I was discouraged and agitated too many times to count while attending the UN CSW. Across all the events, worship experiences, and parallel panel discussions I found two universal themes to my agitation:
1) women can be the most hurtful creatures to one another and their allies, and
2) faith based organizations have spent years doing more damage to human rights movements than good.
I am well aware that I come from a different place. I am a 32 year old woman, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, married for 12 years with 2 children. In this young adult cohort, I was acutely aware of the differences between myself and the others. My liberal upbringing and current lifestyle can often hide the insular nature of the way I live – thinking that there is much less inequity in the world than is truthful. So I came to this event and was really shocked by the deeply wounded ways that so many of the older female attendees walked through the space – as though the burden of all female oppression was theirs to bear alone. And when finally, headway was being made, that burden caused them to charge over and trample anyone who might be even close to in their way.
I watched so many women shout for young adult allies, and them offer the microphone to no one under 45. Women demanded male allies, while taking over all the mens restrooms for themselves, leaving the present male allies with no facilities to use within an entire building. I was cut in front of for the restrooms myself, in meal lines, and ignored in discussion circles. In short, I didn’t meet many women who made me want to engage.
Additionally, I was disheartened from hearing over and over again that faith based organizations and communities have too narrow of an evangelical agenda to do any good in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and therefore, shouldn’t play a part in the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). How could I ever say or do anything that could change the saddening, maddening experiences so many had dealt with from people of my tradition?
I shut down.
I was now one of the wounded – only my wounding was different – it wasn’t from being a part of the global oppression of women – it was from being oppressed by other women.
Yet, daily the ELCA young adult cohort would meet and debrief our experiences of the day, and I would encounter women and men who were ripe and ready for action.
Here were young women who weren’t afraid to speak their truths into the burdens and oppressions of so many women, in ways that provided long awaited faith based accompaniment.
Here were deeply faithful men who chose to spend a week being objectified for their gender so that wounded persons could unload their hurts, and then these men still got up and engaged further!
I found hope in the Jesus based intentions of these young adults, to engage, walk beside, share the load, spread the truth of injustice, and be called to action personally, locally, and globally. This group of boldly faithful ELCA delegates gave me a renewed sense of faith in the world that can be and will be changed for my children – a girl and a boy, to grow into.
As an (almost rostered) ELCA Deaconess, I believe deeply in the necessity of women and young adults to engage in the prophetic message of justice and peace-making change in and for the world. This cohort experience was hopeful salve in the midst of so many wounded warriors, and I know a deep joy in the peace that my children will have an experience of my millennial generation being less wounded than those who are passing that baton to us. Through the agitation and discouragement I learned at this UN CSW, I am now able to truly lean into the prophetic messages that this cohort of this, my beloved ELCA, faith are carrying back into the various worlds and spaces in which we engage others and live life.
The message from us is clear – the waves of justice, equity, and peace are gathering speed to cover this earth, and we, the young and Jesus loving, aren’t afraid to get wet.
Sister Liz Colver