On 15 March, during the 61st session of the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Ecumenical Women (EW) organized a public witness event at the Tillman Chapel at the Church Center of the UN (CCUN) to mobilize faith communities and civil society to work in solidarity to end gender-based violence.
EW is an international coalition of church denominations and ecumenical organizations that have status with the UN Economic and Social Council. EW shares and is committed to a common mission and vision to enhance and reinforce the collaboration of churches and ecumenical organizations to advocate for the rights of women, particularly at the CSW.
Speakers at the event bore witness to the sacred worth of women and girls and emphasized the urgency of their advocacy work together.
Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, chaplain of the Church Center and EW chair, led the litany by calling upon the participants to continue their work for gender justice, emphasizing the importance of working together. “It is the moment to take a step forward until gender based violence is ended”, she said.
For Jillian Abballe, advocacy officer of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the Ecumenical UN Office (EUNO), "the event sought to demonstrate that there is no time in recent history more urgent than now, particularly for faith communities and justice-seeking organizations to continue their longstanding collaborative advocacy", she said.
The act of collective public witness is meant to re-energize each organization’s respective communities and show the mutual commitment to ending gender-based violence worldwide.
Dr Iva Carruthers, of the Souls of Black Girls/Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, said:
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes“, saying that what happens to women and girls, “happens to the world, and we must not stop until all are truly seen as sacred”.
“It is most appropriate to stand in unity and solidarity. If we do not speak out”, she said, “the rocks will cry,” a reference to the civil rights tune “Ella’s Song, Sweet Honey on the Rock.”
One of EW’s goals at CSW is to galvanize faith communities, the UN and its agencies, along with civil society to come together in an act of solidarity and shared commitment, to take up Sustainable Development Goal #5 “for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls; empowerment of women; and achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.”
The event was supported by UN Women, the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development and the Committee of Religious NGOs Faith and Feminism Working Group.
Women representing various faiths and countries of origin brought personal testimonies to demonstrate why they engage in work to end violence against women and girls.
R. Evon Idahosa, who is Nigerian and has worked for 14 years as a lawyer in New York City, founded an interfaith advocacy group called “Bring Back Our Girls” to advocate for the 276 girls who were abducted by Boko Haram on their way to school in Nigeria.
Idahosa informed the group about the work of the New York chapter of Bring Back Our Girls. The chapter includes about 25 women of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and humanist backgrounds. They organize common prayer sessions and vigils, as well as activities to raise public awareness on the case, writing letters to governments calling for the release of these girls.
“Every woman has a voice, this we should tell the voiceless, every day again and again”, said Idahosa. “We can bring back these girls“, she said.
EW collaborates with churches and ecumenical organizations to advocate for the rights of women and girls not only at the annual CSW session but throughout the year through their presence at the UN headquarters in New York.