Friday, March 13, 2009


By this time next week the agreed conclusions of the 53rd CSW will be reduced to a multi-paged document, fitting easily in a filing cabinet and an email inbox. The document will represent hours upon hours of time, energy, and effort on behalf of activists, politicians, NGO representatives, ambassadors, among many others. It is not possible to contain the experiences of the CSW to a piece of paper.

For me, the highlight of the CSW is meeting and learning from those who attend. Week two introduced me to a new friend from Georgia, the state, not the country. As a women’s leader in her religious denomination, she attends the parallel events to gain a greater understanding of international women’s issues and to network with other women’s leaders.

My new friend and I had lunch and a fascinating conversation. Anne and I discussed the presence of a group here with a conservative women’s organization. This organization has been advocating abstinence only education and speaking out against abortion in various workshops and side events.

Anne expressed dismay at the way the conservative organization was stigmatized by other NGOs. I have been frustrated with this organization since they arrived. Their vocal arguments for abstinence until marriage and against abortion seemed out of place to me. How can we argue that abstinence is the best choice for women who don’t get to choose? The complexities and emotional attachments to these arguments need no introduction.

Over lunch we discussed the hotly contested issues. Calmly and with ease we gave honor to our different opinions. We built community, understanding, and friendship. It was important for me to remember behind every opinion is a story and an opportunity to learn.

Throughout this CSW I’ve been thankful for the work of Ecumenical Women at the UN. Their morning devotions have helped me center and find comfort in a familiar community. Anne reminded me that within our Ecumenical Women group there are various opinions and beliefs regarding international women’s issues and the definition of women’s rights. Maybe Ecumenical Women at the UN could benefit from a credo similar to the one adopted by the Woodhull Institute. Our own agreed conclusions could remind us of the importance of relating to one another regardless of our belief differences.

These two weeks were important. Agreed conclusions matter. Next week the real labor begins. Some will work by holding governments accountable to what they said they would do. Others will conduct research to present at next year’s CSW. How will these conclusions matter to you, to me, to the women who have never heard of the Commission on the Status of Women? An isolated document doesn’t make the difference.

I’m thankful for women like Anne, Ecumenical Women at the UN, and in a very interesting way, the women from the conservative organizations. Let’s seek to encourage and build that which makes the biggest difference, relationships.

*Some names have been changed.


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