Exploring Ecumenical Advocacy: Sisterhood of Suffering, Sisterhood of Joy
The following was written during the United Nations 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and the language has been preserved to reflect the time of authoring.
This first week of the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was, for me, a time of remembering and reflection, of giving thanks and rejoicing. Make no mistake, the work of justice and equality for women in the US and around the world is not yet done. And it is only too often that just when it appears that the new world has emerged, we are struck by a blow of white supremacist violence or an outbreak of war or new studies that show abuse and rape of women as weapons of war continues at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, I am encouraged.
Watching as Anglican and Episcopal delegates engaged UNCSW work, I saw seeds of hope planted long ago yielding much fruit, flourishing in new ways of working, new inclusive community, courage for the public voice, serious engagement for empowerment in the church, and looking outward beyond ourselves to be a voice in the world.
It was not always quite so.
Anglican engagement in UNCSW began with participation in the Third World Conference in Nairobi and later in Beijing when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was first put forward! The Episcopal Church was a founder of Ecumenical Women in 2000 when women of many denominations came together to be heard in the halls of CSW and the UN. An Anglican delegation through the Anglican Communion office was formed in 2002 with four women. In 2004, that number grew to 11 and a year or so later, there was a representative from each of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. It was 2007 when Anglican Communion leaders began to pay attention! Anglican Communion delegates were making their voices heard on the floor of the United Nations, speaking out about the lack of representation, not only there, but in our own beloved church. In addition, our unity as a church was threatened then, as it is now, by disagreements on issues around sexuality. The women at UNCSW, however, were not to be deterred from the cause of working together on the Beijing Platform, which called for our commitment to eradicate poverty, secure access to equal education, end the use of rape as a weapon of war, fight against human trafficking, end hunger, and so much more. Speaking “out loud and in public” as women impelled by our faith could make a difference, not only in the world but also in our church. At the close of the 2006 UNCSW, the delegation issued an addendum to the Anglican Consultative Council Standing Committee and a unanimous word sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Communion that read in part: “Given the global tensions so evident in our Church today, we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention which can, or indeed would ever cause us to break our unity as represented by our common baptism. Neither would we consider severing the deep and abiding bonds of affection which characterize our relationships as Anglican women. This sisterhood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and our commitment to transforming the world through peace with justice. Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.”
We have come a long way since 2007, though there is far still to go. Yet, experiencing the work of Anglicans and Episcopalians this 63rd CSW, we are not only bound by our suffering but also by a sisterhood of joy, knowing that new and empowering work has made new life possible for many.
Looking back at the history strengthens us for the work now. Hearing the delegation debrief at the end of the day gives assurance and hope that the work, the struggle, the joy, and the sisterhood will continue in the church and around the world.
The Reverend Margaret Rose (Presiding Bishop’s staff) currently serves as Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, on the Presiding Bishop’s staff. She represents The Episcopal Church in its official dialogues and interreligious engagement particularly as they relate to the public commitments of The Episcopal Church. Margaret came to the Presiding Bishop’s staff in New York in 2003 as Director for Women’s Ministries. It was during those years that, along with the Anglican Communion Office, the work of bringing Communion-wide delegations to the UNCSW began. Prior to coming to New York, she was a parish priest in Massachusetts and Atlanta and currently serves as Priest Associate at Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City. She is grateful to have two empowered daughters and for the many women who are committed to the long haul work of justice and equality for women.