The most empowering experiences I had at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) came in a series of events called “Bridging Humanity with Compassion.” We formed circles to share our stories and our dreams of a transformed world. These circles provided sacred space for every voice to be heard and for making spiritual connections to empower our social activism.
My friend Ann Smith, co-founder and director of Circle Connections and featured in my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, facilitated one of these events called “Organizing to Keep on Moving Forward.” It was wonderful to connect again with Ann in this circle where we all spoke about matching our passions with actions for the empowerment of women and other marginalized people. We all shared stories of our organizations and talked about ways we can bring our organizations together for increased power to bring change. I represented Equity for Women in the Church and Christian Feminism Today. Other amazing organizations represented were Circle Connections, Earth Child Institute, International Public Policy Institute, United Religions Initiative, and Charter for Compassion International.
After this event, it was exciting to talk with Monica Willard, United Religions Initiative Representative to the UN, and Sande Hart, Director of Charter for Compassion: Women and Girls, about their work. The United Religions Initiative promotes interfaith cooperation to cultivate peace and justice by bridging religious and cultural differences and working together for the good of the world. I talked with Monica about ways Equity for Women in the Church and Christian Feminism Today share United Religions Initiative’s big vision of “a world at peace, sustained by interconnected communities committed to respect for diversity, nonviolent resolution of conflict, and social, political, economic, and environmental justice.” Charter for Compassion: Women and Girls advocates for gender equality, education for all girls and women, female leadership, and other feminist issues. Sande and I quickly understood that the organizations we represent share the big vision of a world in which girls and women of all races and cultures can become all we’re meant to be.
Another of these empowering events I attended was called “Compassionate Listening—Every Voice Counts,” facilitated by Ann Smith, Monica Willard, and Sande Hart. In this sacred circle women and girls from around the world shared our passions, dreams, challenges, and solutions. We celebrated our collective wisdom as everyone in the circle took turns sharing stories and listening with compassion. An awesome thing happened in this circle. In the midst of her story of her work for women and girls in Pakistan, Sabina Rifat sang a freedom song. Across the room Pam Rajput from India joined in singing this song and then Alice Garrick from Pakistan joined the song. Ann Smith later commented, “This spontaneous act of compassion by three women who had been strangers until the singing of this song united us all in a way that surpassed all expectations.” We all stood in the circle and joined our lifted hands, as Sabina, Pam, and Alice sang the freedom song again: “We will win, we will win, if you are with us, if we are together. Even though the life is a new war at each step, we will win.”
At the conclusion of each of these circle events, we spoke together the UNCSW Prayer, that Ann Smith wrote in collaboration with Sr. Helena Marie of the Episcopal Church, Eileen King of World Day of Prayer, and Florence Kelley of Baha’i International. They wrote this prayer for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. Ann said she had been delighted when she’d heard Hillary Clinton conclude her famous speech at the Beijing conference with this prayer:
“Let us see one another through eyes enlightened by understanding and compassion. Release us from judgment so we can receive the stories of our sisters and brothers with respect and attention. Open our hearts to the cries of a suffering world and the healing melodies of peace and justice for all creation. Empower us to be instruments of justice and equality everywhere.”
In spite of the proliferation of injustices in our country and around the world, I found renewed hope at the UNCSW as I learned about so many organizations doing powerful work for justice and peace. The inspiring stories I heard increased my belief that by joining together with compassion we can transform our world.