Religion at the UN?

Religion at the UN?

You have to admire any man who will take 75 minutes of questions from a room of 800 women.

UN Secretary-General at the Commission of the Status of Women taking town hall questions from the floor.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres did just that at the 63rd session on the Commission of the Status of Women this week, opening his remarks by challenging women to “push back against the push back” on gender inequality. Mr. Guterres began with an update on zero tolerance for UN workers complicit in sexual crimes and harassment among the vast work the UN undertakes for vulnerable people.

Delegates on the floor united for a better tomorrow.

Then began the problems outside the UN as activist after activist cued for answers. The plight of half widows (husbands missing through war but not declared dead), and 63 million women still facing cultural pressures of female genital mutilation hit the UN floor. We really need a better answer for evil, I thought, as Mr. Guterres confirmed that, “it is absolutely true human trafficking is now harvesting human organs.”

“We have made much better progress in drug trafficking because all politicians can relate that their own children might take drugs, but we cannot relate that our children could be trafficked and so this progress is hindered,” said Mr. Guterres.

The questions from the delegates were deeply personal. Beautiful activists, young and old exiled from Iran, pleaded for the 43,000 girls under 15 who were married last year in Iran. Others asked for rights for “2,000 women who are arrested or brutalized each day across Iran for improper veiling.” Martha Ines, the Argentinian activist beside me, held up an infant t-shirt with a baby’s face, pleading for motherhood.

The women in media discussion at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Women with disabilities asked for help to access those making policy around transportation access. An Indian labor organizer representing 600,000 women pleaded for gender accommodated workplaces that would, among other needs, allow breastfeeding rooms. Africans asked for government to enforce school construction of female bathrooms for menstruation accommodation so girls could stay in school.

My task in being there was to understand the influence religious leadership should have amid such international need.  As a delegate of “Power of Her”, the World Vision Canada initiative on gender equity, I had much to learn.    

Our World Vision Power of Her delegation gathered outside the UN. (from left) Alison Williams, Merydth Holt Mackenzie, Lorna Dueck, Melinda Estabrooks, Sarah Schulz, Cheryl Nembhard

“Our families tell us, ‘any agency can talk to government, but you are the only ones who have credibility in my family,’” said Dana Buzdecea, World Vision International Partnership Leader of Advocacy.  Because beliefs and values hold families together, faith-based work like World Vision’s is understanding that those beliefs are a needed part of speaking change for a better tomorrow on gender equality.   

It’s been a long time since the ashes of WWII united the world to declare Universal Human Rights that are led and protected for all citizens by the United Nations.   Charles Malik, a Lebanese theologian and founding UN President on Human Rights, navigated the global stage with a deep understanding of faith. 

“The greatest thing about any civilization is the human person,” said Malik. “And the greatest thing about this person is the possibility of their encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.”      

Jesus broke all the barriers for women, and we should do the same.   

Once a refugee, Canada’s Minister of International Development and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef, on the role of religion in women’s equality.

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