Eighty-one Anglican women gather in New York City beginning February 24 for two weeks of meetings and lobbying in support of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations during the 49th session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).
The women belong to two distinct delegations: one composed of 41 women from 26 Anglican provinces around the world, joined by another delegation of 40 Episcopal Church (ECUSA) women from 11 U.S. states. Both the provincial and ECUSA delegations, accredited through the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), will advocate an end to poverty and the improvement of the lives of women and their families.
"This gives women the opportunity to act as delegates and lobby their governments for implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, an outline created ten years ago by the UNCSW," said Archdeacon Tai Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, Anglican observer. "The Beijing Platform lists twelve specific areas, such as poverty, education, health, violence and the environment, that need to be improved if the status of women is going to rise."
The gathering is also intended to strengthen the International Anglican Women's Network (IAWN) in its efforts to ensure that poverty and other issues affecting women and families are given the highest priority by their respective governments, other national and international institutions, and the leaders of the Anglican Communion. The IAWN was formed in 1996 following a consultation convened by the ACC and funded by the Mothers' Union and the United Thank Offering (UTO) of ECUSA. Within Anglican structures, it reports to the ACC.
Although the delegates live in different parts of the world and work in different fields, Tuatagaloa-Matalavea reports that they have already expressed similar concerns to the ACC UN office: violence -- particularly domestic -- against women in their countries; poverty; sexual stereotyping; and the lack of access to power, education and proper health care that keep women from reaching their full potential. "They also believe that women not only need to play the role of nurturers in the home, but can be nurturers of peace and prosperity in their cultures, and also act as forces of unity and reconciliation in their respective churches," she said.
The delegates will join with other non-governmental organizations, including the Mothers' Union, to lobby and learn at the United Nations. "It's our commitment to the Gospel which propels us into the political arena," explained the Rev. Margaret Rose, director of women's ministries at the Episcopal Church Center. "It's important for us to take an Anglican-based, faith-centered perspective to the United Nations. We need to offer a clear public voice advocating for women and children, and through them for all humanity, even all creation."
Most of the meetings are closed to the general public. There are, however, two events sponsored by the Anglican Observer's Office that the public is encouraged to attend:
- "African Women Making a Difference: A Hopeful Story of Rwanda," an event featuring Ladies First, a documentary film about women in the forefront of building peace between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, will be shown on March 2 at the Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN), 44th and 1st Avenue, 8th floor) from 1:15-2:45 p.m. The film shows the remarkable role women are playing in rebuilding Rwanda. Women hold 48 percent of the seats in the lower house of the country's parliament -- probably the greatest percentage of female participation in government anywhere in the world. Rwandan women also hold prominent positions in business, agriculture and the promotion of equal rights. Ladies First profiles some of the women instrumental in these efforts.
- "Repairing the World: Anglican Women's Faith in Action" features a panel discussion moderated by Archdeacon Tuatagaloa-Matalavea and a keynote address by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. The event will be held on Sunday, March 6 at Synod Hall at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 110th St. The presentation from 3-5 p.m. will be followed by a reception. The panelists include prominent women from Fiji, Brazil, Ireland, Kenya and India speaking on the work they do to empower women and how they see this as an issue of peace and justice, central to the mission of the Anglican Communion. They will also address how their faith has informed their work, hoping to encourage those in the audience to also begin "repairing the world" in any way they can.
Last year the ACC delegates to the 2004 Commission on the Status of Women sponsored a panel discussion whose keynote speaker was Jane Williams, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Delegates reported that after last year's meeting they returned to their countries inspired to give greater visibility and voice to women's issues, and felt supported knowing that there was a worldwide network of women sharing and encouraging their efforts.
The most important aspect of their work, said Mugisa Isingoma from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is "to train women to be messengers of peace. We must also help women break the silence so that they can speak openly about all sorts of violence of which they have been victims and how they can be reconciled and live a better life."
"As mothers of the nation and policy makers, we must ensure that our children are brought up and taught the norms and values of our different cultures that foster nonviolence, and to be peacemakers and leaders of tomorrow for all countries, so that citizens can live freely, with no fear of violence from other human beings," wrote Ethel Lusfanua Suri of the Solomon Islands.
"Women can make a difference. Women need to stand up for their rights and have the confidence to say 'NO' to violence and discrimination," said Clair Ghais Malik of Egypt. "Women can accomplish great things if they set their minds to it. Women can encourage other women to be educated. There are many opportunities for women to be involved in non-governmental organizations to help change society."
"Everyone has a role to undertake. You start where you are, speaking and acting in your own situation. Support other women in what they are doing," advised Janet Hesketh from New Zealand. "If you feel scared or worried about rejection and ridicule, remember that if we are doing His will, Jesus is with us and we need not fear."