A group of about 70 Presbyterians let the world know: the faithful will be active participants in efforts to end violence against women. The inter-generational group took part in the annual session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) held in March at the United Nations.
“It’s very important that there is a spiritual voice for women,” Annanda Barclay, who was part of the delegation of Presbyterians, said. “I think all too often – especially in our national arena – that spiritual, faithful voice gets lost or drowned out. It doesn’t get heard as loud as opposing views.”
Every year during CSW, the UN seeks input from non-governmental agencies in shaping its international policy on women's issues. Representatives from member states evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide.
“It gives women a chance to be their own agents, to advocate for themselves,” Barclay said. “Some or many of the diplomats are Christian or have had Christian privilege and we go there knowing we can advocate from that particular context. And, this not only has a national impact, but a global impact.”
This year the primary focus was on efforts to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women and girls. Among the Presbyterian delegation were 13 young women, including 23-year-old Barclay who attends seminary Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, invited to take part through Racial Ethnic & Women's Ministries/PW's Young Women's Leadership Development (YWLD) programs. Twenty-one-year-old Hannah Schorr, a lifelong Presbyterian attending Davidson College, was also among those 13.
“I was definitely eager to meet other women and men who were also passionate about issues concerning violence against women and girls,” Schorr told us. “I felt compelled that God had called me there.”
Schorr learned about the opportunity through an email from the Presbyterian Mission Agency; Barclay was directed to CSW through another young woman who had attended previously. YWLD’s staff members within RE&WM/PW intentionally reach out to young women to attend the Commission on the Status of Women. The group attending with YWLD, including Barclay and Schorr, was selected from among many applicants for the spots.
“CSW has helped shape the young leaders in our churches,” Alexandra Zareth, Field Staff for Racial Ethnic Young Women Together Network (REYWT), explained. “It exposes them to important issues and helps participants understand those issues better. It explains what the Church has to say about the issue. It also exposes them to a practical way to connect and learn and advocate, giving a clear sense of connection to the rest of the Body of Christ... which then makes these "learning experiences" keystones in their leadership development and Christian formation.”
After an orientation, participants were invited to attend sessions with UN diplomats and parallel events focused on addressing specific forms of violence or discrimination again women worldwide. They advocated for God’s justice and peace, guided by General Assembly policy.
Participation inspires and equips Presbyterians, women and men alike, to proclaim and advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the local, state, national, and international level. Both Barclay and Schorr say they came away with a new understanding of what women face around the world and a feeling of empowerment to change things in society and within the church.
“We act like it’s over there but really it’s in our pews, in our neighborhoods. It’s with us,” Barclay told us. “As a future pastor, I feel like I am not yet equipped to handle certain aspects of my call and so I feel I must seek those out myself. For example, I’m going to look for domestic violence training so I can respond proactively to issues when they arise.”
“I was filled with hope because of the dialogue that was happening and meeting and talking to so many people who are so passionate about issues concerning violence against women.” Schorr said. “Yet, I was filled with so much sorrow and frustration because of the pervasive, systemic and overwhelmingly destructive nature of these issues.”
Barclay, Schorr, and their peers participated in the events surrounding CSW and provided an intergenerational perspective to the delegation. But, Barclay was quick to point out that it wasn’t a one-way dialog. She too learned from Presbyterians who have been in the church longer.
“It was very intentionally inter-generational, getting to know each other – one collective community. Throughout CSW, Presbyterian Women held intergenerational talks that were supported by all the other Presbyterian groups – like YWLD and Presbyterians to the UN. It helped us see each other and acknowledge each other as spiritual equals.”
In advocating for changes and additions to the CSW’s outcome document, known as agreed conclusions, the group works with the tools of the UN system to try to create a better world. The Presbyterian voices, along with those of our partners in Ecumenical Women, are in a unique position to share faith-based perspectives which often aren’t heard. The group advocated in support of gender equality and education, and to spoke out against structural, cultural, and even religious causes of violence against women and girls.
Young Women's Leadership Programs
Young Women’s Leadership Development is a national ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency within Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/PW. The office of YWLD connects with young women, ages 18-35, providing resources and opportunities to foster their formation as leaders in the church. YWLD also facilitates the work of REYWT (Racial Ethnic Young Women Together) and NNPCW (the National Network of Presbyterian College Women). To learn more about YWLD and to get involved, visit pcusa.org/youngwomen or find us on Facebook.
“The vastness of violence against women and girls that takes place is deeply unsettling and painful to hear about,” Schorr said. “But I have hope because I believe that God’s love is here… and is bringing forth restoration, peace, dignity and wholeness, and in this context, we can share that hope and work to change things for all women.”
Barclay agrees but says the things they’ve learned can also be applied within the church.
“It’s a great way to evangelize at this global level,” she said, adding. “The church is struggling to be multicultural right now. If we [pastors and elders] had training in helping with things like the social, emotional, mental, and economical violence against women-including women with disabilities, and those who are lesbian, transgender, or bisexual, as well as minorities – to show that we have an understanding and that we love them as who they are, then that multi-cultural growth would happen organically. We’ve done a poor job reaching out to them – with love and not oppression.”
Learn more about the Presbyterian delegation to the UN CSW by heading to presbyterianmission.org/ministries/un/ and the NNPCW Facebook page. Help us educate other young women and encourage their participation in regards to the challenges, inequities, and crimes women around the world face and how we can improve the lives of all.
“If I were asked by another woman, ‘should I attend CSW or be a part of YWLD?’” Barclay said. “I’d say ‘Yes! please, please, please go!’”