Episcopal delegates to UN women’s conference share learnings in final online event

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Apr 4, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] In a final March 28 webinar, the eight Episcopal delegates to the 66th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women described what they had learned about gender inequality and the impact of climate change, and how they hope to share their experience with others. And just like all the aspects of their participation in the meeting, the report was made online.

Lynnaia Main, The Episcopal Church representative to the United Nations, said this was the second group of Episcopal UNSCW delegates to participate entirely remotely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “They did so marvelously, enthusiastically, energetically,” she said. That participation included watching official plenary meetings involving representatives of U.N. member nations, attending worship services and participating in some of the hundreds of online events offered by interested groups during the March 14–25 gathering. They also had the chance to meet virtually on March 24 with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who selected the delegates and who were charged with advocating for the three priorities Curry outlined in a written statement to the UNCSW:

  1. Address the climate emergency and implement gender mainstreaming across climate, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.
  2. Prioritize responses and protection for women and girls marginalized by environmental racism.
  3. Accelerate women’s and girls’ empowerment and gender equality and eradicate violence against women and girls.

The theme for this year’s UNCSW meeting was “achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.”

The special need to listen to the voices of women on the margins came up repeatedly throughout the event, delegates said. In Zimbabwe, for instance, “a woman, even in times of ecological crisis, cannot make the decision to move to higher, safer ground. Only the men can,” leaving women vulnerable in response to rising sea levels, said Theodora Moyse-Peck, a delegate from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

Indigenous women and women of color around the world bear the brunt of climate change “in a way that those of us from the global north, and those who look like me, don’t necessarily,” said The Rev. Marissa Rohrbach, a delegate from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.  Because she is from Tanzania, hearing the voices of women in that country was “very close to my heart,” said Anita Urassa of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

And Talique Taylor of the Diocese of Northern Indiana asked rhetorically, “Why does the work of gender justice matter to each of us? I think it matters because it matters to God. We see Jesus in the gospels empowering women, listening to women.”

Moyse-Peck said that UNCSW discussions also helped her reframe her thinking about the threat of climate change. “I have started shifting from the mindset that we are all going to die from climate change to we can all help to resist climate change.” Joie Zhang, representing the Diocese of Los Angeles, learned the importance of persistence in advocating for what she sees as right, while acknowledging that goals may not be reached in the short term, but “what we say has an impact on the future,” she said.

While delegates offered their plans to share their experiences with their parishes, diocesan conventions and other groups, Cheri Gage of the Diocese of Kansas described the challenge of creating a message that would help persuade people to care about the intersection of gender justice and climate change as much as delegates do. Instead, she said she will simply share some of the moving stories she heard during the UNCSW. To help others engage in climate discussions, Destinee Bates from the Diocese of North Caroline plans to start a book club to study “The Intersectional Environmentalist,” by Leah Thomas.

Rohrbach said she wished UNCSW discussions had offered more ways to address the climate crisis, both for delegates and member states. While she said there were ample discussions about the impact of climate change on women and girls, “we didn’t talk enough about how to actually address that emergency” in specific ways. And Cynthia Katsarelis, from the Episcopal Church in Colorado, said she regretted that the final “agreed conclusions” document, hammered out during the UNCSW and to which member nations agreed, wasn’t more direct in “naming problem countries and problem corporations, who could be doing a lot more to mitigate what we’re doing and helping those who are so severely impacted.”

But despite those shortcomings, Katsarelis said she was “inspired to see the presence of the church” in all the UNCSW spaces. Main noted that in addition to the presiding bishop’s delegation, there was an official Anglican Communion delegation, “and there is always a wider Episcopal presence at the UNCSW,” consisting of people who represent non-governmental organizations, are part of the U.N. staff, are from member states or who simply attend on their own.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.