The UU-UNO’s contribution to the Commission on the Status of Women

This week is the start of the 59th annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Every year, delegates from all over the world come to New York to discuss the challenges that women worldwide face. After discussing these issues, they come up with concrete plans of action to raise the status of women worldwide. 2015 is a particularly meaningful year for the movement, as it is the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, also known as the Beijing Conference. That conference featured a memorable speech by Hillary Clinton declaring that “women’s rights are human rights” and ended with a groundbreaking declaration that set the agenda on women’s rights for years to come.

As an NGO, one of our key missions is to educate delegates and members of other NGOs. On Tuesday March 9th I had the pleasure of attending a panel organized by our Women’s Initiative Intern, Nazli Boroshan. The panel was moderated by UU-UNO chair Bruce Knotts and featured two wonderful speakers, Dr. Marciana Popescu and Jomana Qaddour talking about of the effect of humanitarian crises on women’s reproductive and mental health.

Dr. Popescu is a professor of social work at Fordham University who specializes in international social work and protecting women in unsettled environments against violence. Her remarks focused on the trips she made to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake and the conclusions she drew from this first-hand experience. Throughout her remarks, she emphasized the paramount importance of ensuring that women feel safe and secure. Even when women have equality under the law, they may not be able to exercise their rights or receive benefits they are legitimately entitled to for fear of sexual or physical violence. She recounted the problem of refugee camps in Haiti where supplies were adequate, but violence against women was so rampant that women had difficulty making use of them. Bruce underscored the importance this point with an example from his own experience- during his time in the State Department, as a regional [something] in West Africa in he received reports of male teachers sexual harassing female students in USAID funded schools . In this case, the basic right to education was under attack not from lack of access, but from a lack of security. Dr. Popescu also made the important point that the disaster in Haiti did not begin with the earthquake, rather the foundations for it were laid by years of political unrest and unresolved societal conflict.

The other panelist, Jomana Qaddour is a former patent attorney born in Syria who co-founded the Syria Relief & Development charity with her father in 2011. Her work has brought her onto the front lines of one of the most acute humanitarian crises in the world today and given her a strong perspective on the struggles of women in a country turned upside down by a brutal civil war. Ms. Qaddour brought up many timely issues, one of the most striking of which was the use of women as a weapon of war. Though women rarely participate in pitched battles, both sides in the civil war have made extensive use of violence against women (or the threat thereof) to achieve their objectives. As a result of this violence, it has become very difficult for women to put their trust in institutions that could provide them with assistance and support. The percentage of Syrian women receiving medical care has dropped dramatically since the start of the war, not just because of the massive exodus of doctors, but also because women face the threat of violence when they leave their homes.

A packed house

Every Child is Our Child: Supporting Local Solutions to a Global Crisis

My name is Jonathan, and I am the Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) intern here at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). In this post I will outline the mission of this program and highlight its role in bringing about development and empowerment.

During the past decade, the world has made massive strides in confronting the HIV/AIDS crisis. New infections have fallen by 33% since 2001, new infections in children have fallen by more than 50%, access to anti-retrovirals has increased by 40-fold and yearly HIV/AIDS related deaths have fallen by more than a quarter in the last ten years. Though there are still more than a million new cases every year, the combined initiative of governments, NGOs, and countless individuals has prevented millions of infections.

Despite this heartening progress, HIV/AIDS remains an inescapable reality for millions of people, many of whom already suffer from or are at risk of severe economic deprivation. More than fifteen million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and many of those children are HIV positive themselves. The UU-UNO’s Every Child is Our Child program to support the education of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is our response to this crisis. It began with the realization that the the AIDS crisis has many dimensions and is grounded in the principle that co-operation with grassroots organizations is essential to bringing about lasting positive change.

Providing medical treatment to those suffering from HIV/AIDS is a necessity, but it is also only a first step. A HIV positive child whose parents have died can be given anti-retroviral drugs, but their road to mental wellness and personal development will often be littered with obstacles. The ECOC program is based on a partnership between the UU-UNO and the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association. Manya Krobo is one of Ghana’s poorest provinces and also one of the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.  The Queen Mothers are traditional female community leaders who have taken on the responsibility of supporting children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. While many aid programs work in top-down fashion, ECOC is meant to support the existing goals and initiatives of the Queen Mothers. By providing the supplies needed for children attend school, it furthers the Queen Mothers’ stated goal of improving local society through education. On a larger scale, the program reflects the Unitarian-Universalist commitment to addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Formulated in 2000 by the UN, the MDGs consist of eight ambitious development goals. By providing access to education for vulnerable children ECOC is meant to work toward the goals of achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, and combating HIV/AIDs.

Supporting gender equality . In Manya Krobo, as in many poor areas, girls are far more likely to drop out of school than boys. The negative effects of this are deep and broad, as not only are girls without education are less likely to find meaningful jobs later in life, they are also more likely to be forced into exploitative relationships with older men. These relationships often lead to them contracting HIV, which makes finding regular employment even more difficult, thus leading to further dependency. To have any chance of breaking this vicious cycle it is essential to start at the beginning by ensuring that girls have the opportunity to become financially and socially independent women.
Maria, Bruce, Joseph and Children holding up postcards

Former UU-UNO Intern Mario Militano and UU-UNO program director Bruce Knotts making a site visit in February 2014

When it started in 2004, the program supported 20 students. Today, thanks to the support of many donors, it provides for the expenses of 120 students. To learn more about the program you can visit our website. You can help these students and give other children the opportunity to participate in this program by making a generous donation.

Standing on the Side of Love in Australia

Rev. Rob MacPherson, minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia (UCSA), and his congregation are advocating on behalf of the rights of Australia’s asylum-seekers.

At a recent street protest outside the Adelaide offices of the federal Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, UCSA members witnessed on the side of love in demand of human rights. He writes:

Recent Australian governments (of both major parties) have orchestrated and conducted a cruel and illegal policy of mandatory offshore detention of vulnerable people fleeing persecution in the region.


Those detained are often held for years in squalid camps in nearby countries who are themselves unable to resist the coercion of this larger more powerful nation.
The conditions in these camps have been confirmed as squalid and dehumanizing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many other international bodies.


There have been deaths, riots, hunger strikes, and physical violence visited upon asylum-seekers by locally hired agents of private security firms. Children in these camps (yes, children are incarcerated too) are suffering from acute anxiety and depression and other psychological developmental issues.


Cognizant of our UU first principle, many in our church find we cannot be silent about this. Hence, our fund-raising and sponsoring of the Refugee Portrait Exhibition, which has traveled the state. Hence also, our on-going direct action at rallies, such as the one depicted (in the photos above).

Last April, Rev. MacPherson gave a talk at the congregation related to this ongoing issue, which you can hear below:



Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) Conference: Perspectives from Two UU-UNO Interns

On Friday, January 30th, 2015, two interns from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office attended the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations at the UN Secretariat. Danning Zhang and Brieanna Scolaro, both who are graduate social work students, were excited to attend the conference and share their thoughts and reflections below with you.



   Committee on Teaching About the United Nations    


Danning Zhang:

Having interned for five months at the United Nations Church Center, right across the street from the UN Headquarters, I never considered myself well educated about the UN’s history, structure and its functions. When I receive comments like, “The UN is just a bunch of people doing nothing but having meetings all day,” I never knew the most effective response. Sometimes I would say things such as, “We need to come to solutions to the world’s problems by engaging in dialogues”, or “Things take time to change.” However, things have changed since my attendance to the Committee on Teaching about the United Nations on January 30, 2015. I can now give a better, more comprehensive answer to the question, “How does the UN work?”

United Nations is a change agency itself. For developing countries such as Sri Lanka and Palau whose resources and technology may be limited at times to fully promote the social welfare of their citizens, the UN comes to help them implement programs to increase the literacy rate, reduce infant mortality, and provide support for disaster relief. With the collaborative effort of different sectors of the UN and many non-profit organizations that are affiliated with the UN, school lunch programs are implemented so that less school children are hungry; teachers are sent to the most impoverished areas of the world so that children living in poverty can have a brighter future through education; protocols on reducing carbon emission are signed so that people can breathe clearer air.

The United Nations is not only a symbol for peace, but a meaningful message to be carried on from generation to generation. A central theme of the CTAUN conference included the idea that in order to reach peace, we need to teach peace. Many schools and teachers are building peace by carrying the UN’s spirit of peace in their daily curriculum to their young students. Two teachers at the United Nations International School, who won the “Best Practice Award”, implement daily peace and mindfulness activities with their students. Two PS 119 teachers, the other winners of the “Best Practice Award”, create a culture of peace that their students live in, by facilitating peace marches, peace games, and other forms of activities that promote the message of peace – a seed planed early can grow big and wide.

The United Nations is a mission. Kenneth Payumo, Chief of Peacekeeping Operations Support Section in the UN Department of Safety and Security, is a peacekeeper in South Sudan that risked his life to protect thousands of innocent civilians that would have otherwise been harmed by armed forces during political riots. Others, like Pamela Falk, UN Resident Correspondent, fight continuously for freedom of expression and justice for journalists who have been killed. Individuals such as Payumo and Falk continue to inspire individuals in the community, such as myself. Inspired by the CTAUN conference, I now have developed a better idea of who I am and what I want to do with my future peace building career. More importantly, I am certain that regardless of what I do with my life and how I want to achieve my career goals, I will always bare the peace building mission in my mind.


    CTAUN - Brie and Danning


Brieanna Scolaro: 

For me, the most intriguing part of the CTAUN conference was the opening discussion of the United Nations history. Bob Clark, Deputy Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, provided us great insight into how the UN came to be a result of the passion and values of FDR. Similar to Danning, I had never fully understood the roots of the UN – how it relates to the League of Nations, how other presidents have attempted some sort of international diplomacy effort but were not supported by the citizens. I was never aware that only two weeks before the first UN meeting, FDR had passed away, leaving Eleanor Roosevelt to bring FDR’s dream to reality. It is interesting that everyone doubted Eleanor and did not know exactly what to do with her – despite this, she became a champion of change. Eleanor’s efforts and passions are something that we all need to keep in mind when considering and advocating for the role of women in developing a sustainable world.

I felt excited to be in a room full of teachers, current and past, that so directly connect with our youth on a daily basis. I agree that in order to have a peaceful world, we need to teach and practice peace. How can we build peace if we cannot sit with ourselves and find inner peace? The conference reminds us to look inside ourselves, explore ourselves, find similarities with others, and to celebrate diversity in the world. The UN explores issues such as women’s rights, freedom of speech, the role of social media in development, nuclear disarmament – they have been working towards the The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions, and are currently developing the next set of goals, the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. I challenge you, the reader, to ask yourself what world you want to live in. What should be at the forefront of our world’s next set of priorities? In addition, I would challenge those of you who already engage in social justice and global human rights to consider how we can continue to act locally but think globally.

Religious Property Ownership Threatened in Transylvania

 by Rimager, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   Image by  Rimager 


For the last 25 years, the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have expected the government of Romania to return their illegally confiscated properties. In a process that has been fraught with complication and delays, victories in favor of progress have been slowly underway. Until now.

Religious repression and the practice of nationalizing what was once considered private property was the policy under Communist rule, broadly and especially in Romania from 1947-1989.

During those decades of Communist rule in Romania, church real estate was wrested from all denominations, including the four traditional Hungarian-speaking churches in the country: Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and Unitarian. From these denominations, 2,140 properties were taken and nationalized by force.

In 1989, as Communist rule came to an end, democratization and the restoration of forcibly confiscated property began at a glacial pace. As of December 2012, half of those confiscated properties had been restored to their rightful owners; of that half, only a third have been granted usage rights.

In other words, over 1,700 properties across the denominations that comprise the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have still not been fully restored, despite government ordinances, two laws, international outcry, and countless ignored deadlines by the Romanian government.

Those few and far between success stories in all of this could at least be held up as signs of progress and signals to all that there is still hope to exercise their constitutional right to “sanctity of private and community property.” However, in November 2014, a profoundly concerning legal precedent was set when one of these restored properties was suddenly re-nationalized.

On November 26th, a Romanian appellate court ruled to renationalize the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, a property that was confiscated under Communist rule and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, over a decade ago.

The illegal verdict sent shockwaves throughout the religious community, conveying a troubling message that threatens the future of all of the already restituted properties – not to mention those that still hang in limbo. In a region that is less than 20% Hungarian, this move boldly signifies discrimination against minorities in Romania.

The Hungarian Unitarian Church shared the following statement in response to the ruling:

Kolozsvár, 27 November 2014
STATEMENT on the recent developments regarding the Székely Mikó Reformed High School


The Executive Committee of the Consistory of the Hungarian Unitarian Church noted with profound indignation the court decision on the restitution of the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in Sfântu Gheorghe (Hungarian: Sepsiszentgyörgy), Romania.


The legally binding verdict of the Court in Ploiesti de facto re-nationalized the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, which was confiscated (nationalized) by the Communist dictatorship in 1948, and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, in 2002.


This verdict is illegal, and it sends a humiliating and outrageous message not only towards the members of the Reformed Church, but also to the entire Hungarian minority in Romania, irrespective of religious denomination.


Since the 1989 fall of Communist dictatorship in Romania, the Hungarian-speaking minority churches in Romania have relentlessly struggled to obtain the restitution of their confiscated church properties (or compensation in justified cases).


For these 25 years, the restitution process has been controversial and painfully slow; until this moment however, our churches could have hoped for our constitutional right – i.e., “sanctity of private and community property” – for legal remedy, but this alarming court decision is a direct threat against our already restituted properties, which might be similarly re-nationalized at any moment.


Besides expressing hereby our solidarity with the Reformed Church in Romania, we are devoted to continue protesting in front of lay political forums and commence international lobbying, as well as to join forces with our Transylvanian Hungarian sister churches until justice prevails, and our confiscated properties are returned.


The Executive Committee of the Consistory
of the Hungarian Unitarian Church

At the request of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, we are sharing this news.  And, as further opportunities to support the public witness and protest arise, we’ll share them here.

During the winter holidays, let us keep our Unitarian brothers and sisters in Transylvania in our hearts during a challenging time in their country’s history, where democracy is fragile and the future of all Hungarian-speaking churches and other religious minorities of Romania hangs in uncertainty.

“Our lamps may be different, but light is the same”

robmacphersonIn the wake of the horrific school shooting in Pakistan earlier this week, community leaders in Adelaide, Australia, organized a peace vigil to honor the innocent lives lost. Drawing a multicultural, interfaith crowd of over 300, all who attended came together to mourn and to heal. Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia, Rev. Rob MacPherson, offered the following words at the vigil, printed here with permission.


Good evening. I want to offer a thought that might kindle some light for us in this dark time.

Just last Sunday, a beautiful thing happened at our church—I wish you all could have seen it. We held a service in which Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Ba’hai, Unitarians, and Muslims came together to worship as one body–an interfaith service. This service was followed by a shared meal, during which people of these different faiths broke bread together and shared fellowship.

Guess what happened? No one died. No one made threats or was threatened. No one feared for their safety. No voices were raised, except in laughter. The peaceful fellowship we enjoyed that day was more than cordiality, more than the politeness that goes with the religious practice of welcoming the stranger at your table. It had more to do with really seeing that, as the poet Rumi said, ‘our lamps may be different, but light is the same’. And so we could let the diversity of our faiths just be, together knowing that abundant plurality is how God actually expresses itself in this infinite, expanding, and varied creation. And for a brief time, we looked at the light, and we saw that it was good. (more…)

UU-UNO Climate Change Initiative: International Human Rights

People's Climate March
People’s Climate March in New York City

As part of our series on International Human Rights, we would like to highlight the important work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office on Climate Change initiative.Climate change is posting an immediate and far-reaching threat to the basic elements of life for all people now and in future generations. It is time for us to avoid furthering the impacts of climate change. The UU-UNO is guided by our UU principles to respect and promote the interdependent web of existence, well being, peace and justice throughout the world. UU-UNO collaborates with other environmental agencies at the United Nations in order to promote climate change mitigation initiatives on a global scale and protect to protect our rights and those of future generations. Climate Change

On September 20, the UU-UNO helped to organize and co-sponsored The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out? event at All Souls Church, New York City. On September 21, the office members and interns participated in the inspirational People’s Climate March with over 400,000 marchers from around the world. We lifted our voices, faith and values as one to save the earth. Read more about the People’s Climate March here.

We host the UU-UNO Climate Portal, which was created by and is maintained by Dr. Jan Dash. The portal is a world-class website covering most of the wide ranging topics discussed at UN climate conferences. It contains educational information and current climate news on climate science, environmental impact, and mitigation/adaptation “what we can do” strategies, renewable energies, politics, negotiations, ethics. We updated the Lima Climate paper for the Lima Climate Conference in December focusing on sustainable strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

The UU-UNO is participating in the Commit2Respond (C2R) initiative, which is a new UU climate justice campaign to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy, grow the climate justice movement, and advance the rights of marginalized communities. The program development groups initiated a collaborative process of developing General Assembly workshop proposals involving C2R’s partner organizations and beyond.

The UU-UNO is facilitating the creation of networked Climate Action Teams (CATs), which are groups generating involvement in efforts together to mitigate climate change. Find more information about CATs on the UU-UNO Climate Portal and the instructions to start a CAT.

To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.

Migration Justice: Peace, Liberty, and Justice for all at the UU-UNO


Thursday, December 18th, 2014 is International Migrant’s Day, and the UU-UNO is celebrating by holding a special film screening on Migration Justice and reviewing its major accomplishments.

Over the past year, the UU-UNO’s efforts around Migration Justice have led us closer to our goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all .The office would like to end a year of successful human rights work by hosting a special film screening on immigration justice from 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM on Thursday, December 18th, 2014.

Winner of the 2013 Cinematography Award, “Who is Dayani Cristal” will be screened on the 10th floor of the UN Church Center and is open to all that would like to attend. The event is co-sponsored by the Immigration Committee of the Unitarian Church in Westport, Peace and Justice Task Force, and the Racial Justice Initiative.

RSVP on Facebook!  (more…)

2014: A Big Year for UU-UNO’s Work on LGBT Human Rights

lbbt UNMy name is Raymond Firmalino and I am one of the UU-UNO‘s LGBT Program interns. As part of our blog series on International Human Rights Day, I on behalf of the  UU-UNO will highlight our work this year on one of the most pressing issues of our time: the plight of lesbian, gay, lesbian, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The current situation is dire. Many LGBT people around the world endure brutal acts of violence; are denied opportunities to work, learn and receive healthcare; and must flee their countries–all because of who they are. In some 80 countries it is illegal to be gay or to be suspected of it. Consequently, many LGBT people are excluded from the full measure of human rights.

We raised this issue repeatedly at the United Nations. This past summer, the UU-UNO participated in the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, a policy process in which member states, major groups and civil society developed international development goals for 2015 and beyond. The UU-UNO proposed policies that promote and protect LGBT human rights, and was the only NGO at the UN’s proceedings to do so. (more…)

UU-UNO Spring Seminars: International Human Rights


As part of the human rights advocacy work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, we host an annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar, where youth and adults from around North America come together to spend three days in New York City learning about an issue of global concern.

The seminar works to help our participants find themselves in the global U/U story with regards to international human rights. Each year focuses on a different human rights theme. Past themes have included women’s rights, poverty, HIV, human trafficking, peacekeeping, climate change, and race and immigration.

The annual spring seminar is a major program of the office that brings together all UN-office interns, staff, and an inter-generational planning committee across and outside UU congregations to collaborate on the planning of the amazing program. (more…)