US, female longevity is decreasing. And we are one of the six countries in the world that has not signed the international treaty for the human rights of women since 1979 (CEDAW), along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and two Pacific Island states.
I encourage us as a diocese, and as individual parishes, to take up the Anglican Communion’s call to action in two specific proposals. Resolution 13.31 requests that churches comply with Millennium Development Goal 3 by having equal representation of women on all decision-making bodies at all levels of the church. Resolution 14.33 is a call to action against gender-based violence. “[The Anglican Consultative Council] unequivocally supports the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking, and encourages all Provinces to participate in programs and events that promote the rights and welfare of women.”
Change begins in our own hearts, our families, our churches, our communities…onward Christian peacemakers!