At #CSW65: Dishes and Joy
By: Erin Morey, Diocese of Pittsburgh (Province III)
I am grateful to have previously served as a delegate representing the Episcopal Church at CSW 59 and 60. I treasured this experience, and was delighted to have the opportunity to serve again last year at CSW 64. I love the bustle of CSW: the ritual of getting up early to pray with Ecumenical Women; then rushing between UN meetings and an array of side and parallel events where I learned about the experiences of women from all over the world; then the special time of getting together as a delegation to discuss all the work we’d done that day. There was so much to do, and I wanted to do everything, so most nights I’d even try to squeeze in one last event after our delegation debrief before ending my day!
As the pandemic began shutting down the world last year, though, I realized I would not get to experience this rhythm at CSW 64. I cried in disappointment. I had so looked forward to the world gathering to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Not being able to do so felt devastating.
If I had known then just how many obstacles the pandemic would place in the way of empowering women and girls, I probably would have cried even harder.
When the UN announced the upcoming session of CSW 65 was going to be held mostly virtually, I approached the session with the same trepidation I feel about Zoom school and Zoom church. I am disappointed for the lack of intimacy that sharing common physical space brings, but grateful that gathering online removes barriers to full participation by some people who may not otherwise have been able to attend.
It felt strange to tune into the Ecumenical Women advocacy training session on Saturday, and the NGO CSW civil society advocacy training session on Sunday, from home. But, it was exciting to be part of the familiar patterns of training for the work ahead! I was grateful, as always, to be guided in the work of dismantling my own unconscious preconceived notions about the world as we prepared to work across cultures and generations toward our common goal.
One thing that I was not prepared for, however, was how intimate this experience might be. Phumzile Mlabo-Ngcuka is the Executive Director of UN Women. She is passionate and brilliant, and it is always an amazing experience to hear her speak. So, I listened carefully as she addressed us at each training this weekend.
At one point, I heard a soft clinking and clacking noise in the background, and suddenly I realized: she is in her home, and I am hearing someone else there washing dishes in another room. I was fascinated by this incredible moment of intimacy, and I wondered who was doing this housework. I like to imagine it was her husband, washing up teacups and pots, while his spouse trained others in the work of women’s empowerment. In any case, I realized that if Dr. Mlabo-Ngcuka had been relegated to traditional gender roles, and had been the person at the sink, I would have not had the opportunity to learn from her. I wonder how many women’s voices have been left unheard, silenced by the sound of clinking glass and running water? For all of Zoom’s drawbacks, I was grateful for this insight I would not have had if I had heard her speaking in person.
Today, of course, I fell into routine patterns of trying to take it all in. As it turns out, it’s possible to take a lot more in when you simply have to enter a new online meeting, as opposed to running between buildings! So far, I have attended a meeting about domestic violence hotlines, the opening session of CSW, morning worship with Ecumenical Women, noon worship with my fellow Episcopal and Anglican delegates, and a meeting about Black transgender women’s faith and spiritual lives. And, I still have several hours of meetings left to go!
This year at CSW we are talking, in particular, about ending violence against women, especially in light of how difficult the pandemic has made it for women to be safe. There is much work to be done. There is a great deal of loss, and discouraging lack of progress, to grieve. So, I am grateful for the focus on joy I encountered in worship, and today’s events. We are created in love, for the purpose of being loved, by our God who is perfect love. It is easy to become discouraged at the challenges women and girls face. But I am reminded of why we do this work: because women are created in our God’s very image, and are cherished by God. We do this work because we rejoice in the preciousness of each and every woman and girl! I ask for your joyful prayers of support as we continue our advocacy over the next two weeks, and look forward to you joining us on the road ahead as we continue to engage in this holy work in our communities.
About the author: Erin Morey, Diocese of Pittsburgh (Province III) is currently an M.Div. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Previously, she served as the Director of Community Engagement and Communications for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania (where she worships). She has worked for Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, and the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network as a domestic violence and rape crisis advocate. She began her career as an attorney, serving as an Assistant Public Defender in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Erin served as a Presiding Bishop’s delegate to UNCSW 59 in 2015, UNCSW 60 in 2016 and UNCSW 64 in 2020. Erin serves as a delegate on the Presiding Bishop’s UNCSW 65 delegation.