A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Ranwa Hammamy is a UU seminarian & 2015 M.Div candidate at Union Theological Seminary. In September 2014 she was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Ranwa reflects on her powerful, moving experiences in Japan.

Sitting in my dorm at Union, I often hear the bells of Riverside Church chime in the morning to announce the 8:00AM hour. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to pause and listen to their familiar ring, reminding me that a new day is beginning – new opportunities, learning, and connections await. On days when my time management is lacking, their sound is also a reminder that I should be preparing for class. The Riverside bells have become a welcome piece of my routine, serving roles beyond simply being a marker of time.

Since my return from Japan, these bells have taken on a new function. They remind me of another sacred sound, one that became familiar and welcome in my routine at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine. Every morning for my 10 days at the shrine, I would hear the sound of the taiko drum at 8:25AM, five evenly spaced beats, announcing that it was time for chohai, or morning worship. On most of these mornings, I would be helping clean the inside walkways of the shrine or sweep leaves from the gravel paths of its outside grounds.

This practice of cleaning, of purifying the shrine, took place every day before worship. Its deliberate motions helped me remember each morning that the ground I walked upon was sacred. When the drums sounded at 8:25, I would pause in my cleaning and perform temizu, a purification ritual with water, before entering the main sanctuary for worship. The drum would return later in the service, as the leading priest would beat a specific rhythm towards the end of worship. I asked Ochiai, one the priests at the shrine, what the drum beat meant. He told me it was another form of purification. When I felt its vibrations run through my body, I was inclined to agree. (more…)

Interfaith Dialogue for Human Rights

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Abby McBride is a youth representative for the UU-UNO. She attends Lehigh University and is pursuing a a degree in International Relations.  She is a blogger and manager for The Assembly.

Religion tends to have a bad rap in the media. When people think of zealous religious figures, terms such as “bigot” or “xenophobe” often come to mind. A group of religious non-governmental organizations met at the United Nations on Friday, August 29th, 2014 to discuss putting an end to this trend. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) sponsored the interfaith dialogue workshop, entitled “Interfaith Progressive Values Promote Universal Human Rights” as part of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Co-sponsors included Muslims for Progressive Values, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the Tzu Chi Foundation, Soka Gakkai International, Won Buddhism, and Buddha’s Light International Association.

 

Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux
Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux

In the workshop, participants emphasized that, while faith is important, it should not stand in the way of basic human rights. Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, spoke of her dedication to Buddhism, but said her foundation will help any kind of person, not only Buddhists. Kamila Jacob, representing the UU-UNO, told the workshop that her drive for social justice is put into action by her faith.

 

Hiro Sakuri of Soka Gakkai International voiced his regrets that there is no longer an interfaith conference at the United Nations. In 2005 he established an interfaith conference at the UN, with support from 75 member states, 15 UN agencies, and a set of religious non-governmental organizations. Following this development was the first ever General Assembly high-level dialogue on inter-religious communication for peace. However, the interfaith conference no longer occurs since members of certain agencies and organizations have left. Now, he struggles to find committed people to bring this conference back to life.

 

Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld
Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld

Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, addressed the conflict that occurs between religion and human rights. She proposes that it is not religion itself that creates tension with human rights, but men’s interpretation of it. Of her own faith, Islam, she said “Sharia law is the interpretation of that divine inspiration [Sharia] by men of patriarchal society.” Zonneveld clarified that Sharia is the spiritual path of Islam. However, Sharia law has been warped by the values of the time (centuries ago) when it was enacted and the cultural issues it conflicts with today.

The UU-UNO affirms the Unitarian Universalist belief that there is inherent worth and dignity in every individual. Humanity is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, and the UU-UNO recognizes and embraces this fact. The UU-UNO wants to foster interfaith dialogue so that no religious groups stand in the way of the rights of individuals. We must be aligned in what is true, what is right, and what is good.

The UU-UNO recognizes that if religious groups are to succeed in protecting human rights, a greater degree of dialogue and cooperation in the future is essential. The workshop cast a look at what such a future might entail. Members attended from a plethora of religious groups – Jewish, Humanist, Catholic, Atheist, and a variety of others. The UU-UNO is hopeful that interfaith dialogue will continue as we need unity to secure fundamental rights around the world, rather than the division that has plagued religious dialogue in the past.Audience2 - nb

Through Eyes That Have Cried

Rev. Colin Bossen, a Unitarian Universalist Minister and PhD candidate at Harvard University, shares the following abridged version of a sermon originally preached at the First Parish in Lexington on August 17, 2014.

Sueños Deportados: Foro comunitario en l by ndlon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  ndlon 

NDLON delegation in El Salvador, July 2014

The martyred Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero said, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” Unitarian Universalist theologians Forrest Church and Rebecca Parker offer us similar advice. Church claimed that the core of our Universalist theology was “to love your enemy as yourself; to see your tears in another’s eyes; to respect and even embrace otherness, rather than merely to tolerate… it.” Parker, meanwhile, writes, “There is no holiness to be ascertained apart from the holiness that can be glimpsed in one another’s eyes.”

Last month I spent a week in El Salvador as part of a delegation organized by the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, also called NDLON. Our goals were to better understand the reality of migration from Central America to the United States; the reasons for migration; and the experiences of deportees. During our week in El Salvador we met with academics, representatives of the Salvadoran government, and a popular education organization. The most visceral parts of the trip were our conversations and interviews with deportees and the stories we heard about migrants.

I invite you to see through their eyes. Let me share with the story of a deportee and the story of a migrant. (more…)

34th IARF World Congress Recap

From August 24-27, the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) held its 34th World Congress in Birmingham, UK. A quadrennial event, this year’s theme was “Challenges for Religious Freedom in the Digital Age.”

UUA President Rev. Peter Morales introduced keynote speaker Karen Armstrong, who delivered an impassioned speech titled “Religious Problems and Imperatives of Our Age” to over 250 attending delegates hailing from 25 countries. During the introductory proceedings, Armstrong was presented with the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award.

The two and a half day program hosted 11 sessions featuring 39 presenters from all over the world. Three plenaries were held addressing the following topics: “The coming-online faith world,” “How (not) to liberate the world,” and “educational potential of religious narrative animation.”

The second plenary address was delivered by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.

Providing a powerful opportunity for interfaith connection, discussion, and collegiality across borders, this year’s Congress was hosted in Birmingham, a city whose rich history of “indigenous British religious nonconformity” made it a perfect milieu for 2014′s gathering.

Check out this Storify collection of tweets and facebook posts from Congress participants:

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My Summer with the UU-UNO

Hi everyone,

Like my fellow intern Zandy, today marks my last day as an intern with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Through the last ten weeks with the office I have had such an amazing experience and will thoroughly miss it. The other interns and staff members I met here will be connections and friends for years to come I hope, and the opportunity to work on important causes about which I am passionate has been both affirming and inspiring.

My name is Sage Mitch, and I am a junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I came into this internship without any clear expectations for what this internship might look like or what my role with the office would be. While searching for positions this summer, I discovered the UU-UNO, and thought as a life-long UU and budding international relations enthusiast, the position would be a perfect fit. At the end now of a summer here that passed altogether too quickly, I know that I was right.

The small, but ambitious nature of the office allowed me to explore many different interests and participate in several projects. Like Zandy, I began my summer making calls to our Envoys in congregations across the US and Canada in order to get feedback on the program and update our database of contact information. It was inspiring to speak with such dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the office for years and years. It was intimidating at first as a brand new member of the office to be speaking to such expert enthusiasts, but I quickly came to enjoy the task. It was really a great reflection of the care and passion in so many UUs that envoys, young and old, would take the time to speak with me quite extensively about their ideas and experiences. After speaking with so many people about their passions, I was eager to begin working with my own at the office.

After doing a little work with the Every Child is Our Child program, I began working chiefly as the climate change intern within the office.  As the climate change intern, I prepared to be in contact with Climate Action Teams (CATs), research climate issues and potential projects, and encourage the expansion of the CAT program. In the first week of July though, I heard murmurs about the People’s Climate March. Between inquiries to our office and our own research, it quickly became clear that this March was going to be a big deal, and something we had to get involved in. I made the necessary contacts with UUs involved in the early organizing, and we reached out to our Climate Action Teams. I thought that this would be a good event for the office to participate in in September, but not a major project. Then sometime toward the end of the month, the March exploded into action. I feel as though I’ve spent most of the past month in communications about the March and the activities and workshops scheduled surrounding it, and I have loved every minute of it. The March is scheduled for Sunday, September 21 to correspond to a UN Summit for world leaders on climate change the following week, and is supposed to be the largest climate march in history. Thousands of UUs will be involved among a massive interfaith movement. Witnessing the connection between so many different faiths and climate justice has been truly inspiring. It is very difficult for me to have to leave this project now and miss the March itself. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who can to participate in the myriad of UU and interfaith activities that weekend and to carry the messages of climate justice beyond!

In addition to my work with climate change, I did some work with the NGO committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, specifically with the publication they produce called The Disarmament Times. In this work I was able to research and learn about leading disarmament experts and efforts. Through this work, I also learned more about the interconnected nature of many of the human rights issues our office works to address. For instance, between my two main areas of climate change and disarmament, I was able to see how an increasing climate crisis and dearth of natural resources is leading to more global political conflict; and in reverse, the defense industry is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. And the connections extend throughout the realm of human rights; in helping to prepare materials for congregations to celebrate UN Sunday I repeatedly saw the connection between this year’s theme of indigenous rights to my focus of climate justice – among the many other areas it can connect to including women’s rights, SOGI/LGBT rights, and economic justice. Because our office addresses such a broad range of issues, I saw more the universal effects of human rights abuses and the need for action in all areas.

I leave my internship impassioned to take these lessons with me in my work in the future. This summer I had the opportunity to shake hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and see Mala Yousafzai speak (both of which left me feeling star struck and inspired), but was most impressed by the work I see going on in the UU-UNO every day. I learned this summer how much work goes in to true progress and the role that I can play in working for human rights. I hope to have the opportunity in my work in the future to pursue something I am as passionate about with as talented a group of people as the staff and interns at the UU-UNO this summer.

In Peace and Justice,

Sage

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org.

Nine Weeks in the Life of a UU-UNO Women’s Program Intern

 

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Zandy in front of the UN.
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Zandy and Gerardo Porteny Backal

Hi, my name is Alexandra “Zandy” Stovicek and this is my last week as the intern in charge of the Women’s Initiative for Security and Peacebuilding (WISP) in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations (UUUNO) office. I had an incredible time getting to know my office supervisors, fellow interns of all ages and academic backgrounds, and learning about the structure and agenda of the United Nations. As the only intern focused on the WISP program during my time here, I was able to work on a plethora of projects of my own volition. One of my goals for this internship was to focus on networking and partnership building. Although I consider myself an extrovert, I have not had a lot of opportunity to practice building professional relationships in my young adult life, and I know that these skills are invaluable for the road ahead. Two of my objectives were to create a partnership with the US Mission and UN Women. Although I have not had as much success as I would have hoped partnering with the US Mission on indigenous women’s rights, my goal of partnering with UN Women was achieved. I recently met with Gerardo Porteny Backal, the Global Youth Consultant for the HeForShe Campaign at UN Women. HeforShe encourages men to join the fight for gender equality on behalf of universal human rights. Hopefully our organizations will start collaborating on women’s rights after such a successful meeting!

I’ve also looked into partnering with UU groups. We are in the process of working with both the UUA Reproductive Justice Advisory Group and the All Souls Reproductive Justice Task Force on an informative panel on international reproductive health. My other big task related to Unitarian Universalism in particular has been calling envoys from UU congregations to update our database and gather feedback, in order to improve UU-UNO communications and our Envoy program. Perhaps I spoke to some of the individuals who are reading this right now! I enjoyed getting to know UUs from around the country and Canada, hearing their goals for implementation of UN Sundays and other international human rights advocacy events at their congregations.

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UN Women’s Meeting

My main project has been preparation and planning for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March. This two-week conference consists of meetings at the UN headquarters and our very own church center, headed by UN Women and the NGO Committee on CSW. After researching a dozen potential topics, I narrowed down our proposal to focus on two themes. The first is about global women’s self-esteem. When the issue of “self-esteem” is addressed, it is often in the context of a Western woman’s issues with her body image, exacerbated by the media. Self-esteem, however, should be considered to mean the worth and value of all women around the world. This is not a national issue; it is a global, universal, pervasive issue: the low self-esteem of women. I intend the event to have a discussion-based format; I’d love for audience members to discuss what self-esteem really means and how it is the root of many issues. The topic will be approached through the lens of a discussion on the war against girl children. Think about this: a man who kills or abandons his female children because they are female must not think a female life is worth living. If a woman kills, aborts, or abandons her female children because they are female, she must not think a female life is worth living, and therefore that her own life is worth living. What creates and perpetuates the dehumanization of women and their low self-esteem? And, how can we change it?

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Zandy and UU-UNO Office and Intern Coordinator, Nickie Tiedeman

The second panel stems from a desire to continue the work and writings of former intern Russell Hathaway, who is passionate about the plight of women in Syria. I developed a panel focusing on the Reproductive and Mental Health of Syrian Refugee Women. The Syrian Civil War is a relevant and important topic. Yet much of the focus on the war concerns bombings, military engagements, and use of chemical weapons, rather than civilians, particularly women and their reproductive and mental health. There is a dire need to focus on this specific topic since many women have suffered physical and sexual violence in conflict, and all have experienced trauma. A number attribute their feelings of insecurity, or their experiences of harassment or exploitation, to the fact that they are living without an adult male, who would ordinarily provide social and physical protection. Many of these women now live in poverty in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon settlements. They are the survivors of war, the unheard voices, and the lives forgotten. Health facilities have been deliberately targeted and eviscerated during the war and the specific treatment and concern directed towards sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors in particular is crucial. It has been a privilege to watch my work come to fruition, from brainstorming about potential topics to formatting the specific topics to having co-sponsors and panelists commit to participating just this week!

As I head back to Wesleyan University for my sophomore year this month, I am excited to continue promoting gender equality and all human rights on my campus. I belong to many social justice groups that focus on an eclectic mix of topics, from girls’ education to HIV/AIDs to discrimination against LGBT persons to advocating against sexual violence towards women. I hope to use the skills and knowledge base that I have acquired at the UU-UNO in order to become a more conscientious, action-focused member of these groups. In order to remain in contact with this lovely office and the UN in general, I applied to become a UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group Youth Representative. The position would entail meetings with the Executive Director and other representatives in order to include the input of youth on gender equality initiatives. Fingers crossed! You might also find me running around the office come March, as the UN prepares for CSW. I hope to volunteer for this office or NGO CSW during my spring break to see my passionate work come to completion. Best wishes for a peaceful, justice-filled year ahead!

With love,

Zandy Stovicek

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org. 

Giving, Receiving, Sharing: God Particles

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 8.51.32 AMThe Remonstrant church in the Netherlands – a century-long liberal religious partner of the UUA – is embarking on an innovative ministry called ‘Goddeeltjes’ (God particles).  They will be publishing 6 small spiritual booklets by church leaders about finding parts of God through Giving, Receiving and Sharing.  After approaching Dutch Television producers about this idea, they produced a short movie (7 minutes, includes English subtitles) to introduce the idea.  Isn’t it beautiful?

May it be a blessing.

Hiroshima: Interfaith Dialogue & Peace

The Heiwa Peace Pilgrimage—a multigenerational, multicultural, interfaith peace exchange program coordinated by All Souls Church Unitarian (Washington D.C.)traveled to Hiroshima, Japan, for ten days to visit with interfaith partners at the Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai.

Excerpted from the most recent All Souls newsletter, minister Rev. Dr. Rob Hardies reflects on the group’s powerful experience of interfaith connection with its hosts and shares observations on the anniversary of Hiroshima Day.

lantern ceremonyI am writing you this letter from the train station in Osaka, Japan, where thirty-seven All Souls pilgrims—ages 12 to 82—are waiting for a train to Kyoto.

This morning as we departed Hiroshima Station, our host families from the Rissho Kosei Kai Dharma Center waved goodbye to us from the platform.

For three days our Buddhist hosts welcomed us into their homes and hearts, engaging us in interfaith dialogue and peace study. We are so grateful for the generosity they showed us, and look forward to reciprocating their hospitality when they visit All Souls in 2015.

In Hiroshima we visited the museum that chronicles the atomic bomb’s devastation, listened to the testimony of survivors, and on the 69th anniversary of the bombing participated in several memorial ceremonies for victims.

One experience stands out for me. At Honkawa School—where All Souls has had a relationship for over 65 years—we offered flowers and 1000 origami cranes at an altar for the 400 children who were incinerated in their classrooms at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945. As we remembered the dead and listened to a chorus of current Honkawa students singing songs of peace, I couldn’t help but think of other children. Children huddled in shelters in Gaza, waiting for the bombs to stop falling. Children languishing in limbo on the US-Mexico border.

When will we learn that all the peoples of the earth are one?

We and our friends from Hiroshima agreed that the shared history of violence and reconciliation between our two peoples places on our shoulders a responsibility to build peace—not only for ourselves, but for all the peoples of the world.

I can tell you this: those of us who witnessed Hiroshima will return to the States ever-more committed to this great cause.

Related Trip Coverage

Hiroshima: Reflections on Reconciliation & Friendship

The Heiwa Peace Pilgrimage delegation began its journey on August 1st and will be visiting with their interfaith partners in Japan for ten days. This guest blog post was composed jointly by three youth pilgrims from All Souls Church Unitarian (Washington, D.C.): Vicky Nier, Aheri Stanford-Asiyo, and James Ploeser. 

“Obama will say, ‘I’m sorry.’ This I hope. I hope…”

These were the words of a Hiroshima resident who approached a member of our group last night. On the eve of the 69th anniversary, his greatest wish was for the US government to finally issue an apology for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His English was better than our Japanese, so with the assistance of a smartphone — but without any hint of animosity towards us as Americans — he expressed his opinion with the same warmth and kindness that has repeatedly humbled our group of pilgrims. Motivated by love for humanity rather than a desire for vengeance, all he wanted was an apology.

Sadly, at the top levels of our government no such words have been spoken, no such forgiveness asked. Even so, the people of Hiroshima and of Japan have greeted us with a nearly inexplicable hospitality. Our RKK hosts have outdone themselves at every opportunity to extend offers of friendship and love, demonstrating to us in a most powerful way the capacity — and the responsibility — of everyday people to sow and nurture the seeds of reconciliation.

Our day began fittingly, under a steady downpour making our way to join over 45,000 others in Hiroshima Peace Park for the annual commemoration. Grade school children offered wishes for peace. The Japanese prime minister offered condolences and renewed calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Gray and black birds flew overhead, disappearing into the trees that surrounded the rows of endless white folding chairs.

Afterwards, we returned to the Hiroshima Dharma Center of the RKK.

We exchanged gifts. We bonded. We made memories. We opened our hearts to one another in friendship. Although at our luncheon tables we spoke little of politics or of the deplorable events of 69 years ago, every word, every bow, every smile, was an offering of peace.

Later in the night the Pilgrims not staying with host families returned to Ground Zero to participate in the floating of lanterns down the river in downtown Hiroshima. The prayers of the Heiwa Peace delegates included:

“May every flower touched by tragedy grow back as beautifully as Hiroshima.”
“May no child, no family, ever face such horror again.”
“May we all live together in peace one day.”
“May all those who suffered here find comfort; may we the living work for an enduring peace”

It’s been moving and powerful and exciting and exhausting and wonderful. Though we cannot pretend to apologize for an entire nation, our work here is sprouting new opportunities for reconciliation and friendship. We are humbled, and grateful to have shared this momentous, beautiful and tragic day with the wonderful people of Hiroshima.

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UN Conference ‘Women in Power: Making a Global Difference’

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When fellow intern Zandy and I heard that there would be a UN conference entitled “Women in Power Making a Global Difference,” I cleared my schedule to be sure I could be there. What could be more exciting than powerful women using their influence for the global good?

The conference room was emptier than I wished it would have been. In my mind, the masses should come together on this issue. The issue of gender inequality affects men and women alike. Fortunately, the panelists were both men and women of many different racial backgrounds. The moderator of the event, Terra Renee, managed to weave the speeches of each leader into a cohesive call to act on behalf of these issues, leaving attendees with a feeling of empowerment.

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The Ambassador of Grenada to the United States, Denis Antoine, spoke about how closing the gender gap could “unleash greater global power.” He stressed that women have no representation in public decision making roles despite their strong roles in the home; mothers can teach their sons and daughters to be agents of change. Mothers are inherently strong leaders and should be given the opportunity to lead outside of the home.

Sire Dione Conde, the President of African Women for Good Governance, had a lot to say about the ability of women, whether they are mothers at home or powerful leaders, to make a difference. Like Ambassador Antoine, she also emphasized the role of mothers: confident mothers raise confident daughters. Furthermore, if women are empowered in their communities, they will raise empowered girls.

Mamadou Tangara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Gambia, mentioned the tremendous image(3)difference that free education has made for girls and will continue to make in the future in his own country.

Dr. Ekua of Nigeria opened with the endearing statement, “I am one of the most gender sensitive men you can find on the earth.” He highlighted the need to not only talk about women’s issues, but to brainstorm concrete strategies to move forward, and create bench marks for  progress. In particular he noted that media is often used as a tool to objectify women instead of as a resource to promote gender equality.

Lynne Walsh, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, declared that society is off-balance; a great way to think about the untapped potential of women.She argued for male-female teamwork as the key to success. She spoke in terms of both global and national issues. However, both Zandy and I found her ideas to be quite heteronormative. She focused on family ideals and the importance of children growing up in a two-parent (male-female) household. I think this idea disregards women’s ability to affect change, globally or otherwise, all by herself or in a group of women without men. Single mothers, female leaders, and same sex couples who are successful at raising children were discredited by her words. We both agree that men need to be part of the discussion on gender equality, but that her idealization of the male presence undersold the potential of women. I hope that we can all see that women have the power to catalyze change, indiscriminate of gender identity and whether or not they are part of a gender binary.

Stephanie Aisha Steplight Johnson, Dean of the Liberal Arts School of Essex County College, shared her understanding of good governance. Good governance consists of a government providing protection, natural resources, education, and health for its citizens in order to ensure a high quality of life. Unfortunately, often it is the citizens who must take the infrastructure of their communities into their own hands. She closed with Nelson Mandela’s statement that the “ordinary men and women guarantee true democracy and freedom,” hoping to foster the spirit of good governance among not only politicians and leaders but each and every civilian.

Lindsay Ashby focused on the justice system, mentioning the positive changes in gender equality in the United States through the reversal of five sexist rulings. Next she discussed the bridge between women’s equality and energy justice. She recounted her trips to help developing areas during which women would ask for wells that would enable water to be more accessible to the community, while men asked for soccer fields.

image(2)                The event culminated with a discussion of the 276 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist organization in April. It has now been just over 100 days that the girls have been in captivity and unfortunately it has been confirmed that 11 of the girls’ parents have died during their absence. Marsha Lee-Wash of the Law Enforcement Guardians spoke with passion on this issue. She stressed the magnitude of uncontrollable violence in our society today, but declared that we must continue to advocate on behalf of human rights. She stated that the girls deserve the “freedom to live and dream without harm,” and that “we cannot afford to go to sleep on the dreams of girls.” Her most notable conclusion exposed the cracks within the UN system; she asked the audience to “move beyond the titles [they] have acquired,” stop having “conferences for the sake of conferences,” and use this opportunity to create a call to action. This amalgamation of speakers from eclectic backgrounds helped to inform the audience about the plethora of national and international impediments to gender equality and why each of those battles is equally important to fight.

There are so many ways to get involved in the fight for women’s rights. Some are right here at the UU-UNO, located in the Church Center of UN Plaza. The UU-UNO aims to promote awareness and action through education and advocacy such as pushing for ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) U.S. and international implementation, preventing sexual violence and child marriage, participation and hosting events each year at CSW (the Commission on the Status of Women), film screenings, and writing reports. For more information, to host a film screening, or attend an event please visit our Women’s Peace building website or e-mail us. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Untitled    -Lauren Potenza & Zandy Stovicek