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U.N. event inspires young women

Presbyterian delegation is in the final week of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Victoria Alexander, a Young Adult Volunteer for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the 65th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women has been “one of the most meaningful, inspiring, thought-provoking experiences” of her life. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Victoria Alexander, 22, is passionate about working with and learning from women leaders, so she jumped at the chance to be part of a Presbyterian delegation to the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The two-week event, which concludes Friday, is the United Nations’ largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment. It features panel discussions, forums and other opportunities to hear from authorities, officials and activists from all over the world about issues affecting the lives of women and girls.

Although CSW is taking place virtually this year because of the pandemic, it has had a significant impact on young participants, such as Alexander and Grace Fulda, who are both part of the Young Adult Volunteer program (YAV) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian World Mission.

“The CSW, so far, has quite frankly been one of the most meaningful, inspiring, thought-provoking experiences of my life,” said Alexander, who attends First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. “I think the nature of the past year has made me especially appreciative of the determination and resilience I see in the women and people at each panel and event. I feel so empowered during and after each event I attend, which is especially fulfilling, given how powerless the past year and the pandemic have made me feel at times.”

Normally, delegates from the PC(USA) and Presbyterian Women would gather in New York City with thousands of other participants instead of attending meetings and worship services through virtual platforms.

Still, “it’s an amazing feeling to know that while I’m sitting by myself in my room in front of my laptop, I am collaborating with and learning from women quite literally all over the globe at the same time,” Alexander said. “That feeling of community and connectedness has been so sparse over the past year, when doing what’s best for the community means isolating yourself from in-person interaction.”

The gathering, which has included appearances by world leaders including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, is accompanied by a vast array of parallel and side events on topics, ranging from COVID-19 and domestic violence to climate change and politics.

For example, “I attended a parallel event presented by a panel of female leaders with disabilities who addressed the need to empower women with disabilities in Nigeria,” said Fulda, 24, of First and Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. “Their comments were enlightening — applicable to any country.”

Grace Fulda, a Young Adult Volunteer for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said participating in CSW has been an enlightening experience. (Contributed photo)

Also, “I attended several events addressing the need to stop sexual violence around the world,” Fulda said. “I was shocked by how frequently women are violated. From now on, I will be wearing black on Thursdays to show my support and participation in #ThursdaysinBlack and #LinkUp2EndGBV. I plan to share this new knowledge with my church and community.”

Alexander and Fulda were invited to attend CSW by YAV Coordinator Destini Hodges, who also has participated this year, and Ivy Lopedito of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations (PMUN), which helps to guide participants through the gathering.

Much of CSW and related events have included young leaders and activists championing their causes and calling attention to injustices and concerns worldwide.

“I was encouraged by the young adults who led and moderated panel discussions,” Fulda said. “This inspires me to be a leader. My church has recognized that we have a shortage of young people and currently no youth officers. After attending the Commission on the Status of Women, I am better informed and feel more confident to advocate for women and youth.”

Ivy Lopedito, a Mission Specialist for the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, said this year’s CSW has shown that young women can be “change makers.” (Contributed photo)

Lopedito, a 27-year-old Mission Specialist for PMUN, said the gathering shows that young women can be “change makers” and can impact society in positive ways.

Through CSW, “I have become empowered to act, to take the information I have learned and to use it within my community, and within my work,” she said. “This commission has reminded me that I am not excluded from advocacy work, that regardless of my age I have a part to play, and I can seek justice in not only small but also large ways. I can also encourage other young people my age that, regardless of our underrepresentation, we still can be used by God to advocate for others.”

Lopedito, who attends First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, also found it meaningful to interact with older members of the Presbyterian delegation with whom she’s had several opportunities to meet and worship with online during CSW.

“Young women often do not have much influence when it comes to social and political structures which define our lives,” she said. “In so many situations we are underrepresented, and even in our delegation we are the minority, but I have seen this (past) week that the women are excited for us to be a part and care about what we have to say, knowing that our opinions and influence matter in the public sphere.”

Alexander expressed gratitude for older women taking part in CSW. She said they “have welcomed my presence and my words with open and encouraging arms, sharing their experiences, their lessons they’ve learned, and their drive to continue to learn more and make the world a better place for those who will come after them.”

She went on to say that “getting to meet all of these incredible women makes me completely resolved to work just as hard as they do to make my voice heard, to take action to make this world better for the girls and young women who will come after me.”

The benefits of intergenerational interaction also were noted by some of the older delegates.

Magdalene Lewis, who’s been attending CSW for many years and is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, New York, said this year’s gathering was the most inclusive she’s seen and serves as a reminder that “in this fight for gender equality, our young women need to be nurtured. The only way this will happen is that they are included in decision-making.”

Joy Durrant, Presbyterian Women’s Vice Moderator for Justice & Peace, said, “I am in awe of the wisdom and communication skills of young women — and of course, their social media savviness. I am also heartened by the tenacity of their commitment to advocate for matters that speak to their hearts. The young women I heard embody ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ — and their neighbor might sit next to them in the classroom or be halfway around the world.”

Kay Woods, a delegate from Three Rivers Community Presbyterian Church in California, said, “I am not only happy to hear many more young women and girls at this CSW but relieved and hopeful. Their voices are strong and determined but at the same time full of caring for both men and women as they work for gender equality.”

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is supported by your gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering.

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