9pm. February 28
I struggle a bit with what to write here. I am not sure how in depth to go. I feel weary and stretched and confused and very alone, although I have met wonderful people and feel part of this community.
Let me start at the beginning.
I am a delegate at the 53rd commission on the status of women, held by and put on by the United Nations in New York. I am here as a representative of the world student Christian federation, which is encompassed in the UN-recognized organization “ecumenical women.”
I am the North American rep. I have learned that our position as WSCF-ers here is unique; most of the young women here are only here for a few days or a week, or are just here on exposure tours. Our group is here to be advocates, and to fully participate as delegates in this commission.
The major part of these two weeks is a government document which will (most likely) be signed onto by a number of countries around the world. So there are government meetings, government meetings which we are allowed to sit in on, educational meetings such as side panels, and a number (and I do mean a number . . . like in the hundreds) of side events and such that people who do not have direct access to the UN can participate in. The point of all of these activities is to contribute to this document – this document will focus on policies and procedures which involves equality of women, especially in the context of caregiving, and then especially in the context of caregiving in cases of HIV/AIDS.
I hope that is enough background. So here is my experience.
My team is fantastic. Extraordinary women with extraordinary backgrounds. They are all lovely, and I am excited to get to know each of them better. I’ve also met some wonderful other young women, as well as established women who I’ve been able to make some meaningful connections with. This means the world to me.
Today we began our first day of training – info on what the CSW actually is and does, our role in it, and some strategic planning as to how we can use this time most effectively.
Part of our training, and our work here, is gathering for morning worship. We consider it an integral part of what we are doing. As the commission continues, morning worship will sometimes be the only days that we are able to be in the same place with others from Ecumenical Women.
Worship was incredible and very moving. I find it difficult to put the experience into words. The liturgy was powerful. To commune with these women was humbling and wonderful. And the most moving part, which people have been speaking about all day, was the story that was told through dance, music, and spoken word – the story of Ruth and Naomi.
The story of Ruth & Naomi was told in a very honest, straightforward way. And it came alive – in ways I’ve never thought about or experienced. What was really brought out was the economic and social realities of these women, and what was going on. Without husbands, these women were so vulnerable – no laws protected them from starvation, mistreatment, or death. Naomi was bitter at God for her situation. The reader articulated that Naomi was not hurt by the laws of God, but instead by the laws of the land - the laws of man.
There is lots that I can comment on this theologically, but I will try to keep this brief and focus on my experience.
Worship was powerful, and the telling of this story has framed this day in more ways than one.
Most of the rest of the day was spent in sessions – workshops, panels, all around the issue of caregiving. We heard powerful, firsthand testimonies from women all around the world about how they have experienced this in their context. What was most difficult for me to hear was how the church perpetuated the problem in many of these instances.
As I was sitting in these workshops, I was moved and stirred by many different things. First, the plight of women, in ours and other cultures, and the difficulties that we and they face when trying to live life. But I was also stirred in other, deeper ways. I guess I had expected to be here, in an ecumenical context, with people interested and engaged in issues of gender justice, who had a shared general understanding and awareness of some of the issues I and SCM Canada have been working on.
What I have learned was this:
1) gender justice and justice for women are not the same thing
2) issues of sexuality, which I see as being key to gender justice issues, are again and still being largely ignored by the church
3) and another realization, a bit sad for me personally, is that I seem to be the only self-identified evangelical in the room (at least, so far)
I can’t express to you how shocked, deflated, and disappointed I am in these realities. I sit in these meetings and I hear “gender inclusive” language which is not at all inclusive, and which fails to include people whom I love and whom inspire me to be closer to Christ. I hear no mention of sexuality or the church’s response to oppression based on sexuality, which is shocking to me especially because of the HIV/AIDS connection to this commission, and the pain that the church has caused in this area. And finally (which is admittedly less of a global deal) I am sad that the issues I am faced with within my church I need to keep walking somewhat alone because “my people” don’t seem to either want to attend or be invited to events like this.
So it was a day of very mixed emotions, of high hopes and of shattered expectations. And it is all very wearying.
And I can’t seem to find my place or my voice at this conference, and I can’t see a way where I can effectively and safely put the issues I care about on the table, and I don’t know how I fit or why I belong here. Or if I do.
And I had a mild melt-down in a small group workshop today. We were in small groups and I was frustrated, and we were asked why we were all here. Some said they worked within the church, some said that they cared about women’s rights. And I said that I was here because of pain, mine and others whom I have walked beside, because of issues of gender justice. And when asked a question about how males and females could work together in my organization I cried and objected and challenged, in a blubbering sort of way, why the language of that question was not truly gender inclusive and that the question itself, though well intentioned, caused more pain for people. And we were comparing gender justice in the church and people were saying things like women priests get paid less than male priests and have less opportunities. And I cried more and thought about the guilt I feel being a woman who is called to be a pastor or priest or some sort of ordained minister, and how so many years of being taught that this desire was wrong has resulted in an emotional complex and a haunting feeling of going against God’s will. How can I say that the struggles of these women around the table gave me hope, that one day evangelicalism would have these problems? That women be allowed and encouraged to be ordained ministers in the small towns of Southern Manitoba? And the struggles I feel being a woman in my church, and in my Christian upbringing, and the shame and tension about I feel about my place in ministry. And I tried to articulate this, and I think I did so badly. But some kind ladies gave me encouraging words.
So I sit here, at this hostel. 2 weeks to go on this program and I feel drained and somewhat useless and mostly confused. I don’t know where my place is, and I don’t know where my voice will be heard, and I don’t know how much I can push for myself and for the people that I love to be respected here, and nurtured here, without causing some sense of danger or harm upon myself and others. I feel a coward. And that kills me. And I feel alone here, in this community of people who really care about me. And I don’t know who I can tell my story to who would understand me today, or who is available to talk, or who is even in my time zone.
It is 10 o clock and time for bed. Thanks for reading.