The Rector of St John’s in Port Dalhousie, Canada, the Revd Laura Marie Piotrowicz, is a member of the Anglican Communion’s delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In this blog post, she reflects on her experiences in New York yesterday (Thursday) and the need for us all to provide safe spaces.
An inspiring activist shared an analogy of tight shoes today. She said that as children, whenever new shoes arrived, she would wear her sister’s smaller shoes for a day or two. The purpose for this was to stretch them out a little bit, breaking them in, so that they would be more comfortably wearable for her sister. Despite any personal discomfort, she was, in her words, making more space.
This seemed to be a theme in my very busy day. I attended six distinct sessions Thursday, and all of them had the intention of making more space for justice for those who were restricted in some way.
In the regional caucus meeting, discussions were held about the need for making space for NGOs to communicate in meaningful ways with the negotiating countries: identifying spaces that are friendly, spaces that are less receptive, and spaces that have been removed (a distressingly increasing number).
The impact of faith was predominant in a number of discussions: a panel shared experiences and perspectives on climate change; it aimed to highlight church efforts of making space for women, as they are disproportionately impacted negatively by human-influenced climate change.
In another, faith agencies identified what might be possible for justice issues affecting women and girls after mainstream media have “moved on”, using examples of the Boko Haram atrocities which began the #BringBackOurGirls campaign (distressingly, nearly four years ago) and local trafficking concerns (any night in New York City, some 5,000 women and girls are being trafficked). We were challenged to find ways to make space for these issues to remain at the fore until they are fully resolved.
A number of faith-based development organisations identified how working on cross-cutting themes, towards the Sustainable Development Goals, is making space for gender justice policies to become mainstream, thereby educating all people on gender equality to do things like dismantle the stigma of HIV/Aids and educate communities on ending dangerous traditions to stop the spread of diseases like ebola.
Migrant workers discussed the injustices that they face on a regular basis, inviting support against the rampant abuse in the agricultural sector, including psychological, physical, and sexual abuses. The women told us how space was being made as they campaigned corporate buyers, 90 per cent of whom work under their new third-party “fair food standards council”, under which the workers earn 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes picked and have access and structure to report abuses should any occur. This has led to a decrease in challenges.
Most of my energy, however, went into a session addressing the intersectionality of human trafficking and the #MeToo movement. A crowded area was a space in which several survivors of human trafficking bravely shared their experiences. The stories were devastating; from a five-year-old child raped (in front of her family), to a Harvey Weinstein victim, to a woman who escaped after 20 years of oppression and deals with the physical and psychological impacts of her harrowing experience. Her story will not be forgotten.
The victims thanked the participants for giving them space to share their story; they asked us to be aware that others may need such space, and to advocate and be intentional about creating safe space. Human trafficking denies humanity, it commodifies a woman or girl into an object for purchase or rent (globally the average price to buy a human in 2017 was $90 USD (approximately £65 GBP)), it is anything but a victimless crime. And through the #MeToo movement, a voice is starting to be heard; a space is being made; a movement is demanding that the world eliminate the demand for this toxic evil in our culture. Any day when a woman or girl is trafficked is a day too many for this institutionalised violence. “Indifference is the largest threat to society today” (Ingibjorg Gisladottir).
It was a heavy day; it was a long day. It was a day of eye-opening statistics and heart-gripping stories. People were gracious in sharing their narratives, their histories, their realities. They detailed the importance of having space made, of keeping space open, and encouraged that we all go out and make space.
So how will you make space, for the equality of women and girls? What mild and temporary discomfort would you undertake in order that a woman or girl else might be more comfortable and safe? What actions might you undertake proactively to prevent harm to a sister in Christ?
Whatever it might be, I pray we keep our eyes open for opportunities. Stretching a shoe is an easy piece of justice that makes the journey so much easier for us all.