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Commission on the Status of Women concludes at the United Nations


Presbyterian delegation gets direct access to activity

By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Paula Steinbacher, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Christine Mangale, Lutheran World Federation; Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Mason, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women and Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations; Major Victoria Edmunds, Salvation Army and Ryan Smith, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Photo provided

LOUISVILLE – The 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women is in the history books and a group of Presbyterian participants have returned home. The commission, which is the principal global intergovernmental body working toward gender equality and the empowerment of women, concluded its annual meeting in New York on Friday.

The meeting ended with an agreement to “empower and support” those who need it most, including measures to lift rural women and girls out of poverty and ensure their well-being and adequate living standards. The United Nations says that as many as 1.6 billion people live in poverty and nearly 80 percent of the extreme poor live in rural areas.

The commission approved numerous measures, but Ryan Smith, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations (PMUN), says the conclusions didn’t come without resistance.

“We saw that the U.S. government was acting in negotiations from a pro-life standpoint which is in opposition to U.S. law and a change from its position at past commissions,” said Smith. “The U.S. government was actively advocating to regress women’s rights while our European and Canadian counterparts were working to improve, or at least keep, women’s rights at status quo.”

Climate change, food sovereignty, education and eliminating violence were also part of the Commission’s global agenda this year.

Smith says the refusal of the U.S. to approve visas for some commission participants was highlighted to the U.N. secretary general and the Bureau of the Commission.

“When the U.S. originally offered to host the U.N. headquarters, there were protections in the treaty that prohibited international delegates from being barred from entering the U.S. or obtaining a visa to participate,” he said. “That wasn’t the case this year. There was some strong advocacy about that and one of the deputy ambassadors to the U.S. said she would look into the concerns. But it was a real disappointment that our government was blocking women around the world from being part of this international commission.”

Another highlight of the commission was the parallel event featuring the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis from the Presbytery of New York City and the Poor People’s Campaign.

“Liz was able to present the campaign to the international community, keeping with our call to be a Matthew 25 church,” Smith said. “The ability for the PC(USA) to bring that to the international community, I think, that was one of our biggest highlights.”

As many as 19 Presbyterians, ranging from 21 to 89 years old, and coming from states such as Florida, Ohio, New York and Alaska, participated in the commission this year.

“It was very moving to see such excitement and engagement by our own delegation doing the advocacy work,” said Sue Rheem, mission specialist for international advocacy at the PMUN. “They spoke up on different priorities and were very involved in learning about the implications of those priorities in the U.S. context.”

Smith says this year’s delegation had full access to the U.N.

“The Presbyterian delegates were able to connect directly with the commission as well as participate in the events on U.N. grounds,” he said. “That’s a different model than we’ve had in the past. We also had a strong connection with Presbyterian women of New Zealand and look forward to strengthening that partnership in the coming year.”

“I met some wonderful Presbyterian women and it was so energizing to be with them. Even though the commission was dealing with a lot of challenging issues, it was wonderful to be able to be with other women who were willing to fight for these issues,” said Rheem. “The delegation felt energized going back.”

More than 4,300 representatives from over 600 civil society organizations and 170 member states attended this year’s commission. Organizers say it was the largest number yet.

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