I must begin by confessing that I have never been much of a crusader for women’s rights. Equal treatment of women and men was something I too often took for granted, especially as I grew up in an environment where both girls and boys were encouraged to become the best students in the pursuit of big dreams. I was also the one in a college Spanish composition class to write about improved social and economic recognition for stay-at-home dads when asked to examine a “women’s issue.” Indirectly, I suppose, this issue does have a measurable impact on women with children and ambitious career aspirations but I don’t think that it was exactly what the assignment was getting at. For this and many other reasons, attending the United Nation’s 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was eye-opening, overwhelming, inspiring, exhausting, informative, and probably one hundred other descriptors. Now separated from the experience by a few weeks I am beginning to see small ways in which my worldview has been changed and I have been challenged to think bigger. I hope that in sharing these lessons, one or two of the ideas might stretch the way you see the world as well.
For the 58th time The United Nations hosted one of its largest annual events, the Commission on the Status of Women. 5000+ feminists, womanists, mothers, daughters, and sisters, from all over the world gathered in solidarity to uplift critical issues regarding women and girl’s rights. And then there was me…a he.
As a male attendee I found myself in a unique position, and I had a few questions: What was my role at CSW? Moreover, what is my role as a man in the fight for women and girl’s rights? Do men even have a role? One week after the start of the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, I now have a few answers to accompany those questions, following careful thought and reflection.
Five days at the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women were both too much and not enough. Panel after panel, speaker after speaker, our brains were filled with the wide range of topics that can fall under the heading of “women’s issues”. Yet I still feel like there was so much I missed, even within the sessions I attended. I often wished there had been time to say “Excuse me – can you repeat that? I can’t keep up!”
However, to balance this overwhelming act of stuffing the brain, our cohort of ELCA young adults came together each night to debrief and discuss. It is this part of the past week for which I am most grateful. I need to process things out loud, to hear other’s thoughts and reflections, so having the opportunity to say “This is what I’ve been thinking all day and what the heck do I do with that?!” is of the utmost importance for my whole understanding.
Language and words are important to me. I am a writer and a speaker. The articulation and presentation of thoughts is something that I take very seriously because it provides the foundation for how ideas are transmitted and relationships are formed. I often start by defining words, phrases and concepts so that a common understanding exist and that there is clarity in the exchange of information.
- From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
- A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
- Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
- Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.
I am a theologian – one who studies God and concepts of God. I operate from a practical framework, one that is pastoral in nature. This means that I understand who God is through a pastoral care lens, one that takes seriously the care of, compassion for and fundamental humanity of God’s creation.
So as a womanist theologian, I draw on my experience and the larger experience of black women and their context of experiencing interlocking systems of oppression to understand who God is and how God moves in a caring relationship with God’s people. The purpose of this study is to uncover a fuller understanding of what it means to experience abundant life and ultimately liberation. This does not end with the black woman’s lived experience, it only begins there. A key aspect of womanist theology is that the liberation and wholeness of all of humanity is lifted up. Did you get that?
To be honest, I’m not really sure where to start. My mind is still reeling from the hours upon hours of panel discussions, forum meetings, cohort processing time, and the newness of being surrounded by the high profile dialogue that occurs on an international scale at the United Nations. I knew it was going to be an intense week before I arrived, but I’m not sure I really understood HOW intense. Try to picture this:
Thousands of women (and some male allies) gathered in NYC for a 2 week conference on the Status of Women. Each woman is carrying her own story of the injustices she or someone she knows has faced as a result of being born a woman. Each woman is carrying hopes and dreams for the world she wants to see and is holding an agenda for how she will share that information with the policy makers and high profile delegates of the UN. Every day, and ALL day, she sits as a witness to panel discussion after panel discussion focusing on any number of topics (maternal health, violence against women, women and education, women’s spirituality, women in government, women as peacemakers, etc) which all have one thing in common…..how will we move forward and create gender equality and continued development within our world. The presentations are beautiful, intense, frustrating, inspiring, and dismal all at the same time. But still, each woman (and male ally) sits and listens intently trying to absorb as much of the information as possible. If there was one thing that all these women from different parts of the world, and our male allies present (including two from our own ELCA cohort), had in common, it was this….we all want to be torch bearers to create change for our world. We all are seekers of justice and hungry to make this world a better place….for ALL God’s creation. We may have different ways of going about that or different ideas of what ‘human rights’ looks like, but I can promise you this, we were all here to learn how we can make a difference in our world….both locally and globally.
“…within our lifetime.” I awoke from a trance. The absence of coffee, the dim lights, and the distance between me and the speaker had allowed my mind to wander from the cavernous auditorium, but those words snapped me back to the present. I had spent hours reading documents that spoke of post 2015 goals, MDGs, SDGs, and other acronyms that stood for progress but progress that would be slow to come and was wound up in the political webs of member states, excellencies, and plenary sessions. It seemed it would take forever. Here, however, in these words “within our lifetime” was a sense of urgency.
If there is a way to convey the magnitude of the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, I don’t know it. I am no stranger to the brokenness and trauma of our world; neither am I stranger to the resiliency of the human spirit. But never have I been among 5,000 people from around the world addressing sweeping global concerns that challenge the human community so profoundly.
Now home again, I am left in deafening silence to process the chaotic days in New York. From which stance do I begin?