Tuesday, March 22, 2016

UNCSW Episcopal Church Delegates, Diane Wright

The UNCSW began March 14. The Episcopal Women's Caucus and The Episcopal Church Women have partnered to help support the Episcopal Delegates to the UNCSW. In the comments section are instructions for donating. 

Here is Diane Wright's story:

I spent my formative years living in developing countries where opportunities for women and girls differed from those in the US. This early exposure influenced my academic pursuits in which I focused on international human rights issues both in my undergraduate and legal studies. And in the ensuing years, my interest in issues affecting women and girls has grown and I have pursued these passions through my work in my parish, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA, and the Diocese of Virginia. 

Through my faith community, I am involved in various ministries affecting women and girls including as i. a member of the Executive Board of the ECW of the Diocese of Virginia and delegate to the Triennial Meeting of the National ECW in Salt Lake City this past July; ii. a leader of our parish Junior High Girls group where we gather bi-monthly with 15-20 girls for fun, fellowship and prayer; and iii. a thought leader for the “Faith and Females” initiative in the Diocese of Virginia which focuses on topics of interest to younger women. And through my professional work I have consulted on issues affecting women on corporate boards and represent women entrepreneurs. This passion for women and girls has merged with my interest in international outreach. Several years ago, I facilitated the collection of sewing machines to be sent to the women of our sister parish in Honduras to provide them with opportunities to learn a trade and thus contribute to the economic development of their community and their families. And currently, I am building relationships in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, Tanzania hoping to work with the diocese and our partner parish to help improve sustainability in the local communities by empowering women. 

Through my participation in the UNCSW with a focus on the empowerment of women for sustainable development, I hope to gain knowledge to further our ministry, both at the parish and diocesan level, in Tanzania, and to disseminate information on novel and broader initiatives. We are called through our baptismal covenant to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Through my ministry and my participation at UNCSW, I pray that God uses me as a catalyst to give greater voice to women and girls within my community and the greater Anglican Communion in order to foster a more just world in which men and women have equal voices and opportunities.

To donate please go here and click on:  EWC Margo Fund

Sunday, March 20, 2016

UNCSW 2016: Sarah Watkins

The UNCSW began March 14. The Episcopal Women's Caucus and The Episcopal Church Women have partnered to help support the Episcopal Delegates to the UNCSW. In the comments section are instructions for donating. 

Here is Sarah Watkins' story:

I am a UNCSW delegate from the Diocese of Texas. I am a member of St. James' Episcopal Church, Austin, where I serve on the vestry and worship with an emerging Latino missional community.

For the last decade, I have been heavily involved in local, state, and national efforts to end the warehousing of people with disabilities in nursing homes and other institutions. As a woman with a significant physical disability who depends on the paid support of other women to live my daily life, the fight to end unnecessary institutionalization and extend quality community-based services to anyone who needs them is deeply personal.

I currently serve as president of Community Now!, a grassroots organization working to right-size the system of large, publicly-operated institutions in Texas and expand alternatives to institutionalization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. I also volunteer as a legal assistant with a local immigration attorney who represents women and children locked up in detention centers for fleeing violence in their home countries.

I come to UNCSW passionate about the many intersecting injustices faced by women with disabilities and women immigrants, including physical and social isolation; increased risk for sexual and other forms of violence; and economic marginalization. I am particularly excited to use this opportunity to highlight the need for global action to promote the community integration and full potential of women and girls with disabilities. I look forward to encouraging The Episcopal Church and our faith partners to engage more fully in the ongoing work of seeking social justice for women, girls and all people with disabilities.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

UNCSW: Delegates from the Episcopal Church - Gillian Payne

The UNCSW began March 14. The Episcopal Women's Caucus and The Episcopal Church Women have partnered to help support the Episcopal Delegates to the UNCSW. In the comments section are instructions for donating. Below is Gillian Payne's story.

My name is Gillian Payne, I am a seventeen year old high school senior from Appleton, Wisconsin. I am avidly involved with multiple organizations that support the empowerment of women; including volunteering at the local women’s shelter, working with an organization to end sex trafficking, and starting a Gender Equality Club at my high school aimed towards educating students on issues ranging from gender stereotypes to the rape epidemic in developing countries. I am a delegate for the UNCSW because I hope to create a life based around empowering women through education and economic equality. As I will be attending college next year, I hope to take the information I learn at the UNCSW to cultivate change all over the world, and especially here in Wisconsin. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Leland Lee, UNCSW Episcopal delegate in 2015

Why the UN Commission on the Status of Women Matters
Lelanda Lee

My 21st century experience of feminism and women’s issues has evolved as I have gained elder status (soon to be 67 in March) and a deeper awareness of women’s and children’s lives in global communities beyond the USA. I applied to be appointed by then Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as part of a 20-person delegation to represent the Episcopal Church, which has official status as a member of the UN’s Economic and Social Council, to the UN Commission on the Status of Women’s 59th (UNCSW59) annual gathering in March 2015 in New York City. I hoped to learn the issues, represent my church, and connect with women from around the globe, and I was not disappointed.

It had been 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, when then first lady Hilary Clinton said, “. . . human rights are women's rights. . . . And women's rights are human rights.” As I studied the Beijing Declaration, I could see its important elements echoed in the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), which were subsequently superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals of September 2015 that also track the work done at UNCSW59. 

My experience as a delegate turned out to be a journey of self-awareness and renewed passion for championing women’s and children’s rights. When I left New York at the end of 12 intense days of participation, I felt humbled and impatient. I was in awe, listening to the stories told by my global sisters of all ages about their heroic stands for gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women and girls victimized in human trafficking and in war-torn villages. Many of my global sisters face considerable social and cultural pressures, including physical abuse and violence, while standing up for the rights of women and girls. Being with UN women from around the world reminded me that I came of age in the mid-1960s as part of the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements. I couldn’t wait to get home to continue the work of sharing our stories and lobbying for gender equality.

I have long felt the sting of rebuke in facts about the USA that point to a mean-spiritedness and gender inequality unbecoming a developed country – facts such as:

  • We have fallen into the 74th percentile of gender equity worldwide, ranking 28th behind Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Ireland who were the top five, and even behind Rwanda and the Philippines at sixth and seventh, respectively.1
  • The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (aka CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations in 1979, is an international bill of rights for women, which all but seven member states of the UN have signed. The non-signatories? – Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States.2 This should not be surprising when considered in the context of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which failed to garner its needed ratification by 38 states after passage in both houses of Congress in 1972.3 We are still waiting.
  • Worldwide, 188 countries guarantee paid leave for mothers of newborns, with the exception of nine nations, which include the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Tonga, and the United States.4 It’s not like we can not have children if humanity is to survive!
  • The National Committee on Pay Equity reports that based on median earnings of all full-time, year-round workers in the USA, in 2014 women earned $39,621 or 78.6% of the $50,383 that men earned. The statistics for women of color are even more dire: African American women earned $33,533 or 66.6% of men, and Latina women earned $30,293 or 60.1%. The Census Bureau is quoted, “The female-to-male earnings ratio has not shown a statistically significant annual increase since 2007.”5
  • Women elected to serve in national parliaments placed the USA in 72nd place out of 139 rankings (including almost 50 ties), behind Uganda, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.6

Within the very first day of orientation at UNCSW59, I heard named the wide gap between the aspiration of various nations to accord women and girls gender equality with men and boys as evidenced by legislation enacted by the nations, compared to the actuality of how those laws are implemented and enforced. UNCSW is not all flowers and cake, but is about truth and reality, from which the world’s women do not shy away. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, minced no words when she said, “Implementation has been weak” and that there has been a collective failure among the member states. She pointed out that even in Iceland, considered the most advanced nation democratically and in terms of gender equity, and which has significant laws addressing violence against women, statistics still show that one in three Icelandic women gets beaten by a man. 

Director Phumzile also called out the tokenism that exists in the quest for gender equality, citing the need to overcome stereotypes. Women don’t get hired or are passed over for promotions when there is a stereotype that women will be unreliable workers, because they put their children and families before their work responsibilities. Women are not paid the same wages as men, because there is a stereotype that women aren’t the breadwinners in their families. I, as a long-time anti-racism trainer, could relate to the idea of stereotypes causing impediments to progress in seeking gender equality.

At UNCSW59 I also heard repeatedly how wrong it is to use religion as an excuse for subjugation and violence against women and girls and how that practice must be stopped by all religions. It was striking to hear this admonition from women of many faiths and to be in solidarity with global women fighting the same evils in their country contexts.

In April 2015, I had the opportunity to keynote an interfaith gathering of over a hundred people from numerous faith traditions in Mid-Michigan to urge them to be proactive in holding conversations within and across their faith communities to address issues like stereotypes, inheritance laws, birth registration, and unpaid caretaking, and how these issues foster gender inequities. Each of us can learn to deconstruct and parse issues of equity, and we can raise our consciousness and that of our faith communities. We can enter the public conversations on gender equity, support equity legislation, and hold our elected officials accountable for implementation of equity laws. 

For an individual woman (or man) participation in UNCSW is an exhilarating and cathartic experience. There is something exciting about being in the company of 10-12,000 people who care deeply about gender equality and women’s empowerment and who are doing something about the issues in their own countries. There is something cathartic about hearing and discussing issues of vital importance from people involved directly in finding solutions and seeing how scalable and replicable their work can be in other contexts. There is something personally transformational about the hope and energy that other people’s good works and passionate thoughts engender in one’s self. I especially commend applying to become part of a future UNCSW delegation to anyone who is seeking renewal and new energy after a lifetime of being a faithful disciple and helpful leader. UNCSW will both change and affirm you and your purpose. 



Lelanda Lee is a lay leader from the Diocese of Colorado. She served on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council (2009-2015) and as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission (2012-2015). An EfM (Education for Ministry) 1999 graduate, she blogs for Emerging Voices on Patheos.com and at her blog What a Cup of Tea

The Margo Fund

Monday, March 7, 2016

UNCSW Cynthia Katsarelis

The Episcopal Women's Caucus and the Episcopal Church Women have partnered to raise funds to support the Episcopal delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which begins this Saturday.

Here is Cynthia Katsarelis' story:

I’ve been going to Haiti to teach and make music at Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince since 2004. There, I have seen the power of education to lift up all children, but especially girls. In 2004, several of my teen aged students are now the faculty at the school. It gives them a good job as they build excellence and opportunity for the next generation. Of course, I have also seen extreme poverty and women and children carrying buckets of water impossible distances. In the wake of the earthquake, one hears of terrible abuses against women and girls. But at the school I see engaged young people and this gives me hope.

At my parish, I served as chair of the Outreach Committee for two years, and I have also volunteered with the interfaith Women’s Homeless Initiative. Locally, we see women in dire straights for all the typical causes, domestic violence, drug abuse with no access to treatment, issues of livable wage, affordable housing, childcare, and lack of access to health care. On the committee, we partnered with Project Education South Sudan and helped fund projects on feminine hygiene and education. In a country where only .01 percent of girls get education, girls in this village have a high rate of graduation. 

Personally, I am an orchestra conductor. I’ve suffered discrimination for my gender and sexual orientation. I’m keenly aware that living in the West, I have had great opportunities that mitigate against economic ruin from the discrimination. But there’s something deeply painful about being rejected for my very being, a being created in the Image of God too. The hateful rhetoric I suffer from religious leaders and politicians wears on the soul, it is the anti-Baptismal Covenant. I live in a state that is simultaneously very privileged and very vulnerable. I feel compassion for vulnerable women and girls who can’t pass as privileged. Thus, I feel called to strive for justice and peace and dignity for women and girls.

To contribute please go to the EWC website and clink on EWC "Margo Fund"

Friday, March 4, 2016

Victoria Bell, Episcopal Delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

The Episcopal Women's Caucus and The Episcopal Church Women are partnering in an effort to raise funds to support the Episcopal Delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which begins in ten days. Here is Victoria Bell's story:

"Violence against women and girls has always been my passion both in feminism and in the church. After focusing on this topic in my research at the University of Michigan, I was delighted to accept a position as a shelter advocate and case manager at a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault shelter - working with survivors and their families daily. I am thrilled to have been selected to be a part of this delegation to continue this important work. I look forward to gaining input from the Episcopal community as I contribute to our platform, learning from my fellow delegates during preparations, creating a network and being inspired by the work of conference attendees, and returning from New York with rich and exciting experiences to share! Thank you for your prayers and support"

A huge thank you to the Episcopal Church Women's Board of Directors who donated $1000.00 toward this effort. If you would like to donate please go to the Episcopal Women's Caucus website and make a donation through the "EWC Margo Fund" so that it can be designated appropriately: http://www.episcopalwomenscaucus.org/join.htm