Episcopalians, Anglicans look to next steps as Beijing+25 study group comes to a close

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Nov 20, 2020

[Episcopal News Service] It’s been 25 years since United Nations member states adopted the Beijing platform, a framework for uplifting and empowering women to advance gender equality worldwide; although there’s been progress over the years, 2020 has seen setbacks.

Over the last nine months as the COVID-19 pandemic has circulated globally, killing 1.3 million people, officials and others warn some of the gains made toward reducing inequality have reversed, especially around equal pay. And then there is the global rise in domestic abuse and the widening of the education gap.

“When you look at what’s happened with COVID and the impact of that,” it’s serious, said Mandy Marshall, the Anglican Communion’s director for gender justice, referencing a report that suggests women’s gains have been set back 25 years in 25 weeks. “Twenty-five years in 25 weeks, which is an appalling statement, when you think Beijing was, you know, 25 years ago, and now we are back at square one now. And in some countries, the reports [of] … gender-based violence and violence against women have skyrocketed.”

Marshall spoke during a small-group discussion on Nov. 19 during the final conversation of the “Beijing+25: Celebrating the Blessing, Realizing the Dream” online study group.

The 64th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was set to “review and appraise” the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years later. This year, the meeting was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual meeting typically draws thousands of people – including Anglicans and Episcopalians – from around the world. Each year, The Episcopal Church sends a delegation representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to observe and to engage in advocacy alongside delegates from the Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners.

In light of that postponement, the presiding bishop’s 2020 delegation led an online study group that began meeting periodically in July and concluded on Nov. 19, to examine the ways in which The Episcopal Church has engaged in the work laid out by the Beijing document since 1995.

“We are now in our very last event that we started back in July on this journey … but as we know, if you have been following UNCSW and U.N. Women, we are nowhere near completed,” said Lynnaia Main, The Episcopal Church’s representative to the United Nations. “Although we may be ending this study group this evening, we will be continuing the work for, according to U.N. Women, at least 200 years more, if everything goes according to plan at the current rate.”

The Beijing+25 study group was open to all Episcopalians, not only UNCSW attendees, and some 200 women, men, clergy, lay leaders, seminarians, youth and other ecumenical and nonprofit organizational partners participated in the virtual event series. All were invited to read the document and learn about the 12 areas of concern central to reaching gender equality: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment, and the girl child.

One of the benefits of meeting online was that delegates were able to engage over a longer period of time and attend more webinars and events, said Tatiana Hoecker, one of the UNCSW64 delegates, who attended a forum on generation equality where Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Iceland’s prime minister, spoke about how her country has prioritized policies that are good for women.

“Paid family leave, health care, universal pay, quality pay and all those things have helped women not only be able to choose to have a career, but to have kids and to prioritize … policies that help women. And it’s not something that should be taboo; it’s just good policy,” Hoecker said during a breakout session. “I feel like when we help women, we help everybody, and so that was pretty inspiring to me, and it made me look at The Episcopal Church and where we are, especially on paid family leave. I know that the church is slowly moving in that direction. There’s been resolutions passed to work with our health care company to see how we can do that, but it hasn’t happened, and this is 2020.”

As part of the Nov. 19 discussion, participants strategized about what needs to be done nationally and internationally, and in The Episcopal Church, at the parish, diocesan, provincial and institutional level, to make progress toward the goals laid out in the Beijing platform.

“There’s so much more work to do … at the systemic level, the systematic level, structural, institutional, cultural, personal, societal level … and that always starts with us in our parish and in our churches,” Marshall said. She called attention to Anglican Consultative Council resolutions that specifically address gender justice and suggested that Anglicans and Episcopalians hold the church accountable at all levels.

“Ask your province, how are they implementing it, … how are they prioritizing and strategizing, and funding and allocating funding for the implementation of these resolutions that they have committed to and agreed to? … That is one way of actually showing mainstreaming of gender justice issues within your church.”

The Episcopal Church is one of 41 provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion spanning 165 countries. The Anglican Consultative Council is one of the four Instruments of Communion and exists to facilitate cooperative work across provinces.

One particular ACC resolution, 14.33(e), specifically calls on provinces to allocate resources to gender justice and to report back to the council on progress.

“Ask your provinces: What are you doing on these issues?” Marshall said.

– Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at lwilson@episcopalchurch.org.