Inter-generational Empowerment and the Work of the Church at CSW55
Written by: Honna Eichler, PCUSA Delegate
I am currently sitting in the PC(USA) office in the UN Church Center, peering out the window at the busy UN complex below. The streets below are vibrantly full and include many from an international community dedicated to the rights and empowerment of all women. In the moments between the dozens of competing events, secondary events and parallel events, I pause to reflect on my experience at CSW so far and how it has informed my conviction on the responsibility of church in accompanying women worldwide wide. I will focus on a theme I have quickly become aware of: empowering an inter-generational community of religious advocates.
I first became acquainted with the other Presbyterian delegates to the 55th Commission on the Status of Women through email and Facebook. I was truly blessed to find that the people I knew only as user names on a screen transformed into a community when I entered the Ecumenical Women’s CSW Orientation just two short days ago. As a PC(USA) delegate, I met and heard from a Presbyterian delegate from the newly formed South Sudan (!!!) and delegates from parts of Africa, New Zealand, the Middle East, South America and Europe. We were joined with similarly minded Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians from around the world.
I could tell right away that this collection of Ecumenical Women was unique for two reasons. First, it was the only ecumenical event I attended (or heard about) that was inter-generational: there was a good balance of women (and a few men) of all ages. The affirmation of the empowerment of a young adult delegation was obvious and enthusiastic. Secondly, there was an emphasis on articulating one’s theological conviction through advocacy in the public sphere.
As a young adult, I am thankful for the generous distribution of collective wisdom from the women here who have gone before me. Several women I have met have decades of experience with Presbyterian Women, social policy and public advocacy and have openly shared their stories, experiences and wisdom. I would say a teaching spirit exists in this space – one I have not frequently encountered. These conversations helped me realize that the church must seek to accompany and empower women at all stages of life.
Accompanying women world-wide begins locally and only then moves abroad. Locally, those within a church can seek to foster inter-generational relationships that are affirming and empowering. (This goes against the age-based segregation often common to many worship communities.) Inter-generational relationships and empowerment can occur as women seek to hear each others stories and find ways to articulate their theological convictions in the public sphere. Often this is difficult and complex work and can only be accomplished through the open sharing of resources and collective wisdom.
In the same vein, the church must listen to the stories from those outside its local context. Some of my greatest learning these past few days has come through personal stories of oppression from women around the world. In short, there is a need to become aware of the voices of women through intentional outreach and engagement. This doesn’t happen absent hard work, which is often hard to come by, but it must happen in order for theology to be inspired by the relevant events of its historical context.
When there is a lack of inter-generational empowerment, relationships break down and it is harder to continue the work inspired by the dedication of those who have gone on before.
Those who have power within the church must affirm the empowerment of women at all stages. I am thankful and hopeful for the many examples I have already experienced of this empowerment while at the CSW. Through inter-generational empowerment, those within the church become aware of existing and forming oppressive structures and accompany the suffering and oppressed, and, importantly, do so in a way that is sustainable for future generations.