Seeing ‘sacred worth’ in women and girls

What would the world look like if women and girls were seen as children of God and of sacred worth?

It’s a question that Susan Burton and other United Methodist and faith representatives have pondered over the past two weeks as they participated in forums tied to the 59th Session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the 20-year-old Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

59th session of U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

The United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations, across First Avenue from the U.N., was a hub of activity during the 59th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women as numerous workshops and forums offered an assessment of progress since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was ratified in 1995.

United Methodist Women sponsored a delegation of U.S. and international representatives during the first week of the commission meeting and co-sponsored four workshops. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society co-sponsored a March 17 workshop on ways to achieve gender equality and empower women.

Women and girls still are subjected to “disproportionate levels” of abuse, exploitation and poverty because they are not seen as valuable beyond their sexuality, said Burton, director of women’s and children’s concerns for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society,

“Our mandate as people of faith is to interrupt and end systems of oppression, individually, culturally and institutionally, both private sector and public sector,” she declared.

Burton was part of a panel discussion March 17 moderated by the Rev. Liberato Bautista, who heads Church and Society’s U.N. and International Affairs office at the Church Center for the United Nations.

Jeannie Sappa, an indigenous person from the Nunavik Territory in northern Quebec, traveled a long way to share the concerns of Inuit women, who have suffered as rapid social changes disrupted traditional tribal society.

“Our elders emphasize about how important women (are) in homes,” she said “When a woman is respected, a home and a community is happy and stronger.”

She was accompanied by Pascale Laneuville and Danica Bourque of Dianova Canada — a nongovernmental organization working with the Inuit community, and a panel sponsor, along with Church and Society, IBON International and the Freedom from Fistula charity. 

The Canadian group’s contributions to the panel’s “Twenty Ways to Achieve Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment,” Laneuville explained, are designed to curb domestic violence and sexual assault, restoring self-esteem in women and providing them with more opportunities and power over their lives.

One of the suggestions, which Sappa highlighted, is the creation of family-healing centers, where men and women could share their stories with their children, spouses and youth and elders could reassert their roles as counselors and guides.

‘A common public good’

Roma Bhattacharjea, now a senior gender adviser for the United Nations Development Program, pointed out that neglecting women and girls deprives “all society of a common public good.”

As an expert on women in armed conflict situations, she knows the importance of women as “agents of change” for civilian populations impacted by war.

“What we would like to see is the integration of women’s voices, leadership, representation, participation, their experiences and their expertise integrated into the peace dialogue, into the peace process, into the agenda for peace,” she stressed.

Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron of IBON International, an organization focusing on development issues, joined the panel by Skype from Brussels and noted that the path to gender equality lies in a balanced distribution of the Earth’s resources. 

She called for a “feminist development justice” to reduce inequalities of wealth, power, resources and opportunities between countries in the north and the south, between rich and poor and between men and women.

Even in the United States, Burton said, her 8- and 11-year-old daughters receive “daily messages” from society or the media that they are not as valuable as boys.

It is important, she said, to build a world “that is focused on collaboration rather than domination.” Engaging in women’s rights also should mean engaging in discussions with boys and men about healthy masculinity.

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]

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