The Second International Convocation of U*U Women

On Thursday October 4, 2012, the Second International Convocation of Unitarian*Universalist Women kicked off its three day conference in Marosvásárhely, in the Târgu Mureş region of Transylvania.

Rev. Jill McAllister (People’s Church, Kalamazoo, MI) and Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri (Unitarian Union of North East India).

Drawing over 240 participants from Transylvania, the United States, India, Hungary, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Germany, and beyond, the meeting’s theme is centered around “Keeping Your Balance in a Changing World.”

Among the many purposes of this conference is the rare and wonderful opportunity for U*U women to come together from all over the world in solidarity around women’s issues. Participants are afforded opportunities for cross cultural understanding and sharing, in essence, the chance to broaden horizons while strengthening our global community.

Rev. Bálint Benczédi Ferenc shares words of greetings with the attendees of the 2nd International Convocation of U*U Women.

Thursday night’s opening ceremony featured opening remarks from Barbara Kres Beach, president of the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women, greetings from Rev. Bálint Benczédi Ferenc, Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church (previously known as the Transylvanian Unitarian Church), and Nagy Gizella, Co-President of the Women’s Association (Unitarian Church of Marosvásárhely). Following the welcoming dinner, participants learned traditional Transylvanian folk dances while a live band performed!

One of the Global Sisters Groups discussing leadership and gender roles.

The 1st International Convocation of U*U Women, which took place in Houston, TX, in 2009, inaugurated a small-group process, “Global Sisters,” a process adapted from the Community Capacity Building program. The key principle of this community-based planning process is the belief that, with the help of experienced facilitators, a community can organize its existing information, mobilize its resources, and can ultimately create consensual action plans to help its own development. Implementing this small group process for this year’s convocation, participants  have been split into 11 Global Sisters Groups to collaboratively problem-solve some of the issues affecting women in their respective communities throughout the three-day conference. The process has revealed, so far, overwhelming similarities in the issues facing women across the various represented cultures.

Margot Adler and Dr. Komáromi Tünde speak about folk culture, pagan traditions, and different approaches to the holy during a Friday morning panel discussion.

Friday’s morning program entailed a panel discussion on balancing religious/spiritual practices with our fast lives, in exploration of the various aspects of our faith in today’s world. Rev. Jill McAllister (USA), Rev. Dr. Ann Peart (England), and Rev.Székely Kinga Réka (Transylvania) each spoke about the various ways they pursue and achieve balance in their lives by way of spirituality. After a festive coffee break, Margot Adler and Dr. Komáromi Tünde discussed folk culture, pagan traditions, and different approaches to the holy. A panel on developing women’s leadership for peace and multicultural understanding, featuring Dr. Kathy Matsui (Japan), Smaranda Enache (Transylvania), and Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri (India) followed, as did a variety of workshops ranging in topic from domestic violence prevention to compassionate communication to leadership training and traditional herbal healing.

A traditional Transylvanian folk band performing for an avid group of dancers.

Saturday’s program will feature the official opening ceremony, presentation of the colors, Unitarian march, a short presentation of the wandering tablecloth, a forum on balancing family and career, and reports from the UNOSZ (Unitárius Nők Országos Szövetsége). An afternoon presentation featuring dance and music from Hungarian, Gypsy, Armenian, Romanian, Jewish, and Saxon cultures is also planned, prior to a panel on the feminine face of the divine.

The convocation concludes on Sunday with a panel on weaving a web of sisterhood around the world, and a variety of workshops on community capacity building, partnerships, improving the status of women, and even one on vampires vis a vis Earth and its moral struggles.

Packed to the brim with discussions, workshops, and activities, these three days bring together a dazzling cast of dynamic U*U women engaged in their communities to lead us all in activities designed to educate, enrich, and empower not only the lives of all in attendance, but also of those at home in our respective congregations and communities who stand to benefit from the learnings we will all carry with us in the days, months, and years ahead.

ICUUW Initiatives for Women and Their Families in the Philippines

Women and men from around Negros Island and from three continents gathered at Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines, on February 6, 2012, to discuss ways that women’s lives are transformed through livelihood opportunities. This one-day gathering was sponsored by the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women (ICUUW) and the Philippine based Buhata Pinay (Do it, Filipina).

The Rev. Rebecca Q. Sienes, President of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines and president of Buhata Pinay, a women’s empowerment initiative, served as general convenor and also opened the day with an inspiring sunrise worship. Barbara Kres Beach, President of the International Convocation, welcomed the group of more than 50 women and men from all of Negros Island and from Asia, Europe, and North America.

In the course of the day, the gathering heard presentations from Representative Luz Ilagan, head of the Gabriela Women’s Party and a member of the Philippine Congress; Dr. Fe Sycip-Wale, Professor of Health Services at Silliman University; Cecilia Hofmann, a Philippine activist on women’s issues; and Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri from the North East India Unitarian Union. All presented persuasive pictures of how women’s lives improve with increased livelihood opportunity. Dr. Sycip-Wale and Dr. Nongbri also spoke about women’s community-based health programs. All conference participants engaged in small-group discussion of the issues raised by the speakers.

Representative Ilagan was 20 minutes into her powerful presentation about the political situation of women in the Philippines when the room was shaken by a 6.7 earthquake. The group moved outdoors to the open courtyard at Silliman where Rep. Ilagan finished her talk and then took questions on many issues including reproductive health and education. After lunch, it was decided to move the conference to Valencia where Ms. Hofmann spoke about how the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has served to improve the lives of women in the Philippines. The gathering closed with inspirational words from the Rev. Carol Huston and others.

In the weeks prior to this event ICUUW joined hands with members of the UU Church of Annapolis (UUCA) for the next phase of their Empowering Women and their Families through Livelihood project. A two-day pilot IdeaShopTM for economically disadvantaged women in the remote agricultural communities of Doldol and Malingin offered women opportunities to expand their knowledge horizons about profitable income alternatives. The program featured Nelly Nacino, president and founder of the Manila-based Mother and Child Association speaking about her entrepreneurial experience growing from one sewing machine on loan to an organization of over 200 women. Other speakers included livelihood experts from the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, the municipal government, and Kat Kowalski, artist and UUCA member. Approximately 30 local participants were interviewed and asked to share their top priorities for livelihood. ICUUW and NEW Pathways to Enterprise, an NGO founded by Christine Nielsen and Keith Raney, sponsored filming of the documentary, Palangitan-an: Empowering Women through Livelihood. The IdeaShopTM is one of the innovative approaches developed by NEW Pathways to Enterprise.