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Fighting for gender equality: Event by Ecumenical Women prepares Presbyterians and others to mobilize for advocacy at UN gathering

Panelist: ‘We need to make our voices heard’

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

A jubilant moment during Saturday’s Ecumenical Women’s orientation session at the 67th Commission on the Status of Women. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

LOUISVILLE — During a panel discussion on Saturday, engineer Anna Hand of Towson Presbyterian Church in Maryland helped to bring home the spirit-crushing realities that girls and young women sometimes face when they show interest in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM).

Hand, who has degrees in engineering, physics and political science, said females who express interest in STEM are often steered in a less technical, more subordinate direction. “Instead of a woman being told that she can be a doctor, she’s more likely to be told that she should pursue nursing. If she wants to be an engineer, she’s asked, ‘Oh, are you sure that’s really what you want to do?’”

Anna Hand and other panelists discussed ways to keep women and girls from falling behind in the digital age. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Hand, a Kansas native, spoke during an orientation session put on by Ecumenical Women at the United Nations as people from around the world gathered in New York City for the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The #CSW67 gender-equality event officially kicked off on March 6 and is taking place over the next two weeks at the United Nations headquarters.

Ecumenical Women is a coalition of Christian denominations and ecumenical organizations — including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — that represents 550 million people worldwide. In a statement submitted to the UN, the coalition stresses the need for reimagining and reinvesting in education so that girls have the tools they need in the digital age to enhance accessibility, including the infrastructure for stable internet and the protection of the human rights, safety and security of women and girls.

“Over the last century, the world saw exponential growth in innovation, technology, and digital communications,” the statement endorsed by PC(USA) and Presbyterian Women notes. However, “inequalities in access and gender equity persist, undermining progress and protections for women and girls and their human rights, as well as in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Saturday orientation, which included participation by the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, was the first one that Ecumenical Women has been able to hold in person since 2019, prior to the start of the Covid pandemic. The orientation included scripture and song as well as information about how to be effective advocates during #CSW67. Through various speakers, it also offered insight into the priority theme: “innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, provided words of inspiration via video. “Let us ensure that this CSW67 sets the global normative framework on gender equality, technology and innovation, so that we are able to influence subsequent intergovernmental processes on the development of the global digital compact as part of the UN Secretary General’s ‘Our Common Agenda,” she said. “Your voice, your activism and leadership in affirming equal rights for women and girls is crucial in transforming community.”

The panel discussion touched on a number of topics, including the importance of women having access to mobile phones and other technology, surmounting economic and cultural barriers, and the need to break the cycle of women and girls being told they’re not good enough.

Anna Hand, an engineer, shared her personal story during a panel discussion that was part of the orientation session by Ecumenical Women of the United Nations. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Hand recounted a high school mathematics teacher telling her that she was bad at math and should choose a more attainable career. That kind of advice is problematic because “we internalize a lot of those things,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of difficulty processing those feelings and the things that I faced as a young woman who wanted to pursue STEM and was basically told that I shouldn’t.”

After initially taking on another career, Hand decided to go back to school in her mid-20s and now works for one of the premier aeronautics companies in the country. But she acknowledged that not everyone has the luxury of going back home to live with their parents while they complete school.

Lopa Banerjee spoke during Ecumenical Women’s orientation. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Speaker Lopa Banerjee, chief of the Civil Society Section at UN Women, spoke of another gap: unequal access to digital tools and services. Directing her comments to churches and faith-based organizations, she said, “part of your advocacy has to be to ensure that each member of your constituency has equal access to digital skills to understand and use digital services productively … so that we can add women and young people into the digital economy.”

Panelist Ellen Lindeen stressed the importance of civic engagement, including voting, letter writing and marching. (Photo by Rich Copley/ Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Civic engagement, from voting and letter writing to marching for positive change, also is important to keep women from being left behind in the digital age, said panelist Ellen Lindeen, who has a background in teaching and peace studies.

“We can’t just call on our governments to take care of us,” she said, noting the political influence of big business. “We need to make our voices heard.”

Follow Presbyterian News Service coverage and Presbyterian Mission Agency social media channels, including those found here and here, for more coverage of #CSW67.

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