I attended the fifty-second meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in
It was my privilege to be one of the delegates in the main UN chamber when the Secretary General celebrated International Women's Day by promising more resources to those working in the UN for the empowerment of women.
The two weeks also included listening to talks on microfinance in
|Ellen Clark-King (foreground) with other Anglican members of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women. Back row: Alice Medcof,
Throughout all this we were constantly being reminded that it is women who are the poorest of the poor and who bear a disproportionate burden of both the world's work and the world's ills.
On the opening day when most of us were registering there was a long line moving at snail's pace as we waited to get our photos taken for our UN identity cards. There was a little bit of complaining, and a lot of laughter.
In the queue there were a handful of women in clerical collars - including one in a purple shirt (Bishop Sue Moxley of Nova Scotia), North American and European women in business suits, Indian women in saris, African women in brightly coloured tribal dresses and scarves, and one fascinated seven year old girl in a green gingham dress clutching a doll.
These women work for peace, for the eradication of poverty, for understanding between cultures and for the empowerment of women throughout the world.
We talked about how we will work towards making our own diocesan and provincial budgets take financing for gender equality seriously-though we confessed to one another a tendency to let our eyes glaze over when matters of finance come up and promise to do better in future.
We also laughed about redeeming the term 'nagging' as we insist that women's voices must be heard in the councils of the church. We recognized that all our contexts are very different but that in none of them do the highest decision making bodies have equal gender representation.
Of the many stories I heard during the two weeks, I remember especially one told by a woman who worked for a non-governmental organization in
At her medical mission she was visited by a family bringing their young daughter who had fallen into the charcoal cooking pit. The flesh of the little girl's hands was terribly scarred and fused together. Without surgery, she would never be able to use her hands.
Her organization contacted a highly respected plastic surgeon who was about to spend a few days in
Having taken the practical steps of arranging transport and accommodation in the city for the family, she was delighted to be able to contact the little girl's father to let him know the good news. He said no, they wouldn't go.
She pushed him for a reason. It was a very simple one: "She's just a girl. She's not worth all the fuss."
It was also striking that only one out of all those wise and able Anglican women gathered at the UN would be heard in the councils of Lambeth. We still need to work for a church which lives out its message of valuing women fully as much as men and, even more urgently, for a world where women are treated with dignity, lifted out of poverty and kept safe from gender violence.