UN Commission on the Status of Women: Addressing the Pandemic of Violence Against Women and Girls

This year at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, I was struck by the number of sessions that focused on the pandemic of violence against women and girls. I grieved that this violence continues, often fueled by religion. The emphasis was on religion not only as a cause of this violence, but also as the solution. Religion can be a roadblock or a resource.

One of the sessions I attended was titled “Sacred and Safe: Building Capacity of Faith Communities to Address Gender-Based Violence.” One panelist cited a survey that found that 74% of clergy underestimate the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Violence affects one in three women worldwide, despite being recognized as a gross human rights violation and a barrier to global development.

 

Another panelist cited factors that contribute to this prevalence of violence against women:

• fundamentalist religious teachings;
• gender inequality;
• challenges to human rights.
 
She named ways that faith communities matter in addressing violence against women:
 
• hold a unique position to help as a safe place to disclose and ask for assistance;
• offer spiritual support;
• foster the process of recovery as survivors reach out, seeking answers;
• provide advocacy and resource referral, and work toward systemic change.
 

I would add that faith communities can deconstruct misinterpretations of sacred texts that contribute to the inequality of women and violence against them, and they can teach interpretations of sacred texts and images of the Divine that support the full equality and sacred worth of women.

One speaker at this session commended President Jimmy Carter for challenging faith communities to take action to eliminate gender-based violence by teaching theology that supports the equality of women in every sphere of life. In his book Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, Carter writes: “The world’s discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive, and ignored violation of basic human rights. The most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.” Carter sees the misinterpretation of sacred texts by major religions, including Christianity, as the foundational cause of violence against women and girls. Carter, an active Baptist layperson and Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, calls out these misinterpretations in his Christian tradition. Good for him! He demonstrates how selected passages in the Bible have been distorted to support the inequality of women, leading to violence against them. Also, Carter cites many passages in the Gospels that illustrate Jesus’ equal treatment of women, and gives examples in the writings of Paul that support the full equality of women.

This UN session also highlighted the outstanding work of FaithTrust Institute toward the elimination of gender-based violence. Founded in 1977 by Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. The Institute provides faith communities the tools and knowledge needed for addressing the religious and cultural issues related to abuse. FaithTrust Institute provides religion-specific intervention and prevention training, consulting, and educational materials for faith-based and secular organizations in the following areas:

• domestic and sexual violence;
• healthy teen relationships, preventing teen dating violence;
• child abuse, children and youth exposed to domestic violence;
• healthy boundaries for clergy and spiritual teachers, responding to clergy
misconduct;
• trafficking of persons.

Marie Fortune’s book Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited calls religious leaders to awareness not only of the pervasive problems but also of the potential of faith communities to eradicate gender-based violence.

Our ethical values of justice, love, and equality lead us to affirm the dignity and worth of every human being and the right of each person to live free of violence. Our faith compels us to work to end violence against women and girls in our religious communities and in society at large. Our faith empowers us to create a world where all people are free of violence and all are free to become all we are meant to be in the divine image.

 

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UN Commission on the Status of Women: Diverse People Addressing Intersecting Justice Concerns

photo by Chad Clanton

photo by Chad Clanton

My week at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW) reconfirmed for me the ways in which equality for women intersects with all other justice concerns. Presentations focused on topics ranging from economic justice to racial justice to ecology to education to peacemaking to health to justice for LGBTQ persons to eliminating gender-based violence to gender equality in the media to global communities—all connected to the status of women.

Also, I was impressed by the diversity of the more than 10,000 people who participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women:  people of many races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, religions, cultures, and ages.

photo by Chad Clanton

photo by Chad Clanton

 

photo by Chad Clanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was an emphasis on including adolescent girls in shaping the agenda for improving the status of girls and women around the world. In many cities only 5% of girls say they feel safe, and in many countries 80% of girls and women experience some form of abuse. Among the recommendations for the empowerment of girls are these:

• training programs to help girls develop their own agency;

• recognizing that girls can be agents of change;

• bringing the voices of girls and their rights to community leaders.

In one of the large meeting halls where I attended sessions, the Girl Declaration hanging on the wall caught my attention.  Through a series of groundbreaking consultations, 508 girls living in poverty­—together with 25 of the world’s leading development organizations— created the Girl Declaration. Girls were left out of the original Millennium Development Goals. The Girl Declaration has been written to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The Girl Declaration Goals are these:

Education: For girls to grow up with the skills and knowledge they need to take part in economic, social, and cultural life;

Health: For girls to have access to safe, age-appropriate information and services, plus the confidence to make healthy choices growing up;

Safety: For girls to be free from violence and exploitation, using laws and strong child-protection systems;

Economic Security: For girls to know how to earn a safe and productive income, with the help of technical and practical skills, before they become women;

Voice & Rights: For girls to have equal access to services, opportunities, legal rights and personal freedoms.

This year’s UN CSW marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Considered the most comprehensive plan for advancing women’s rights around the world, the 1995 Beijing Declaration was adopted by 189 governments. But now 20 years later, the commitments made are only partially fulfilled. The Platform for Action envisioned gender equality in all dimensions of life, and no country has yet finished this agenda. Women earn less than men and are more likely to work in poor-quality jobs. A third suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Gaps in reproductive rights and health care leave 800 women dying in childbirth each day.

Dr. Vetty Agala, Dr. Olukunni Tjeruh, Dr. Adeloiyi Obelelora from Nigeria (photo by Chad Clanton)

UN Women launched a global Beijing+20 campaign titled “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It” to generate momentum and urgency for global actions on women’s rights and gender equality. Evidence increasingly shows that empowering women empowers humanity. Economies grow faster, and families are healthier and better-educated.  Empowering women leads to a more stable and equitable world. Equal rights for women are essential to peace.

One session I attended at the UN CSW focused on ways that political will, public will, and personal will are all important to bring about these much-needed actions for gender equality. Speakers gave historical examples such as the elimination of foot binding in China when a small group of women mobilized public will and then political will to stop this unjust practice. When public and political will combine, change is possible. One speaker at this session inspired us with the recent example of the power of personal will also to bring change: Malala Yousafzai started a worldwide movement that changed public will for all girls to have equal educational opportunities.

Injustices are socially constructed, and justice solutions can also be socially constructed when we exercise our personal will to mobilize public will and political action.

 

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“Transforming Church and Society Through Sophia Wisdom,” Presentation at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Ann Smith, Victoria Sirota, Jann

Giving a presentation with Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Ann Smith at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine was one of the exciting experiences I had during the week I spent in New York City at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW). This presentation, “Transforming Church and Society Through Sophia Wisdom, ” a parallel event of the UN CSW, drew people from the UN conference and from the church. The Reverend Victoria Sirota, Canon Pastor & Vicar of the Congregation of Saint Saviour at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, hosted this event.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Ann Smith, and I talked about ways that reclaiming Sophia Wisdom and other biblical female images of God will empower our work together for peace, justice, and sustainability. Including multicultural female divine images in our worship affirms the sacred value of females throughout the world who continue to suffer from violence and abuse. The earth, traditionally referred to as feminine, likewise suffers from exploitation and abuse. Worship services that include female images can make a powerful contribution to a more just world. In our presentation we highlighted ways that multicultural female divine names and images in worship form a foundation for gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality, economic justice, care of creation, nonviolence, interfaith collaboration, expanding spiritual experience, and changing hierarchies to circles

Grace Ji-Sun Kim drew from her book The Grace of Sophia, which deals with Wisdom Christology as understood from a global religious perspective. She talked about the Korean concept of “han,” that indescribable pain from injustices suffered, and how Sophia liberates us from suffering, patriarchy, and other sources of oppression. Grace also engaged participants with stories from her book Contemplations from the Heart.

Ann Smith discussed the new leadership emerging that embodies Sophia and Circle Principles, transforming the human-made ecological and social crises, co-creating God’s dream for Mother Earth. She read her poem “God Is Not a Single Parent” from her book Women’s Uncommon Prayers, also published in She Lives!

I drew from my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, which features inspiring stories of clergy and laypeople, including Grace and Ann, who are bringing transformation through restoring the power of Divine Wisdom and other biblical female images of Deity.

Victoria Sirota accompanied the group as we sang hymns from She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World: “Celebrate the Works of Wisdom,” “Wisdom, Sophia, Joins in Our Labor,” and “We Invite All to Join Our Circle Wide.” I led the group in a litany “Creating a Path Toward Liberation,” by Christina Cavener, also published in She Lives!

Instead of a traditional Q&A after the presentation, we formed a large circle and invited everyone to voice a reflection, idea, or blessing. We used Circle Principles from Circle Connections and the Millionth Circle.

Several days later at the Episcopal Church Center Chapel, Ann Smith led another sacred circle, “She Lives in Circles, ” also a parallel event of the UN CSW.

She Lives in Circles

Circles empower every voice to be heard and full participation as co-creators of a peaceful and just world.     
Circle Principles used everywhere and all the time bring us into harmony with all creation. 

Honor and Celebrate Sacred Space.

Speak from the Heart and one at a time.

Listen from the Heart without judgment.

Respect for all Creation.

Call for Silence when needed.

Share Leadership, Information, Resources.

Come to Consensus when possible.

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From Dallas to New York City: Celebrating Women and Working for Equality

From Dallas to New York City, we sounded the call to celebrate women’s achievements and to join together to work toward full equality for women. 

photo by Rosemarie Rieger

photo by Chad Clanton

Dallas Celebration of International Women’s Day: “Make It Happen”

In Dallas on March 7, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Rosemarie Rieger chaired the planning committee for this celebration with the theme “Make It Happen.” With people around the world, we celebrated the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.

Phyllis Goines

Phyllis Goines gave an informative talk on the history of International Women’s Day (IWD), beginning in 1908 with 15,000 women marching through New York City demanding voting rights and better working conditions and pay. In 1911, more than a million women and men in many countries attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office, and have full equality. IWD has continued annually since then in countries around the world. International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries, but not yet in the United States.

Pamela Reséndiz gave participants a quiz on issues affecting working women. Through this quiz we learned about the work that still must be done to achieve women’s equality:

  • Women overall earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
  • African American women earn only 64 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
  • Latinas earn only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
  • Out of the wealthiest 20 countries in the world, the U.S. ranks 17 on gender equity.
  • U.S. employers are not required by federal law to provide paid time off for workers to care for sick familly members.
  • The percentage of private businesses with onsite child care centers is only 7%.
  • The percentage of minimum wage workers who are women is 66%.

At the Dallas International Women’s Day celebration we formed circles to share our stories of navigating our ways through a patriarchal system. We also sang “Join Together, Work for Justice,” a hymn I wrote for women’s rights and workers’ rights, and heard beautiful, inspiring poetry spoken by edyka chilomé from her book She Speaks Poetry.

edyka chilomé


UN Commission on the Status of Women

The following week I spent in New York City at the UN Commission on the Status of Women continued to impress me with the amazing achievements of women even in the most difficult circumstances, the work still to be done to achieve gender equality, and the connection between women’s rights and workers’ rights.

The first session I attended on March 9, “Equality, Development & Peace: 2015 and Beyond,” sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership emphasized the inseparability of women’s rights and economic systems. The panelists at this session discussed ways that investors in many parts of the world exploit women and contribute to polluting the environment. They challenged us to hold companies accountable and not support those who don’t support women’s equality. They demonstrated the connection between militarism and global economic injustice and gender-based violence. The panel called for more women in positions of economic and political leadership around the world.

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) is working on these issues. CWGL envisions a world in which all people are equal and gender equality is systemically realized by the achievement of human rights for all. CWGL strengthens and facilitates women’s leadership for human rights and social justice worldwide.

Also, on March 9, I attended a session sponsored by Zonta International, a global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. The panelists at this session focused on ending violence against women. Women suffering violence have great difficulty achieving equality in any area of life. The panel emphasized the importance of partnering to end violence against women and children, making clear that violence is preventable when we join together and make it visible. We must say that no violence is acceptable; we must make the invisible visable. To end gender-based violence, social change is as vital as political change.

Zonta International is working to end violence against women and to achieve women’s equality. The goals of Zonta are to improve the economic, political, educational, legal, health, and professional status of women at the global and local levels; to promote justice and human rights and justice; and to advance goodwill and peace throughout the world.

Call Sounded Around the World

The call sounded by the voices of women in Dallas and New York and around the world is to join together to claim our collective power to achieve equal rights for women.

 

Annika Rieger, Pamela Resendiz, Helen Rieger from Dallas (photo by Rosemarie Rieger)

Dr. Vetty Agala, Dr. Olukunni Tjeruh, Dr. Adeloiyi Obelelora from Nigeria (photo by Chad Clanton)

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WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series “She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World”

On March 4, 2015, I had the honor of being the featured guest on WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series, sponsored by Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual. This teleconference focused on my new book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World.  Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of WATER, hosted the teleconference that included people from around the country.

I began by inviting everyone on the call to join in the responsive “Pentecost Prayer: Come, Sophia-Spirit” by Diann L. Neu, co-founder and co-director of WATER.  It was a powerful experience to hear the invocation, “Come, Sophia-Spirit, come,” echoing over the phone lines.

Divine Wisdom, Sophia-Spirit, calls for the liberation of all from patriarchy and kyriarchy. This is what we celebrate today as we bless bread, wine, juice, and food.  
 
Blessed are you, Womb of All Creation, Spirit-Sophia. With joy we give you thanks and praise for creating a diverse world and for creating women in your image.
Come, Sophia-Spirit, come. 
 
Blessed are you, God of our Mothers, Spirit-Sophia. You call diverse women to participate in salvation history: Eve, Lilith, Sarah, Hagar, Miriam, Naomi and Ruth, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Tecla, Phoebe, Hildegard of Bingen, Sor Juana, Sojourner Truth, Mother Theodore Guerin, all WATER women, and countless others.
Come, Sophia-Spirit, come. 
 
Blessed are you, Creator of all seasons and all peoples, Spirit-Sophia. You call us to be prophets, teachers, house church leaders, ministers, saints, and to image your loving and challenging presence.
Come, Sophia-Spirit, come. 
 
Blessed are you, Companion on the Journey, Spirit-Sophia. In your abundant love you welcome all to come and dine. You proclaim from the rooftops, “Come and eat my bread, drink the wine which I have drawn.”
Come, Sophia-Spirit, come. 
 
Come, Holy Sister, Spirit-Sophia, upon this bread, wine, juice, and food. Come as breath and breathe your life anew into our aching bones. Come as wind and refresh our weary souls. Come as fire and purge us and our communities of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, and all evils.
Come, Sophia-Spirit, come. 
 
As we eat, drink, and enjoy the Pentecost banquet, may Sophia-Spirit rise within us like a rushing wind. May Sophia-Spirit spark the churches like a revolutionary fire. May Sophia-Spirit flow through the world like a life-giving breath.
Amen. Blessed be. May it be so.
 

© 2013 Diann L. Neu. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Following this prayer I told a little of my story as a feminist Baptist minister, awakening to my call to pastoral ministry and to writing on the inclusion of multicultural female names and images of the Divine to support social justice and equality. Then I talked about my book  She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, which features inspiring stories of clergy and laypeople who are bringing transformation through restoring the power of Divine Wisdom and other biblical female images of Deity, and which also provides gender-balanced worship resources and locations of feminist faith communities.

After my presentation, Mary opened the conversation to others on the call. During this time of Q&A, we discussed such topics as resistance to inclusive language in many churches, encouraging signs of many churches and small communities who are including female divine names and images in worship, creating new faith communities that include the Female Divine, inclusive resources for parents and children, and including non-hierarchical as well as female images of the Divine.

Here is the audio recording of the teleconference:

You can also  read notes from the teleconference.


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