Reflection and Self-Examination

A professor in grad school repeatedly emphasized the benefit for peace and development practitioners to take the time to reflect on their work. In the busyness of responding to immediate needs in the field or pushing to meet internal deadlines, there’s little room to prioritize personal or organizational reflection.

The year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women offered a reflection on the implementation and momentum of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. Activities and sessions asked, “How far have we come [in 20 years]?” And when looking at the progress, “How can we speed things up?”

Growing up in the Lutheran church, I associate “reflection” with elements of the liturgy (such as confession) and prayer. Personal, private reflection lets me “check myself” openly and honestly before God. More than myself, reflection pushes me to situate myself in a community and in the world.

On the train ride home from CSW, I began to reflect on the many side events I attended, the people I met, and the conversations I had in New York. What does this all mean for myself and my vocation? What does it mean for the church and God’s world? Here are a few ideas:

1. The church can learn from the developing community about the pitfalls of measuring progress toward gender equality. The world rallied behind the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. The few indicators that included gender (girls’ enrollment rates in school and maternal mortality) do not measure “empowerment” or attitudes related to gender equality. As a church, how do we measure gender justice? At the very least, we need sex-disaggregated data about our leadership, members, communities, institutions, and the lives the church touches. We also need qualitative data to understand how women, girls, and LGBTQ persons are viewed and valued in all areas of ministry and church life.

2. We need to engage people’s hearts and minds regarding gender socialization and stereotypes. It is assumed that having females in leadership roles or educating girls will lead to empowered women. This approach may work, but in some instances “specialized treatment” has caused women and girls to be targeted by males fearing disempowerment. Women and girls also still fear for their safety in many public spaces. These red flags indicate that underlying sexist attitudes persist. The church and all people of God are uniquely positioned to open hearts, minds, and eyes to value and revere God’s creation. In Bible studies and other spiritual formation, may we learn to directly address detrimental inequalities in our hearts, families, churches, communities, and world.

3. We need to partner with others to build gender justice. Gender experts emphasize that gender is found in all sectors of life and that complicated gender issues – such as gender-based violence – must take a multi-sectoral approach. This means you can look for or assess gender in EVERY context! If you’re seeking gender justice, this would be overwhelming without collaboration and partners. How do we find partners? In some settings, the church easily finds partners to enhance or extend its abilities. As an example, the ELCA is a member of the WeWillSpeakOut initiative to break the silence of gender-based violence. Standing with others also demonstrates solidarity. Building coalitions also extends reach and connects us to the diversity in our community.

Leaving CSW59, I pray that gender awareness grows through explicit dialogue and reflection at all levels in our faith communities. So many sessions and stories at CSW reinforce how far we have to go to reach justice and derail stereotypes. May we engage with our brothers and sisters to shine holy light on our gendered attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. This is the only way to name and face the ugly, dark thoughts deeply socialized in us – and to prepare our hearts to more fully understand God’s full intention for diversity in humanity living together in the Kin-dom.

Crystal Corman, Washington, DC

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