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Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People shares transformational stories with the 68th Commission on the Status of Women

SDOP event focuses on creating opportunities for women to be agents of self-development

by Shani E. McIlwain | Presbyterian News Service

Margaret Mwale of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People introduces a panel that spoke this week to Presbyterians attending the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

NEW YORK — The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is a ministry that affirms God’s concern for humankind. Established a half-century ago, SDOP works with ecumenical partners to promote justice, build stronger communities and seek economic equity.

SDOP held a parallel event this week during the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women to amplify the work of advocacy. In collaboration with the Presbytery of New York City, the conversation, titled “Enhancing Women’s Voices and Rights: Creating Opportunities for Women to Be Agents of Self-Development,” revolved around amplifying personal stories of transformation and service.

Ruling Elder Selma Jackson, moderator of the Presbytery of New York City and the former chair of the national SDOP committee, shared her decision to leave a career in banking because she found it difficult to help women and people of color obtain loans during her 15-year tenure. When she realized she could take her skills and create impact, it became life changing.

Since the opening session, CSW delegates and guests have heard that worship is advocacy, and advocacy is worship. For many women, work can be overwhelming and progress seems hard to attain.

An exercise in resiliency created a sacred pause as attendees were invited to breathe and remember. In remembering, one is able to feel just how embodied advocacy can be.

Prayer has been a frequent event during the Commission on the Status of Women. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

Farah Tanis, founder and CEO of Black Women’s Blueprint and Restore Forward in Brooklyn, New York, and Lisa Daniel from Women’s Press Collective in the Bronx shared how impactful it has been to work side-by-side with SDOP.

Tanis co-founded Black Women’s Blueprint in 2008 to help women heal from trauma and violence. She says that after meeting the initial goals and desires of BWB, Restore Forward was born out of a need to recognize that once trauma and healing began, what was next? Funding from SDOP helped to develop programs such as:

  • Convened the first-ever Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) to focus on Black women and sexual violence.
  • Created multimedia cultural productions, the Mother Tongue Monologues Theater, that produced critical analysis in the years preceding the BWTRC and formed programs steeped in the mandates of truth, justice, healing and reconciliation.
  • Developed powerful partnerships at federal and local levels, influencing key policies that shaped the national cultural gaze to one that centered Black women and girls rather than pornified their bodies and identities.

The Women’s Press Collective is an all women-led, all volunteer, non-government-funded self-help membership organization that helps amplify stories not told in corporate media arenas. Daniel serves as WPC’s operations manager and believes that print media still serves a purpose in social good. Print media helps people succeed at this in ways that corporately owned electronic and digital media don’t, according to Daniel. “We advocate for print because it’s independent. Another reason is that print encourages face-to-face organizing, where people meet each other in real life [and] have the chance to talk, to debate, to determine together how we can work together to address issues.” These are issues of fairness, representation, community well-being, and other grassroots concerns, Daniel said, which gather strength when printed material draws people together on their behalf.

The talk about how SDOP has partnered with New York organizations held the crowd in rapt attention. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

These stories from Tanis and Daniel helped delegates connect personally to why advocacy work is important. College delegates Kaela Hawkins and Hyun Joo Nam, along with Young Adult Volunteer Juliet Owuor, said they have been inspired to go back to their respective campuses and share what they have learned.

Hawkins said she knew women’s voices have often been silenced, but by participating in CSW68, she has seen a more in-depth degree of inequity. “There are a lot of simple solutions that are easy to implement,” Hawkins said. “We just have to be the ones to implement them.”

Owuor said, “Just the awareness made me feel so good. It made me feel like I’m in the right place, surrounded by the right people who have the same mission. It just sparks me, especially now that I am in the discernment area of my life. I’m switching from engineering to this work.”

Nam said that “advocacy work is important because it makes people aware. It helps people become more enlightened with all the news, the current events, and the current status of women’s policies and the progress of the work, or maybe no progress or little progress.”

Learn more about SDOP and its partners here. When congregations are generous with their One Great Hour of Sharing Special Offering each year, it helps support the many grassroots organizations that are empowering and inspiring communities one story at a time. These gifts share God’s love with people experiencing need. OGHS gifts designated for Self-Development of People support the PC(USA) ministry participating in the empowerment of economically poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged people, seeking to change the structures that perpetuate poverty, oppression and injustice.

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