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‘We are not victims of the crisis, but resilient communities’

Ecumenical Women at the UN open CSW66 with global perspective on climate change

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Lopa Banerjee, the Chief of the Civil Society Section at UN Women, speaks during Saturday’s orientation. (Screenshot)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The 66th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is centering the role of women and girls in combatting climate change. But the event opens, the world and women and girls in particular are facing numerous issues that intersect with the climate crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a war in Europe that threatens to become a global conflict.

“Women and girls are at the frontline of resisting these disasters,” Lopa Banerjee, the Chief of the Civil Society Section at UN Women, said Saturday morning at the CSW66 orientation session for Ecumenical Women at the UN. “Women and girls have formed the bulwark of climate justice activists, they form the bulwark of gender equality activists, they are the frontline of fighting for sustainability, of coming up with solutions, of working in their communities, in their families in their countries. And yet, they are not at the decision-making tables where policy is being made or not made to address these disasters.

“Therefore, my friends, my fellow activists, my fellow advocates, putting gender equality at the center of climate change, of climate justice, of climate sustainable solutions means integrating gender perspectives across all policies, across all sectors. It means that we have to put the leadership, the knowledge and the solutions that women and girls are developing in their communities at the center of conjoined response.”

The more than 40 Presbyterian delegates to CSW66 were part of the Ecumenical Women gathering, one of the annual preludes to the Commission, which starts March 14 and continues through March 25. Most years, the orientation is a day-long event in the chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations, directly across the street from UN headquarters in New York City. But for the second consecutive year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most events of the commission are being held virtually, including the EW orientation and Friday night’s Presbyterian orientation.

Learn more about the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and CSW66:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women are two of  17 organizations that make up Ecumenical Women at the UN, which also includes Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand, the Episcopal Church, United Women in Faith (formerly United Methodist Women), the World Council of Churches and the Salvation Army.

The orientation was bookended with worship and included Banerjee’s address and a panel discussion with representatives from the Philippines, Seychelles, the United States, Zimbabwe and Australia. The speakers offered different perspectives on climate change and the role of women in combating it, but they were unified in the belief that we face an existential threat and women are essential in overcoming it.

Joy Eva Bohol

Joy Eva Bohol with the World Council of Churches in the Philippines talked about the impacts of climate change in the island nation, from daily struggles to find drinking water to the devastating impacts of powerful typhoons, all compounded by the realities of domestic violence and government oppression. Hope could be hard to find, even for a young person, she acknowledged.

But Bohol found hope at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) when she talked with a group from the Pacific Islands, a region seeing catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“We believe that we are not victims of the crisis, but resilient communities fighting for our future, for the future of our home,” Bohol recalled people in the group saying in a quote that was repeated several times in the last hour of the orientation. “A lot of young women are on the front line of really standing up, being prophetic in this issue of climate injustice, standing up, speaking truth to power. And we see this is about power dynamics.”

The Rev. Christine Benoit, the first woman in the Seychelles to be ordained an Anglican priest, addressed some of those power dynamics in talking about her country that relies heavily on the tourist economy, which was all but shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said one of the impediments to improving things, particularly from her perspective as the only female priest, is male ego.

“Some of these men, you know, it’s about time that they put their ego in their back pocket and sit on it, so that we can move on,” Benoit said. “Because if they don’t do that, we won’t go anywhere. Because the problem is, as females, we always need to prove ourselves in order to be recognized, to be accepted in order to move forward.

“With regards to that, they need to realize that we are co-creators. We all need to humble ourselves, be like Jesus.”

That was one of several references to men and, considering they are the dominant gender in leadership, their roles in creating the crises the Earth faces. The speakers said they seek a balance in leadership and an openness to perspectives that often are not present when decisions are being made.

The Rev. Dr. Melanie Harris

In a question-and-answer section, panel moderator Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee of United Women in Faith raised the issue of problems being framed in ways that pit needs or communities against each other. The Rev. Dr. Melanie Harris of Wake Forest Divinity School, author of “Ecowomanism: Earth Honoring Faiths,” said hierarchical either-or thinking often comes into play in decision-making.

“I think the gift of women’s knowledge is that we always come with both/and, and create spaces of creativity, to be and to also be able to do, and to think through intersections and to do more than one thing at one time,” Harris said.

Major Melanie-Anne Holland (Screenshot)

Maj. Melanie-Anne Holland of the Salvation Army in Australia said that the roots of many of the problems the world faces are the result of systems made to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the vulnerable.

“What we desperately longed for in this context is really the gospel of Christ to shine a light on how massively different Jesus and God’s love is in the world, to be for the church to embody, to put flesh on the glorious truth that we have this prophetic understanding of the kingdom of God that’s egalitarian and mutual, that’s wholly freed from greed and the abuse of power,” Holland said. “We long for the church to be honoring of our Creator and stewarding and nurturing towards abundant life, striving for justice and deep unity and wholeness.”

The Rev. Dionne Boissiere leads worship at the 2019 Ecumenical Women orientation to the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women, the last in-person edition of the event. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Dionne Boissiere, Chaplain of the Church Center, finished her summary of the panel discussion with the words of panelist Collins Shava Kudakwashe of Zimbabwe saying, “this is something I think we all must walk away with, ‘this issue is not a crisis of tomorrow, but it is a priority of today.’”

And, the session asserted, it is a crisis all present need to address.

Banerjee concluded, “You, as leaders of faith, creating co-leadership, are the only way we see a sustainable world with peace and justice.”

To register for a March 22 webinar on how women in the church are responding to climate change and environmental degradation, go here.

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

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