By Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Head of Delegation at the UN in New York
Women from major urban landscapes to remote villages, traveled to the UN headquarters in New York at the beginning of March. Eight thousand women from eighty countries were there for the 54th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
At a parallel event, one of several hundred during the CSW, Caritas staff assisted the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations with “Globalisation: It Makes Us Neighbors, Grasps Equality Between Women & Men. Can It Also Establish Fraternity? In Light of the Encyclical – Caritas in Veritate” The meeting room had standing room only as nearly 200 participants seized the stimulating panel discussions with Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See Representative to the UN.
Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Karen Boroff and Dr Eugene McCarthy and other civil society reps, diplomats, finance experts, educators - and women from around the world, many invited by Caritas, were there. There was discussion about the culture of giving, about the good and bad effects of globalization. There were clear references to developing new, sharing economies which care for the community, things like People Banks first suggested by St Francis of Assisi. Faith, hope and charity work together to strengthen communities. Such an “economy of communion” will foster the contemporary transformation needed everywhere to welcome all persons to the global table of life.
At the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), women provided energy, color, voices, culture, languages attending meetings and briefings at the UN. With a world that is weary and with vulnerable communities and lands in physical or political turmoil, these women bring yet another stirring dimension to the global conversation. They represent themselves, their families, their local and national communities – as NGO representatives, farmers, teachers, doctors, economists and more.
Every voice counts. These are imperative voices offering a window to local human daily reality. This year’s CSW highlighted the national policies and international agreements that still do not meet standards and previous agreements, leaving the Millennium Development Goals far from being fulfilled. Collective voices of women generally concur around challenging the status quo, demonstrating with concrete evidence that women’s situations, conditions and unique circumstances are not being adequately addressed. Their voices underscore the grave vulnerability in countless countries which sustains inequality.
Just as Caritas pays attention to the pivotal roles women hold in their communities, ecumenical and inter-religious partners active in the CSW and at home note that much more political will is needed to end the culture impunity and grave violence against women. This staggering silence continues to permit that women are destroyed in fact, in spirit, in hope, in legitimate equality and human dignity. Whether in war and conflict or women at home being “spent” by powerful men and corrupt systems, they continue to die a thousand times.
While ethical human beings, elected national officials everywhere speak of respect for women, their responsibility to protect women and other vulnerable populations, compelled by Security Council resolutions, demands urgent action and protection now. Daily confrontations, rooted in laws and global mechanisms are needed.
Women are their own best representatives. Their voices must be accepted, respected, integrated into every civil, social and governmental venue. All rights are God-given. Women’s rights are human rights. No leader can expect support who denies and only pretends to address these rights. No movement can be said to speak for the society, the community, if its constituency is not an accurate, authentic representation of the entire human family. Indeed, some governments, some communities have been working at this. Many do better than others.
Women are needed in peace-building, in election processes and government roles. Women farmers, agricultural experts, are needed as much in policy as at family tables providing food and health. Large and small businesses benefit from purchases made by women, but still women are generally blocked from adding their voices. Economic justice demands global financial and economic measures which will consistently address disparities, confront inequality.
If women and mothers are not comprehensively protected can their children, especially girls flourish? Without willful equality breakthroughs now – what becomes of the vast global conversations about the need for development, peace, human security. The list goes on.
During these weeks Caritas colleagues have been engaged meeting many of these women from every continent. Several Catholic women made the link to the Caritas presence at UN headquarters. Many are either supported by Caritas member organizations on-the-ground or are partners in projects that have spoken clearly about the ways the Church lifted them up to echo their voices and to build up their communities. It is impossible to know or meet all who attended. Still, the conversation grows.