WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri speaks at a CSW side event. Photo: Douglas Leonard/WCC

WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri speaks at a CSW side event. Photo: Douglas Leonard/WCC

From joint statements, to reflections, to exchanging ideas, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is engaging in the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Meeting from 11-22 March, the commission is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  This year’s theme focuses on social protection for women.

From a WCC perspective, the gathering is offering opportunities to promote gender justice, the Thursdays in Black campaign, positive masculinity, and the church’s role in bringing about change.

In a strikingly visible showing of support for Thursdays in Black, the campaign to end rape and violence, 175 women and men representing more than 20 churches and ecumenical organizations dressed in black and stood in solidarity on 14 March.

Prof. Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, spoke at a side event titled “Unlocking the Power of Faith-Based Partnerships: Enabling the Right to Social Protection” held 18 March.

Phiri reflected that religious leaders have power: power for good, and, unfortunately, power for harm. “We must work together to harness our collective power for good,” she said. “Governments can pass and enforce policy. Faith leaders can inform their communities and challenge regressive theologies and development organizations, and those providing humanitarian assistance can help to report and prevent these atrocities.”

WCC was also represented in the group “Men in Black” as they held a conversation on toxic versus positive masculinity, and how it influences gender-based violence. Rev. Douglas Leonard, WCC representative to the United Nations in New York, reflected that, when women and girls are the victims of injustice of any kind, it is not only a violation against all women and girls, it is a violation against all humanity in every nation.

“Women and men, girls and boys must work together to defeat the atrocities of injustice committed against women and girls in all countries, to defend the equal rights of women and girls and to demand that all forms of violence cease,” said Leonard. “That will require a disciplined knowledge of the standards of international law and a vigilance in holding the nations to account.”

A joint statement by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, ACT Alliance, and the Lutheran World Federation, calls for an end to gender inequality and injustice, perpetuated in part by lack of inclusive social protection. “As people of faith, we are deeply concerned by the growing inequalities and the impact on the lives of people everywhere,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge that equal rights to social protection for women and girls remains unfulfilled, and the specific underlying causes of women’s vulnerability and exclusion must be addressed in order to obtain gender justice for all.”

Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men, reflected that each individual, church and organization must find a place to engage in the very real issues so that human dignity and rights are established or restored.

“The Commission on the Status of Women offers a platform for grassroots activists, political leaders and faith-based personnel to maintain the checks and balances which make for positive strides in a just community of women and men,” said Ashwood. “It further equips us for asking the pertinent questions of our national leaders and within our communal contexts which realize the eventual paradigmatic shifts at all levels of our society.”

Learn more about the WCC's work on building just communities of women and men

Thursdays in Black: towards a world without rape and violence