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UN gathering lights fire of advocacy in Presbyterian woman

Commission on the Status of Women can be transformative for delegates

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will be held online over the next two weeks.

LOUISVILLE — Kay Woods was a newcomer to the United Nations’ largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment when she traveled to New York City in 2019 as part of a Presbyterian delegation.

“What I found, personally, is that I just got on fire there,” Woods said of the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). There were 5,000 “determined, courageous, brilliant, forward-looking women, all working on these issues, and I just got that ‘We can do this!’ feeling.”

Woods, who was part of a joint delegation of individuals from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women, became particularly interested in sounding an alarm about climate change. As a result, she gave talks on that topic after arriving back in her home state of California and worked with the media to publicize the issue.

Kay Woods

“What I learned is (that) what you can do is to talk about your issue,” said Woods, a deacon at Three Rivers Community Presbyterian Church, part of the Presbytery of San Joaquin. “You learn about it and you listen to the person with whom you’re talking and see where they’re coming from and you talk with them about it.”

Woods, 78, will be returning to CSW this year, along with other delegates from Presbyterian Women and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and thousands of participants from around the globe. But this time, they will be participating from home.

The event, which takes place March 15-26, was largely sidelined last year because of the pandemic and will be virtual this year. Most of the PC(USA) participants are from the United States, but there also will be representatives from Cameroon, South Sudan and Madagascar.

“While we have wanted to invite global partners in the past, the expense associated with attending the Commission was a deterrent,” said Sue Rheem, the PC(USA) Representative to the UN. “Since this year’s CSW is virtual, delegates just need a good internet connection, so we were able to offer it to our global partners. The time difference will be a challenge for global partners, but the delegates are aware of this and have prepared accordingly.”

It will be the 65th session of CSW, and the main theme will be “women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” according to the website.

The PC(USA) “participates in the Commission on the Status of Women and advocates for gender justice as part of our call to work for justice for those who have (been) marginalized and to work toward human dignity and community where participation of each and every one is valued, where no one is excluded on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability or religion (and) where full diversity is celebrated as God’s gift to the world,” Rheem said.

The Church has participated in the gathering for many years and knows its power to transform.

Presbyterian delegates to the 63rd annual UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2019 included a Presbyterian Women contingent and others from the PC(USA). (Photo courtesy of Rich Copley)

“Many participants have gone home and become more vocal and active about their passion topics after participating at CSW,” Rheem said. “One delegate went back to her congregation to be more involved with environmental concerns and leading Sunday school lessons on the Sustainable Development Goals. Another delegate ran for a seat on the town council.”

While giving talks around her central California region, Woods noticed that young people were the most receptive to her message.

“What I found out when I talked to groups was that it was the young women who really wanted to know, ‘What can I do?’” Woods said. “They want to know what they can do as an individual, especially about climate change,” but also about other issues, such as hunger, equality for women, education for girls, and racism.

This year at CSW, the Presbyterian contingent will include representatives from PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program.

Sue Rheem is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Representative to the United Nations. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“It will be wonderful to have the YAVs participate this year so they can be more engaged with global issues,” Rheem said. “Many YAVs continue to do justice work in the church and so learning about international issues will hopefully be an important part of their discernment process. It’s a bit cliché, but young people will be our future leaders and it’s important for them to know what issues they need to tackle, to solve the problems that await them in a much more connected world.”

Presbyterians will hold a companion event, “Women Leading in the Church” at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on March 23. The panel discussion will focus on “the progress and challenges for women leaders in the church and society, and in particular as women leaders of color,” Rheem said. Register for the panel discussion here.

“We are excited to have such a distinguished panel of speakers — Elona Street-Stewart, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly; Jyungin Lee, Moderator of Presbyterian Women; and the Rev. Dr. SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, Transitional Leader for the Synod of the Northeast — for this important conversation,” Rheem said.

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to continue the valuable ministry of the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN.

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