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The Anglican Communion responds to the 68th UN Commission on the Status of Women

Posted on: March 27, 2024 3:56 PM

For the last two weeks, representatives of the Anglican Communion have participated in UNCSW-68, the 68th UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is one of the largest gatherings at the UN in New York, focused on gender equality. The Commission’s priority this year was eliminating poverty, which disproportionately affects women worldwide and is a major barrier to development.

Supported by the Anglican Communion Office’s UN and Gender Justice Teams, an Anglican delegation attended, representing volunteers from the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN), with links to the U.K., Mozambique, the U.S., and Canada, alongside women leaders from the Church in Burundi and Pakistan. They also worked with representatives from the Anglican Alliance and Mothers’ Union. 

Many of the Anglicans attending live and work in communities experiencing poverty. They spoke powerfully in events and with Ministers or Ambassadors in private to raise awareness of the transformation they see through women and church-led initiatives, the challenges that remain for women, and how partnerships with and commitments from governments can help overcome those challenges. A youth perspective was also shared by online delegates. 

Anglican Responses to UNCSW-68 and Agreed Conclusions 

Anglicans shared their hopes for the conclusions in advance of CSW (in a joint written statement with the Mothers’ Union), in private meetings and in our events. At the conclusion of CSW, the key outcomes of CSW are shared as the ‘Agreed Conclusions’. These are formal commitments made by all governments to pursue gender equality in relation to the priority theme. The language of these conclusions matter. They give a mandate for many governments to act and for civil society groups to partner in that action. 

Overall, we welcome this year’s Agreed Conclusions, but emphasise that results will only be seen in implementation. For that, communities of faith are essential. Following this CSW, we need to see action through our governments and through our churches.   

Not underestimating agreement

Simply put, we welcome the fact that there was agreement at this year’s CSW. That means the world’s governments achieved some consensus on a crucial theme for humanity, and particularly women’s flourishing: poverty elimination. That was by no means certain. Negotiations continued well past the original deadline with countries trading their preferred language in some places for priorities in others. CSW raises many contentious issues - including gender, sexuality and reproductive health - which makes agreeing language fraught with political difficulty. Amidst narratives of increasing global polarisation, the ability for countries still to come together shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Poverty has a woman’s face

All countries at this year’s CSW acknowledged that ‘10.3 per cent of women are living in extreme poverty, and if current trends continue, an estimated 8 per cent of women worldwide (342 million) will be subsisting on less than USD $2.15 a day in 2030, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.’ These figures raise serious questions about inequality, injustice, corruption and distribution across our world. In our joint written statement with the Mothers’ Union ahead of CSW, we described this as ‘poverty having a woman’s face’ and we recognised and repented of the fact that women who are seen, heard and valued by God are often ignored or harmed in our families, communities and systems, and in our churches. 

We welcome that CSW’s Agreed Conclusions set out some of the reasons why women disproportionately experience poverty. Women globally have unequal access to healthcare, rely on lower wages, are more vulnerable to the shocks of conflict and climate change, and often forego building up a financial safety-net to care for others, particularly children and elderly relatives. The Agreed Conclusions state that ‘almost twice as many women as men, suffer from malnutrition’ and ‘in many countries girls are twice as likely as boys to die from malnutrition and preventable childhood diseases’. They also highlight groups of women who are most likely to be affected by these issues, for example indigenous women, widows, women of colour, women living with disabilities and in rural contexts – a focus we have encouraged. 

Change in hearts and action: partnering with the Church

The Agreed Conclusions also commit world governments to aspirational goals that would contribute to changing these conditions for women. They speak of reducing discrimination, improving access to healthcare, providing greater social protection (e.g. unemployment protection and pension access schemes), balancing wages for jobs of equal value, protecting women who are vulnerable to trafficking and holding accountable the perpetrators of domestic violence. These are welcome commitments if they result in genuine change in hearts and in action.   

That kind of change is where churches can be key partners. On their own, governments can struggle to motivate changes in attitudes and behaviours. They will also be limited in how far they can ensure the trust of and engagement from local communities in transformative action. Communities of faith show their distinctiveness in being from and of the people – often those with the least financial resources – and when they demonstrate an ability to build trust over the long term, remaining resilient in the face of political shifts, crises and disasters. This comes with immense responsibility, which is not always use for God’s glory, particularly when it comes to valuing women. However, where faith communities are already proving their impact (as in the examples the Anglican Communion and the Mothers’ Union brought to CSW68) far more can be done in partnership to implement commitments like those made at CSW68. 

The Agreed Conclusions make one mention of the importance of faith communities and therefore nod towards this importance. Much more would be needed to acknowledge that around 80% of the world’s population will be viewing the issues covered by CSW through the lens of a religious faith. As the UN Secretary-General, AntónioGuterres, said in response to a question from one of our Presbyterian sisters: “Nothing would be more important for gender equality, if you come from a religious organisation, if religious leaders of all kinds would assume leadership”. Following our meetings during CSW with representatives of governments, there are encouraging opportunities to follow-up and build on potential ideas for partnership. This work continues in-country. 

Reforming unjust systems

Finally, the Agreed Conclusions also go some way to agreeing the systemic changes the Anglican Communion feels are necessary eradicate poverty and enact greater justice globally. In relation to women, reform of financial systems is needed for governments to have greater resources (fiscal space) to channel towards reducing the barriers women face. This includes reviewing tax systems, which often do not benefit developing countries, relieving debt and ensuring better representation of developing countries on the boards of international financial institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. There was a sense in the final negotiations that many key decisions on these topics will be postponed for September’s UN Summit of the Future, at which countries will discuss other significant international reforms. These decisions cannot be delayed forever and we will be following up over the rest of the year to encourage political commitment. As we said in our written statement ahead of CSW, ‘Commitment and sacrifice is needed by those with most power to prevent the resulting fracture and suffering. These growing divides will be hardest upon women and girls.’ 

For further information
Read the Anglican Delegation’s Joint Statement from CSW here. 

Read the CSW68’s Agreed Conclusions which will be published here. 

The Anglican delegation will continue to encourage church groups to explore these issues, through prayer, action and advocacy work. This might include organising a prayer gathering, getting involved in poverty relief work or lobbying government to bring change. 

Email the Anglican Communion’s UN Team: 
[email protected] 

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Follow the International Anglican Women’s Network Facebook page here