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Phoebe Griswold's address at UNCSW forum

3/6/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), a forum sponsored by Anglican Women's Empowerment was held March 4 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where Anglican women shared their hopes and concerns for a world in which Christian faith calls them to action. Phoebe Griswold, founding member of AWE and wife of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold who also attended the event, delivered a powerful address about the UNCSW and AWE for which she received a standing ovation. The full text of Griswold's address follows:

The Anglicans delegations are the largest NGO at the United Nations this year by triple. What a small group of women saw in 2002 by attending this meeting was an unmatched opportunity for resourcing women's empowerment around the world and out of that was born another small group of women which has grown, called Anglican Women's Empowerment, and our task was to bring Anglican women from around the world to this immense resource at the UN. There is no better resource of intelligent research, articulate conversation than the gathering of women at this meeting and to bring our dear, dear sisters from around the world to learn and to take things back to their own ministries is an unparalleled opportunity.

The small handful of women in 2003 has grown to 92 delegates at this meeting this year. It's an incredible blossoming work that I know God is cherishing. For you all who are new to this work I want to tell you that it is huge and it is confusing because there is so much going on....

Two things I think are the greatest accomplishments that we have been able to achieve over the last year. One is a resolution that was submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the executive committee of the Anglican Communion. The resolution was asking for gender equity and for them to promote that throughout the community. We were stunned and glad that that resolution was adopted. It is the first gender language for our Anglican Communion. That is an immense seismic shift for our Communion. Let me read you one paragraph:

"All member churches are to work towards the realization of equal representation of women in decision-making at all levels of their own structures of governance."

Can you imagine what our church would look like, or maybe I should say what our church will look like when that is achieved? I think the second great achievement is a DVD that was made last year [called Shall We Gather]. It tells the story of this work of Anglican Women at the UN. This is our way of helping us and you spread our story.

So where are we now? Over the last week and a half, 92 Anglican delegates have been attending the meeting at the UN and learning from these themes. An enhanced participation of women in development. I love these next words: an enabling environment for gender equity and the advancement of women, taking into account the fields of education, health and work and equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels. We have been meeting and learning from what the UN is teaching us but one of the unanticipated gifts from God in this work by gathering at the UN is that we also as Anglican women gather together to talk about our work in the Communion and our work back home in our own diocese and we are building an immensely strong network and power of women. This is the only opportunity that women in the Anglican Communion have to gather face to face. I think it's an historic occasion.

I've organized my thoughts for you around a gender agenda under three topics, which for us UN delegates is not new language: gaps, challenges and ways forward. I've chosen five areas.

What is the way forward for us as Anglican women to work towards the full flourishing of God's kingdom where women and men are equally at the decision-making tables?

The first area is equal representation, gaps. My experience over the last nine years traveling this country and the Anglican Communion is that men and women are not equally represented at the decision-making levels of our church. When I travel with my husband I have to make sure that I ask to see and talk with women if I am to see that happen. It seems obvious to us that well over 50 percent of our membership in the Anglican Communion is women, but if you want to talk to women you have to ask to talk to them. I have had incredible meetings with thousands of Anglican women, particularly in Africa through the Mothers' Union. I have met with smaller groups of women when I've asked for it. With Anglican Palestinian women in the Middle East. This Fall I had the great privilege of speaking with several small groups of women in Asia, in Japan and Taiwan.

One thing we have learned to count in our statistics and numbers is that the Anglican Communion has four instruments of unity: that is the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 38 primates, the 700 plus bishops and the ACC members. That adds up to over 800 people who sit at the decision-making tables of the Anglican Communion. Of those 800 people, 30 are women. I don't know why everyone doesn't gasp. Thirty are women. One of the challenges in equal representation is that there are practically no statistics on the status of women throughout the communion. We have no hard data to work with. We need this data in order to move forward intelligently. Moving forward means that a survey must be conducted in order for us as women to draw conclusions and make intelligent decisions about where we should be and how we should get there. Fortunately this survey is now in the works and thanks to the standing committee of the ACC we will have data. We learned at the UN that you have to have data to work with.

Another area that I would like to mention is a misconception about the word "gender." I learned this from my sister, the Rev. Joyce Kariuki from Kenya. [She] says gender is not about women. Gender is about women and men. Men have gender too. The challenge is to understand gender as a term that includes both men and women. We are together in this work in order to have a more just world and to bring all of God's gifts to the work.

I'd like to issue this challenge to both men and women. I think this is both a challenge and a way forward. What would happen if both men and women were to look around the decision-making tables of councils that represent both men and women and see if the table is 50/50? I would like to challenge men to fill just one half of the table and then to look for women to fill the other half and I'd like to challenge women to prepare themselves, their sisters, their girls, to move into leadership roles through education in schools, theological institutions and other places of learning. Women should be at these tables as these are the places where policy and funds are allocated. I would like to challenge women to think about how to strategize to get to these tables, to train and prepare women for leadership and particularly at all levels of our church. There are many ways to move forward on training. Certainly, one important place is theological education for women. Another way forward is a program of one of our delegates -- Jolly [Babirukamu] from Uganda who is a member of the ACC and who is training clergy wives in skills for leadership as that role is traditionally placed upon them. Another gap.

Global culture and context is a huge gap for us as Anglican women. How do we understand each other from different cultures and learn to work together? This challenges us on ways to stay connected and to understand our different issues. We are challenged to bring to the Anglican Communion our conviction that we as a family will stay together through these challenging times. We have moved forward on this by establishing an elected steering committee for the International Anglican Women's Network. I would like on behalf of all the women in the Anglican Communion to thank Alice Medcof for her central role in keeping the network alive during this process. We leave here with a strong and solid way forward for new leadership and for new constitution for women to talk with each other around the world.

I think a gap is the number of Anglican women's voices that we hear publicly. We don't hear women speaking out. The challenges for us to claim our moral authority. Those values that we hold up to our children about playing fairly, openly, sharing our resources, non-violent behavior and bringing these values from the home to the center of the stage and speaking publicly with our own authority.

When I was in China, I asked the head of the China Christian Council -- a woman -- what were women's gifts in the current conversations and she said "candor and caring," and when I asked what impeded women from bringing these gifts to helping us move forward, she said "timidity." I recognize that trait in myself if you can believe it or not. One way forward is for women to meet and to encourage one another. We gain clarity from meeting, from learning and being with each other. This gathering is just such a forum and we will continue to strategize on the very best way for us to meet and to get together and to build strong relationships. Ways forward are to put into practice what we are learning.

At the 50th session of the UNCSW we have seen our Anglican sisters choose to lead caucuses. I have been told that we have been the leaders in the caucuses in the United States, Asia, South America and Africa. Choosing to lead is a way forward.

The next to last gap that I would like to mention is the gap between women themselves and the lack of our own ability to find the common ground for us to all pull together. This is an enormous challenge for us to claim that which unites us and to name the common agenda that will collect our common energy. We must capture the capacity to make a difference. We must cross difference and celebrate it and bond over our common energies to make this world a better place. Again this meeting is a way forward. This gathering is a place where we can learn about our own particular callings and come away enriched for ministry.

The existence of the Anglican Observer appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the resources of the CSW are ways forward. We as women do have a common agenda: it is for each one in our own way to answer God's call and to live into being Christ's body here in the world. The structures in the Anglican Communion can work for us to move forward. We exist in 165 countries. We have 75 million members. How many women is that? Maybe that is even 50 million women. We exist in both the hierarchy of governments and at the grassroots. We have an unmatched family of faith which is very easy to connect around the world. The Anglican Communion is a precious gift to us all and we must use these connections in order that it stays together.

The last area that I think is a gap is our need to articulate our faith as women to each other and to the world. The challenge is to trust God in our own moving forward spiritually as women to voice our own experiences with God, to share these thoughts and most particularly to share our prayers with one another, to know and trust our Lord Jesus in this very hard work which becomes easier as we carry the weight of the world together with Him as a way forward. We must find more ways to pray together. I have discovered this in the International Anglican Women's Network as we pray for dire needs in the Congo and elsewhere where our sisters are in danger and need help. We need to look for new alliances. We are feminists in a new way. We are faith based and we are a global family and we are fuelled by love and joy. Faith and feminism is a new alliance that we must explore.

We have been given so much. We are a global family linked together by love. We are women who at this time in our history of the Anglican Communion are bringing gifts to the work of mission in the world that are unique and unmatched and precious. We must not lose this opportunity but build on the work that we have done and will continue to do. Congratulations to us all for the hard work that is being done. Congratulations to the UNCSW for its 50th session. To God be the glory. Amen.