Episcopal UNCSW delegates describe learnings, next steps following 2024 meeting

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Apr 2, 2024

Members of the presiding bishop’s delegation to the 68th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and some of their leadership team dress in black for one the “Thursdays in Black” aimed at ending gender-based violence. Photo: Facebook/The Episcopal Church and the United Nations

[Episcopal News Service] Nine of the 10 Episcopal women who attended the 68th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women offered a wrap-up report about how their experiences inspired them to new and expanded service across The Episcopal Church. One member, the Rev. Madeleine Rebouché from the Diocese of Tennessee, was unable to be present but did write about her experiences.

The delegates were incredibly active over days that often stretched beyond 12 hours, said Lynnaia Main, Episcopal Church Representative to the United Nations, in the gathering that was livestreamed March 25 on The Episcopal Church and the United Nations Facebook page. Main, along with former UNCSW delegates and members of the presiding bishop’s staff, including from The Episcopal Church offices of Global Partnerships and Government Relations as well as Episcopal Relief & Development, served on the leadership team that helped delegates navigate their work.

This year’s UNCSW took place March 11-22 in New York, and participants included representatives of U.N. member states, U.N. entities and accredited nongovernmental organizations from across the globe, including The Episcopal Church.

Main lauded the delegates’ hard work, noting they attended “countless U.N. plenary, side and parallel events” and shared the church’s priorities as outlined in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement to the U.N. while also taking part in daily worship services every morning alongside Ecumenical Women.

UNCSW was an opportunity, said Karen Ide of the Diocese of Los Angeles, to connect with other people who are engaged in resettling refugees from Afghan, including new people she met who are working with Afghan-related policies. Other delegates said they learned about new programs that were so transformative that they plan to share them people back home.

For the Rev. Lilo Carr Rivera from Long Island, that was solar cookers in Kenya, which meant women and girls no longer had to spend long hours, and be targets of attack or trafficking, while hunting for wood for cooking fires. Some were able to spend those extra hours in school.

Beekeeping in Lesotho caught the attention of the Rev. Robin Newman, a deacon in the Diocese of New York, where it not only provides income through honey but also employment for those making frames for the hives and even hemp grown for beekeeper uniforms. She already is involved with her diocesan Tanzania Task Force and plans to share this information with them.

Faith LeMaster has been active in advocating for the right of garment workers in the Diocese of Los Angeles and thought that would be her emphasis while in New York, but she noted how much she learned about the needs of women around the world. From that she has decided to teach a class on financial literacy for local girls and women, having seen how “a lack of financial education is such a barrier for women everywhere across the world.”

She will be joined in an educational effort by Karina Flores Arriola, also from the Diocese of Los Angeles, who was inspired to work to set up leadership schools for local women, as well as to raise awareness of the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” originating from U.N. Women.

Karen Neilsen from the Diocese of Ohio has worked with the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in her role as a labor attorney but said she wants to expand her efforts into lessening and working to eradicate human labor trafficking in the U.S and around the globe. She wants to see if her diocese’s committee on human trafficking can expand to include those trafficked for work as well as for sex.

The chance to learn from women in the Global South inspired the Rev. Claudia Scheda of the Diocese of Western New York, who said she brought home some prayer service sheets from worship she attended. She hopes to connect a woman from Nigeria she met at UNCSW with a diocesan colleague who does medical missionary work in Nigeria, and she wants to become better acquainted with the Mother’s Union after meeting members who were part of the Anglican Communion delegation.

Problems with getting a visa kept the Rev. Luz Lambis of the Diocese of Colombia from attend the meeting in person, so she participated online. Going forward she said she wants to center her work in a fight against poverty, as well as eliminating anything that prevents women’s equality in education and employment, while also providing for the needs of LGBTQ+ girls and women. She plans to create a webinar with other Episcopal women from the Caribbean and Latin America to work on this.

Lori Petrie from the Diocese of Chicago said she found in the “amazing, brave, smart women” who were part of UNCSW a new sense of how change can come about. “The biggest change to my approach to thinking about inequality in the world is the real sense of the power of collective, communal action” she saw on display in New York, along with “the power and the sisterhood that comes from working in your own community.”

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.