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Presbyterian delegate gets to question UN Secretary-General at town hall

World leader criticizes churches for lack of gender equality

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Hyun Joo Nam, a Presbyterian delegate to the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, asks the final question of UN Secretary-General António Guterres during a town hall on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations)

LOUISVILLE — When the annual town hall with UN Secretary-General António Guterres extended beyond its designated hour on Wednesday, it was a lucky break for Hyun Joo Nam, a Presbyterian delegate to the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The extra time allowed for a third round of questions from the audience, and Nam was randomly picked to be the last person to take a turn at the microphone.

Nam, a member of Somahng Presbyterian Church in Palisades Park, New Jersey, is part of a joint delegation of about 50 people from Presbyterian Women and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are taking part in CSW68, a global summit focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“I was shocked to be chosen for a chance to ask and voice (myself) during the town hall,” Nam, 32, said via email. “I honestly had no expectations of being chosen in the last pool of selection.”

But with no outward hint of nervousness, Nam asked Gutteres how the church at large can continue to spread awareness of women’s equality and address poverty and its gender-specific root causes and consequences and strengthen institutions through gender-responsive decision-making and other means.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

Drawing applause from the crowd, Gutteres responded, “Nothing would be more important for gender equality, if you come from a religious organization, if religious leaders of all kinds would assume leadership” in this regard. He continued: “Unfortunately, we still see many religious leaders with positions that do not favor gender equality.”

Whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or another religion, confronting “religious leaders with the need to fully assume gender equality” is key, he said, because “one of the instruments of patriarchy is a wrong interpretation of religion.”

Nam, one of the multiple delegates under 35 this year, said she was pleased with Gutteres’ response. “I was delighted with Secretary-General’s answer in that there is much work as religious leaders to be done and patriarchy is a wrong representation of religion.” (Watch the full program here.)

The question-and-answer session followed introductory remarks by Gutteres, who acknowledged the crushing burden of poverty and other forces on women.

“We are meeting in troubled times, for the world and particularly, for women and girls,” he said. “The Sustainable Development Goals are off track, including goal five — gender equality. At our current rate, 340 million women and girls will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030, and we cannot allow this to happen. We face a climate crisis, a cost-of-living crisis and a debt crisis in many countries, and these are hitting women and girls hardest, pushing many into further poverty.”

During the event for civil society members, Gutteres also bemoaned racism, biases baked into artificial intelligence, and violence against women in various locations, including Sudan and in the Israel-Hamas war.

“The conflicts raging around the world are catastrophic for women and girls as we have seen all too clearly in the past year and more,” he said, adding, “Sexual violence in conflict is always a horror. We must condemn it … wherever and whenever it occurs.”

In the center, the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and, at right,Sue Rheem, who directs the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, are shown walking in between the many Commission on the Status of Women events. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

The town hall was moderated by Sima Sami Iskandar Bahous, executive director of UN-Women,  who thanked Gutteres for his “powerful, principled leadership” and then added, “I wish us all a wonderful and inspiring CSW68 where together we will push back against the pushback, Secretary-General, and we’ll push forward for gender equality everywhere.”

Gutteres’ final advice: “In the fight for gender equality, go for it. Take no prisoners.”

Read about a CSW worship service led by Presbyterians here. Find additional coverage at and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Facebook pages, such as here and here.

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