When I was 24, I took advantage of the Eurail youthpass and backpacked around Europe on my own for a couple of months.
Part of the fun was meeting other young travelers along the way. But there was one woman with whom I had “an instant rapport,” as I wrote in my travel diary. Lis, a Californian then living in Ann Arbor, Mich., and I ended up traveling together for 10 days in Greece, Switzerland and Austria and kept in touch afterward. I even visited her in San Francisco.
I still make those types of instant connections with women now and then. And, when
I cover events related to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, as I did this month, I see such connections happening all the time, at multiple levels.
The women brought to these U.N. meetings by nongovernmental organizations like United Methodist Women and the Board of Church and Society aren’t the official representatives who hammer out documents supporting human rights and a better life for women and girls. Instead, they come to share stories about themselves and their countrywomen and to listen to the stories of others.
Stuffing themselves in overflowing meeting rooms at the Church Center for the United Nations and other venues, sharing meals and comparing notes, the women realize they are not alone.
Rusudan, from the Republic of Georgia, found parallels between how women suffered in conflicts in her country and how women have suffered in Sudan. Renee, who founded therapeutic “clothesline” projects for abused women in Louisville, Ky., and Ghana, plans to use those projects to reach out to abused women in Okinawa. Betty of the Democratic Republic of Congo asked the other participants to be in solidarity with the women of eastern Congo who are being raped and brutalized.
In relation to this year’s theme for the 57th Commission the Status of Women — elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls — the women bonded over common concerns about rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, the trauma of war and all the other ways that women are denigrated and disrespected.
Or, as Tatiana Dwyer, a UMW staff member based at the Church Center for the United Nations, explained to me, “It’s one global story, in which all women suffer.”
Lately, we even know some of their names — Jyoti Singh Pandey, a student who died after a horrific gang rape in New Delhi, India; Najia Sediqi, the acting head of women’s affairs in an Afghanistan province, gunned down by two motorcyclists; Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education.
So, women must tell their stories, as Malala did in her first public interview Feb. 4 after being shot in October. She has organized the Malala Fund. “I want every girl, every child to be educated,” she said.
Malala felt empowered to continue her campaign because people around the world listened to her and prayed for her. Women who can share their stories at gatherings like the Commission on the Status of Women feel empowered to go home and make a difference.
Sharon Hachtman, a United Methodist deaconess who works as a nurse at a Pennsylvania shelter for victims of domestic violence, spoke during a UMW panel discussion about what a difference such support can make.
“As women, one of our most powerful strengths is the ability to connect with one another,” she said.
Being part of a connection is what United Methodists are all about.