At #CSW65: Strong Women “Leave No One Behind”
By: Ellen Birkett Lindeen, Diocese of Chicago (Province V)
My first year as a delegate for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Episcopal Church was for the 64th session in 2020, when everything was canceled due to the pandemic. Fortunately, that loss allowed for some gains. Our delegation spent the year from March 2020 until December 2020 studying the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on its 25th anniversary. This seminal document was ground-breaking in its purpose and scope. Much has been accomplished since its creation, but much more needs to be done for women and girls. Leading up to UNCSW65, our delegation spent a month on each area of focus in the BDPfA in 2020. This turns out to be perfect preparation for this year’s priority theme: We advocate for women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, and for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
At this point in time, I have just witnessed and “survived” my first two days of the 10 formal days of the convention. With all the preparation, I felt ready. However, this conference is for the care of ALL women and girls worldwide, along with men and boys as allies, too, so the scope is somewhat overwhelming. After only 36 hours of going to two full days of sessions and one night sleeping, I have a few observations.
First, I realize how grateful I am that I grew up in a family of strong women. My grandmother was a teacher, but she was forced to choose between family and career. After earning a degree when that was not common for any woman, she taught English on the secondary level. After only a few years, she was asked to take the job of principal, an idea unheard of for a woman in 1919. She was told that she could not accept the job if she were to marry. My grandfather came home from World War I, and they had planned to marry if he returned. She made the choice to marry, and one of her three daughters was my mother. I feel grief for what she was forced to give up, but gratitude for her choice so I can be here today. My own mother worked as a professor of English in the University of Wisconsin system of colleges, and I followed in those footsteps adding Human Rights, Peace Studies, and Social Justice to my English qualifications. My sister also taught elementary school and then became a principal, which she did for 20 years. My two young daughters also have degrees; one is a secondary school English teacher, the other works in government relations in the St. Paul capitol in Minnesota. I say thank you to the women upon whose shoulders I stand.
Various sessions of UNCSW that I have attended so far have focused on marginalized women and girls. Topics have included violence against women; lack of access to decision-making positions for women; effects of climate change, Covid 19, and the loss of jobs by women; and lack of protection in legislation for women. Initially, I thought of my safety and protections in the United States, owning my privilege as a white, straight, educated woman. Then when I watched the Ministerial Round Table about “Creating an enabling environment for women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”, I realized how far the United States still must go.
The Bangladesh Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs spoke about her country’s six months fully paid maternity leave. This is guaranteed to all. The US offers no paid maternity leave. Female workers are at the mercy of their employers.
The gender minister from Estonia pointed out that her country is the only one so far who has achieved a gender-balanced government. The United States is yet to elect a female president. In 2021, there are 22 women serving as heads of state. When I consider the 160 countries who attend the UNCSW or all 193 countries, the percentage of female leaders is between 11 and 13 percent. The United States is among those countries who have never elected a female president.
Tanzania’s Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children stated that the country had elected its first female vice president in 2015. Fortunately, the US crossed that line recently, a long five years later in 2020 with the election of Kamala Harris. This joyful realization leads to the most exciting event thus far at CSW65 for me.
Yesterday morning, the United States Vice President Kamala Harris spoke during a General Discussion at the United Nations. She spoke about the realities that women face in this country and around the world. She believes in the human rights of all and believes democracy must protect the dignity and human rights of women and girls. She pointed out the troubling decline of freedom around the world. She also acknowledged our pandemic health crisis and how it has disproportionately impacted women and burdened them with additional home care, the loss of their jobs, or working on the frontlines of the epidemic as our primary medical workers, sometimes losing their lives. Yet, Harris recognized that there is hope.
The United States is rejoining the UN’s Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization. It is revitalizing its partnership with UN Women. She reminded us all of Eleanor Roosevelt and her pivotal role in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She ended with a powerful statement. Vice President Harris proclaimed, “The Status of Women is the Status of Democracy.” I agree. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, says in our Episcopal Church written statement to CSW65, Episcopalians have embraced the call to “leave no one behind” and “reach the furthest behind first.” May we continue to care for others and strive for the rights of women and girls.
About the author: Ellen Birkett Lindeen, Diocese of Chicago, (Province V) has worked as an educator, academic, activist, and writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Education from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s degree in Literature from Northwestern University, and a Certificate of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She taught English, Composition, Peace Studies, and Human Rights & Social Justice courses on the college level for 28 years. She received a Fulbright-Hays Grant to study Gandhi in India and studied Human Rights in Tanzania and Refugee Rights in Ecuador. She serves on the boards of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and Fellowship of Reconciliation. Ellen served as a Presiding Bishop’s delegate to UNCSW 64 in 2020. Ellen serves as a delegate on the Presiding Bishop’s UNCSW 65 delegation.