The whole world was there! Well, maybe not the whole world numerically, and maybe not the whole world even representationally, but it felt like the whole world was there. Last month, I had the great gift of accompanying a delegation to the 62nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
From the time I was given my U.N. badge to the time we left New York, I was immersed in an experience that opened a door on the world that could not have been opened in such a short time in any other way. I was surrounded by women and girls (and a few good men) with a passion for righting the injustices perpetrated over millennia toward women, with a focus on women in rural areas. Hello, Cortez.
I was there as a chaperone for 15-year-old Annika Lewis, who was representing the Episcopal Church in the United States. This U.N. gathering, however, far exceeded anything the Episcopal Church, or any one Christian denomination, could have accomplished. It took women of all stripes (and a few good men) – religious, and I’m sure nonreligious – to do this work. It took “member states.” It took NGO’s. It took representatives of “civil society.” It took human beings who care passionately about equality and long-denied justice.
And they were there. They’d come from all over the world, more than 8,000 of us. And the two weeks before Holy Week, that time we Christians re-inhabit the story of Jesus’ death at the hands of the Powers of his day, women (and a few good men) stood together and said “no!” to those Powers in our day.
We said “no” to gender-based violence against women, restrictive financial structures that limit women, and lack of access to land and resources for women in poor, rural areas. We said “yes” to gender equality, education, and health care for all women.
And we did it with respect and civility ... for the most part. It was as though we had left behind our current world of discord and division and had stepped into another realm ... until the United States official delegation began to speak.
To our shame, the U.S. representatives were drawn from the most doctrinaire and strident elements in our society. Birth control (!), abortion, and LGBTQ concerns are not to be found in the “agreed conclusions” that came out of this meeting because of our representatives’ lack of compassion for the situations in which our sisters around the world live.
While listening deeply to one another was the hallmark of the rest of the meeting, the United States stood out in sharp contrast. As a Christian, it is painful to see more clearly than ever that the Powers of disunity and oppression of this world against which I understand the followers of Jesus are called to stand are here in my own country, promulgated by elements of my own religion.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or [email protected].