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.
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 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.
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 buildingwebsiteor e-mail us. We’d love to hear from you!
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 by the All Souls Church Unitarian (Washington, D.C.) Pilgrimage Organizing Team.
In collaboration with Japanese partners, we at All Souls Church, Unitarian in DC have undertaken an exciting project—Heiwa Peace Pilgrimage—a multigenerational, multicultural, interfaith peace exchange program.
Our congregation has a long history of working for social justice and fighting against oppression. The ties between All Souls and Japan began in 1947 following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the children of All Souls and the students of Honkawa Elementary School (in Hiroshima) responded to the inhumanity of weapons of mass destruction through the beauty of children’s artistic expression. These works reverberate still as evidence of an often-hidden but timeless truth — that hope can triumph over despair.
Stewards of the historic artwork exchanged over 60 years ago, the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings Committee formed at All Souls in 2005. Its mission was to restore and preserve the original portfolio of drawings, as well as to use the drawings, and the story behind them, as a powerful example of peace and reconciliation. In recent years we’ve received visits from Japanese survivors of the bombings (hibakusha), sent a delegation to Honkawa Elementary School to mount an exhibition of the drawings, and assisted in the release of an independent documentary film, Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.
Though housed at All Souls in DC, this project belongs to our whole faith tradition. The UUA International Office sponsored a screening of the film at General Assembly in 2013, and generous support from the UUA Funding Panel was instrumental in making the 2010 Exhibition in Hiroshima a reality. (more…)
The 53rd anniversary of the UUA’s General Assembly was an incredible hub of activity on the international front. With guests from over ten countries in attendance and numerous events, workshops, and celebrations with an international focus, this year’s proceedings were especially historic.
Drawing one of the highest attendance rates on record, this year’s annual gathering lent itself to a deep sense of interconnectedness and high visibility of our 30+ attending international partners.
This year’s GA saw the first-ever “International Track” option for attendees, featuring three internationally themed workshops and worship services: Reaching Out In Love Through Intercultural Competency, Love Reaches Out – Around the World, and Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations.
Introduction of the Coalition of International U/U Organizations & International Guests
The Global Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist (U/U) Story has a long history with many peaks and valleys that occurred in many historical eras. 2014 has been a banner year in terms of hosting leaders of U/U communities from around the world – from places where the Global U/U Story has roots and wings. Representatives from our international partners shared wonderful news about our global faith.
Rev. Mitsuo Miyake, Rev. Kaoru Miyake & Ms. Izumi Miyake (Konko Church of Izuo, Japan)
Rev. David Gyero, Rev. Karoly Vass, Gizi Nagy & Zsuzsanna Szabo (Hungarian Unitarian Church, Transylvania)
Justine Magara (UU Church of Kenya)
Rev. Tet Gallardo (UU Church of the Philippines)
Rev. Petr Samojsky, Katerina Samojska, Michal Kohout, Marketa Drtinova & Denisa Fialova (Prague Unitarian Congregation)
Logan Deimler & Tina Huesing (European Unitarian Universalists)
Derek McAuley, Rev. Richard Boeke, Rev. Jopie Boeke, Rev. Andy Pakula, Louise Rodgers, Julian Smith & Christina Smith (United Kingdom)
Lara Fuchs (UU Congregations of Basel and Geneva, Switzerland)
Vyda Ng (Canadian Unitarian Council)
Dorcy Erlandsen (UU Fellowship of Paris, France)
Rev. Darihun Khriam (Unitarian Union of North East India, Khasi Hills).
Rev. Mitsuo Miyake of the International Association for Religious Freedom
Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists have had unique and important relationships with Japanese religious partners since the end of the 19th century. But in the 1970s, new relationships began to form through the International Association for Religious Freedom. One of those relationships is with Konkokyo, a Japanese Shinto sect which shares many values with Unitarian Universalism, and especially with the Konko Church of Izuo in Osaka, Japan.
The founder of that church, Reverend Toshio Miyake, was a close colleague of many UUA leaders in the interfaith struggle for world peace. During plenary, the leader of that church and the current president of the International Association for Religious Freedom, Rev. Mitsuo Miyake, addressed the general assembly with a powerful speech.
UU Holdeen India Program 30th Anniversary
2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the UU Holdeen India Program. To mark the occasion, a reception and film screening were held, highlighting the work of our partners for the last three decades. Speeches were delivered by UUSC President Rev. Bill Schulz, UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, the founder of the program Kathy Sreedhar, this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, Rev. Dr. Ken MacLean, and partners from India.
Thank you for joining the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!
UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, spoke at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted byUURISE, on Thursday, June 26th. Bruce discussed the plight of LGBTQ immigrants who seek refuge from persecution, only to find limited or no protection under US immigration law. He explained the current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can combine their LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy efforts.
Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO occurred on Friday, June 27th.
“Think globally, act locally.” Panelists addressed ways to promote cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of global understanding. We invited participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice to encourage them to strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob spoke on these issues. Alley Wolff also spoke briefly about the Envoy Program.
The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception took place on Saturday, June 28th.
The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winners were announced and honored. This year’s winning submission came from the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey. The intergenerational team (Gabor Kiss, Shari Loe, George Hays, James McMormick, and Sarah Matsushima) put together a United Nations Sunday service that addressed the theme of the 2013 Spring Seminar (LGBTQ Human Rights).
The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office extended our gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Congregations for their hard work in achieving this status. They have successfully held a UN Sunday service or event, made a congregational donation or committed to an annual “UU UNO” budget line, had 15 members or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.
“I only attended two days of the UUA’s 2014 General Assembly, but while I was there was I able to participate in UU-UNO related events. At their Beyond Borders workshop, Kamila and Bruce brought speakers who talked to us about what the UU-UNO does and their various programs, including their efforts to combat LGBTQ inequality; they placed an emphasis on helping those whose voices are not often heard. In the morning I attended the envoy breakfast where current envoys and envoys-to-be met and discussed our past successes and failures when trying to spread the word about the UU-UNO at our respective congregations. It was nice to meet other UUs from all around the country who care and know about what’s going on at the UU-UNO, especially because our ages and backgrounds were all varied.”
- Sarah Matsushima, 17, Morristown, New Jersey
“I’ve been going to GA every year since my freshman year in high school, so I was very excited that this year I wouldn’t have to travel far because it is in my region. General Assembly is always a fun experience; it is great to meet UUs from all over the country, and when you sit in a huge conference center with all the people you realize just how many of us there are. GA is especially fun for the youth because of the Youth Caucus, which provides great programming for youth to get to know each other and do fun things like trivia night and the dance they have every year. The UU-UNO has a presence at GA, they have a booth in the exhibit hall and do workshops throughout the week. There is also the Envoy breakfast, and the reception for the Dana Greeley award and the Blue Ribbon award winners.”
- Corry Sullivan, 17, State College, Pennsylvania
“The UU-UNO reception provided a perfect setting to honor certain congregations for their exceptional collaboration with the UU-UNO. We were treated to an excerpt from the exceptional service that earned the Dana Greeley award, and 33 congregations were honored with the blue ribbon award. Overall this event graced its attendees with food, knowledge, and goodwill towards the incredible action the UU-UNO is working towards.”
On Sunday, July 6th, Ebenezer, an active HIV patient, AIDS orphan, and one of the students in the Mayne Krobo Region of Ghana whom the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office assists through the Every Child is Our Child program, passed away. He was admitted to the local hospital at around 6:20 pm and died soon after. While active and happy as usual at school on Friday and playing football, one of his favorite pastimes, on Sunday morning with friends, he complained of severe headaches and was quickly rushed to the hospital on Sunday afternoon. We have been informed that no autopsy will be administered, but that the cause of death has been officially declared as AIDS.
This news comes as a shock to us all, as Ebenezer had been very healthy in the past, had supportive foster parents, and was successfully taking anti-retroviral medication for several years. Ebenezer is the second child of the Every Child is Our Child program to pass on, both of whom tested positive for HIV.
The UU-UNO wishes to convey its deepest sympathies for all of Ebenezer family and friends, many of whom have shown deep admiration and love for him. The Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, expressed that during his trips to the ECOC schools, the Queen Mothers of Ghana always put Ebenezer on the itinerary of house visits, and as a result, Mr. Knotts got to know Ebenezer and made sure to visit him. This fact makes his passing all the more painful for all of us at the UU-UNO as we mourn this dear child.
To learn more about the ECOC program and how you can donate, please visit our website here.
Bringing UU Values to the UN and to the U.S. and Canadian Governments
I have previously shared with you the fine work done by Frances Cosstick of the small Unitarian Fellowship of Ottawa, Canada’s capital. She and her colleagues organized a series of meetings at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs on January 20, 2014, which included call ins from Canada’s missions abroad and officials from the Prime Minister’s office. We ended with a conversation with a special assistant to the Foreign Minister.
In March, we learned that our Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, was questioned for over two hours as to why he and his UU congregation were promoting homosexuality in violation of the newly enacted Ugandan anti-homosexuality law. I called for a meeting with Ambassador Donald G. Teitelbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He invited his colleagues from the bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Population, Refugees and Migration. I was joined by colleagues from the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Methodist Church with input from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society at a meeting on April 11th. We spoke about the Ugandan violation of religious and other basic freedoms against the LGBT community and also against adherents to all liberal faiths in nations such as Uganda, Nigeria and Russia. We also talked about the resulting massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing oppression in these nations which refuse to honor their treaty obligations to protect the human rights within their borders.
This meeting was followed by an invitation to the Department of State to consult on global LGBT human rights, on May 15th. I was part of a group of about 20 faith and secular LGBT leaders, many of whom the UU-UNO had introduced to global LGBT advocacy at our 2009 and 2010 global LGBT meetings at the Church Center of the United Nations and at Union Theological Seminary. We were told that the Department of State had organized a faith-based consultative committee to advise the Department on Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development. Later it was decided to form a fourth subcommittee on Social Justice, focused on global LGBT human rights. All these meetings are off the record, so I can only give you the broadest outlines of what was discussed.
I attended my first meeting of the full committee at the Department of State on June 6th. There were many friends at this meeting as well. Some from the global LGBT movement, but also those dedicated to the other issues to be discussed, including Religions for Peace, which I remind our readers, was co-founded by UU minister Rev. Homer Jack. After a general session, we retired to our four subcommittees. In our Social Justice subcommittee, we all said that we wanted to have input into the other areas: Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development, as well. We were assured that we would have that opportunity. Not all the members of the Social Justice subcommittee were religious liberals. Some participants from less liberal faiths wanted to divert the subcommittee’s focus away from LGBT human rights. It was clear that the representatives from the Department of State and the White House wanted to keep the focus on LGBT human rights. The representative of one of the larger, less liberal faith traditions, said that he could support declarations against violence and extreme discrimination, but not for equality. I said that I would take what was offered for now, but that our ultimate goal was full and complete equality for everyone everywhere regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. By equality, I mean spiritual, moral, political, social and economic equality—full and complete equality. Two more meetings of this group are scheduled this year in September and December, with more planned next year, which will likely conclude in June.
On June 20th, I was the third to the last speaker at the end of a week-long opportunity for civil society to provide input to the United Nations as it formulates its Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide global development efforts from 2015-2030. We were one of 90 groups which support an independent goal #10 dedicated to human rights. However, we were the only group which called for explicit mention of LGBTQ human rights. Our intervention was the only to receive applause that day. The co-chairs said they supported our initiative, but they doubted it would be accepted by the consensus of the member states of the U.N. We have an uphill fight ahead of us. Our intervention was included in the written outcome document. We will have another opportunity to provide our ideas on implementation later this month. Read more here. Watch the video here. My speech begins at 38:15.
A week or so later, I got the very surprising invitation from the White House to attend a forum on global LGBT human rights on June 24th. Read the press release from the White House here. I was also alerted that I would receive another invitation to dinner at the Vice President’s residence. The meeting included about 75 people, leaders in religion, non-profits, business, media and LGBT activism. Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor to the President and other White House officials gave heartfelt speeches about how important they consider global LGBT human rights. There was a panel discussion. Again, I met friends from previous UU-UNO events. I keep telling people that the speakers we get at UU-UNO events are the makers of history. Many were at the White House that day. We broke up into smaller groups to discuss religion, finance, business, and social media. In my group I brought up religious freedom, the necessity of shortening the lengthy refugee and asylum process and making sure that U.S. Government money goes to faith-based organizations which reflect the inclusive and affirming values of the Obama administration. I got some push-back on this last point. I was told that the administration could not play politics with U.S. Government assistance. I retorted that I was not asking for a political litmus test, but a values test. The previous administration, I pointed out, made sure that U.S. Government funds went to faith-based organizations which reflected their conservative and intolerant values. I passed out talking points and background notes regarding our efforts to include explicit reference to LGBTQ human rights into the 2015-2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
We ended by each group reporting out to the entire group and our nearly 6 hours at the White House came to an end. We then made our way up to the Vice President’s residence for dinner with Joe and Jill Biden. Both spoke from their heart about their dedication to LGBT human rights. Just as the Vice President invited us into his house to get to know us better, I had to rush off to catch the last train from Washington, D.C. to New York City which arrived early the next morning. Within a few hours I was on another train to Providence, RI for a fantastic GA.
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.
On June 20, 2014 at the United Nations, NGO representatives from all over the world had an opportunity to provide input on the UN’s 2015-2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Once confirmed, these goals will be the UN’s official sustainable development mandate for the next 15 years.
While there was already language in the goals meant to protect “the marginalized and people in vulnerable situations,” there was no explicit mention of LGBTQ human rights, which we believe will in reality exclude LGBTQ persons from these significant policies.
In his speech, Bruce addresses this issue by making specific recommendations aimed at including LGBTQ people.
As you will see, Bruce’s speech was the only one to garner enthusiastic applause. We are so proud!
On June 9th, Kechie’s Project organized a panel discussion entitled, “The State of the Girl Child in Nigeria.”
Several UU-UNO Interns attended the event at the UN Church Center in order to garner more knowledge about this human rights topic.
Kechie’s Project is a non-profit organization that actively engages in the important task of empowering girls globally through education. Their programs are very unique and specific; they empower high school students in Harlem, New York by holding leadership conferences and workshops.
Through a cultural exchange program, these young New Yorkers are able to communicate and mentor Nigerian girls who have received scholarships and academic materials from Kechie’s Project. This event was developed as a reaction to the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian female students by Boko Haram, a terrorist fringe group based in Northeastern Nigeria.
Find yourself in the Global U/U Story at UUA General Assembly in Providence where we’ll be blessed by the presence of more than 30 honored guests from a dozen countries. Each of our international partners brings inspiring news to share about how the Global U/U Story is changing lives around the world.
A great place to begin is at Booth #304 in the exhibit hall at the Convention Center: that’s where you’ll find the he International U/U Village in Providence! Meet and talk with leaders from all of the organizations that participate in theCoalition of U/U International Organizationsand many of our international partners.
And, please join us for public events organized by the Coalition organizations:
Tuesday June 24
Event: Collegial Conversation at UUMA Ministry Days: The Global U/U Story and Your Ministry | RICC Ballroom E
Wednesday June 25
Event: GA Opening Celebration & Introduction of International Guests | RICC Plenary Hall
Thursday June 26
Workshop: Reaching Out in Love Through Intercultural Competency | RICC 557
Worship: Love Reaches Out Around the World | RICC 555-556
The program began with opening remarks by Director, Bruce Knotts, around the importance of this issue and the UU-UNO’s role in advocating for human rights and social justice.
Community leaders, students, asylum seekers and asylees alike attended this event at the UN Church Center to come together on this issue.
The issue, according to UNO Director Bruce Knotts, is that “LGBTQI Rights need to be contextualized in the larger movement for human rights.” As UU-UNO Intern Ray Firmalino explains it, if one is “bullied, thrown out of school, beaten, and arrested when they, for example, seek HIV treatment, states are barring a whole class of people from basic human rights” such as life, liberty, property, education and health care. (more…)