Claiming the Anglican Communion as “an unbreakable bond” between them, more than 50 Anglican women from 11 provinces of the Communion represented the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) at the 48th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), held in New York, March 1-12. The group participated under the auspices of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea of Samoa.
The UNCSW meeting examined two themes: “Men and boys in gender equity” and “Women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management, resolution and post-conflict peace building.” The commission is charged with promoting the implementation of the principle that women and men have equal rights.
During the UNCSW meeting, the ACC delegation hosted or co-sponsored several events, including a public forum on “The Cross Generational Spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa and its Effect on Girls,” recognizing the feminization of the disease in the faces of the young girl, the wife and the widow. They also participated in a panel discussion on women of the Abrahamic tradition, and heard a reflection by theologian and lecturer Jane Williams, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury <www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_31674_ENG_HTM.htm>.
Also participating in the meeting were representatives of the International Anglican Women’s Network, which enables women’s concerns to be brought before the Communion’s deliberative bodies. Formed in November 1996 following a consultation convened by the Anglican Consultative Council and funded by the Mothers’ Union and the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church, the IAWN is one of the networks of the worldwide Anglican Communion and reports to the Anglican Consultative Council.
‘We are making a new Communion’
“I think that what these women are doing here, now, is probably one of the most significant experiences happening in the Anglican Communion today,” said an enthusiastic Phoebe Griswold, wife of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and a member of the delegation. “This, for me, is communion. This is experiencing Christ’s body, with all the power and sense of love and relationship, and the immense mission work that these women are doing in our communion.
“My frustration is that somehow the voices of women and their experience is seen as only belonging in the home and the power of women’s voices to mend and heal the Anglican Communion is not taken seriously,” Griswold continued. “And it isn’t that someday, women will do their thing and then go back to the home and the same structures will continue with men in charge--no. We are making a new world here, and we’re making a new Communion.”
“I did not know that there are Anglican sisters who are also fighting and raising their voice for freedom--freedom in the Spirit, freedom in Christ to serve Christ within the
Anglican Church,” said Rita Simeni, a quiet-voiced delegate from Papua New Guinea who founded that province’s Women in Ministry program.
Delegate Nema Aluku of Kenya, who is also the HIV/AIDS program coordinator for the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said the gathering brought to her mind a verse from 2 Kings: “Why sit we here until we die?”
“We’re not going to sit until we die,” she exhorted the other delegates when they gathered to debrief on the day’s events. “We don’t need men to give us authority. We don’t need men to give us direction. As women we have a voice, and it’s high time men started hearing that voice in the Church.
“We talk about gender equality in the Church, we talk about ordination in the Church, but who is standing as a block? Is it the men only? It would be us, women!” she said, to murmurs of approval.
“What I have learned here is that we experience the issues in different ways and we have come with our own stories stronger in hope for change,” added Soledad Longid, of the Philippine Episcopal Church. “And this is the beginning of the weaving of our stories into a beautiful tapestry of the Anglican Communion.”
Pressing for more Communion representation
In a statement issued after the meeting ended, the Anglican delegates said they “experienced communion as the reality of women working together for justice and peace in the name and power of Jesus Christ. Women rejoice in God’s gift of the Anglican Communion and claim their call to strengthen that Communion… Just as the United Nations calls for women’s presence in all processes of conflict resolution and peace building, so should the Church seek women’s participation at every level.” They challenged the ACC to work towards a 30% representation of women in all decision-making bodies in the Anglican Communion.
“The delegation from the Anglican Communion, committed to respecting the dignity of every human being, decries the ways in which religion--and custom and tradition--are used in the oppression of women,” delegates wrote in an NGO statement submitted to the UNCSW conference. “We are committed to listening to all points of view on the issues, understanding differing cultural and religious contexts but speaking and working particularly to identify when and where faith empowers and enhances women’s lives. As Christians, Anglicans and Women, we are called to be peacemakers. We yearn for a new creation and the realization of God’s promise to make all things new.”
The NGO report ended with a “Prayer for Gender Equality and Peace”:
O God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, we pray for all who gather at the United Nations to uncover the role of women as peacemakers and participants in conflict resolution as they also address the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality. Open our ears to the cries of a suffering world and to the healing melodies of peace. Amen.