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MU @ UNCSW June Butler Blog: Day Five

June Butler reports from her day five attendance ath the UN Commission on the Status of Women 

15 Mar 2019

How could it be Friday already? The week has flown by in a frenzy of activity! However, I did begin the last day of the first week in a calmer environment – I had been invited to join the Anglican Communion delegation attending an event at the offices of the Mission of Canada to the UN. This was entitled “Unlocking the Power of Faith-Based Partnerships – Enabling the Right to Social Protection, Faith, Feminism and Human Rights Frameworks”. There was a lot in that title and indeed a great deal of ground was covered by the six speakers. However, we began with a minute’s silence to remember those who had just perished or been injured in the attack on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The host from Canada explained that her country felt that religion was at the core of community development and they were implementing a sustained programme for the empowerment of women and girls, particularly the most marginalised.  She spoke about how they worked in partnership with bodies such as PARD (International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development) and USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). It seemed indeed that there was some productive joined-up thinking underway. While the speakers, including our ACO colleague Rev Fedis Nyagah, covered the whole gambit of the main religions– Christian (both Protestant and Roman Catholic). Islam and Muslim, there was a great of commonality in terms of how they might move forward to try to build bridges to fight against division, support sustainable development programmes for women, address gender justice issues, promote the leadership of women in our various faiths, and empower faith communities to move away from traditional harmful practices.

The main premise shining through all the speeches was that interfaith dialogue was critical; they all believed that faith, religion and gender were inextricably bound together in our world, working from the fundamental premise that we were all created equal – there were many references to Genesis. All the speakers, including the one man, were also determined that patriarchal structures should be dismantled and I learned a new word – “Manals”- which means all male panels, in whatever context they occur.

Again when I returned to the main UN building I could not get into the event I had wanted to attend, so I observed for a short time a formal UN briefing session which was looking at the process of reviewing the structures impeding the progress to sustainable development of low income countries. Really heavy stuff – and all conducted by men in suits! I learned something about UN review processes and how they identified and validated indicators for refining low income criteria. One key point resonated with me – the need for proper data to support any decision. That was what we had been hearing all week in every side event in relation to making important changes in the lives of women.

My next sortie was to the movies – well, to be precise, a short film entitled “Women, Peace and Power” about women as peace makers in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Liberia. This followed the stories of women as activists, politicians and ordinary citizens as they influenced peace processes in their own countries. This is a commercial film which is about to go on public release. Some of the risks all the ladies took in their own countries were amazing and emphasised the need for there to be women around the table in every time of crisis, in fact even in more routine political and negotiation situations. The Irish Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, who introduced the event, paid tribute to all women peace builders and emphasised that women made such a difference in building and sustaining every peace process. 

For me the Northern Irish element of this film was part of my own history – personally I knew many of the women who were included in the film as, in the mid-1990s, I was responsible for all elections in the Belfast area and, in that capacity, worked with many of those who founded and became representatives of their party, The Women’s Coalition. Even at that time I had so much admiration for them and this film brought to the fore just how their determination and focus on human rights had made such a difference to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Two of the leaders of the party at that time, Monica McWilliams and Ann Carr attended the event and spoke at the plenary session, particularly about the importance of moving forwards to achieve peace and security in our world and the need to end the “silo” mentality. We were given a lovely quote – “When women awake, mountains move!”.  It was great for me too to be able to renew acquaintance with them both after the session ended. 

In the evening I returned to the Anglican Communion Office of the UN where we began by praying for all those in need and again for the people of New Zealand. We had a debrief about the most important elements of our work that day and there was discussion about how we might continue to work together after UNCSW63 and take forward any key points from the final agreed conclusions. We each expressed one or two key elements which the ACO might coordinate as we move forward to 2020; these ranged from addressing the needs of widows worldwide to the empowerment of girls. I said goodbye to all these wonderful women each of whom strives to advance the spirit of the Anglican Communion in their own country.

I then attended my final session with the UK staff at the UN Mission, which every evening is attended by representatives of the National Association of Women’s Organisations. At this last meeting of the week there was greater focus than before on the text of the final conclusions as the UK staff had attended the negotiations during the day and were able to give an outline about certain of the interventions. We also learned about some of the terminology used in the documents and the review processes moving into CSW64 in 2020.  We raised issues which had concerned us during the week requesting that the UK delegation take them forward on our behalf; matters such as the mechanics of CSW, the reduced space for civil society, the cases where civil society groups were allocated slots but in the event were not permitted to speak, and the difficulties encountered by the younger delegates. It was then time to say goodbye to the youth delegation from Stroud in Gloucestershire – a group of committed, intelligent, articulate young girls studying politics to A level whom we watched grow in confidence, as well as knowledge, during the week. They are a real credit to their families and school, and essentially in them lies our hope for the future of our country!