I am right smack dab in the middle of my two-week journey as a PC(USA) delegate to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. The commission this year is reviewing the statement on the Beijing Platform, a product of the Commission on the Status of Women in 1995.
This week has been a blur. A blur of meetings, panels, worship, building up a community of witnesses, and hashtags, so many hashtags. Needless to say, the busy schedule and the power of the stories that are shared have left me more than a little emotionally and physically drained by the time evening rolls around. It took all of one day of meetings outlining the violence against women, the way the media and commercialization perpetuates gender inequality, and about the darker stories surrounding UN peacekeeping missions, for me to not be entirely sure that I could handle two whole weeks of this. I felt myself searching for a magical source of strength and empowerment. And then, I found it. Found it is a bit strong because I didn’t really look, it just fell into my lap, or technically, onto my laptop.
Tuesday, my second day of meetings began in a similar way as my day always begins…a quick glance at Facebook. It came to my attention that Tuesday was the birthday of my friend Anna George Traynham. I thought, ‘oh good, something wonderful will happen today that I can tell Anna about when I write on her Facebook wall later. She will definitely appreciate what’s going on here at the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN.’ Anna and I have shared many years of college and seminary together and through those years we have worked together leading service projects and advocating for women’s voices to be heard. So, I began my day looking for good news to share with Anna. Looking for a wonderful message of hope to share with her on her birthday. But then I went to workshops on gender-based violence in schools around the world and one about the need for church to be a safe space for abused women and an advocate for women placed in jail after committing crimes in self-defense against their abusive intimate partners. I had no good news for Anna. I had no good news for me.
So, when I got on Facebook again a little later that day, exhausted, I clicked on the icon to send Anna a birthday greeting and I offered her what I could. I wrote, “In honor of your birthday today, I attended a panel on the ways Sharia Law can be used as a human rights document and at another panel on violence towards women and the church’s response.” And, what this post became was more of a gift to myself than it was for Anna. By naming for her what I was doing that day, it reminded me of the importance of the work here. I also found for myself in this act, a life affirming practice of remembering my support system and the people in my life for whom I am doing this. Luckily for me, those two groups are pretty much the same. As though I was plugged into my phone’s extra battery charger, my energy level began increasing. I began to think about the people I know who I emotionally and metaphorically brought with me when I came here (and as I go anywhere in the world). I brought with me the powerful feminists who raised me: my grandparents, parents, teachers, church leaders, and community leaders who shaped me. I brought with me peers with whom I have marched, preached, performed, served, and advocated with along my path. And then I thought about the children I love, girls and boys, for whom I really dedicate this work. For my nieces and nephew (the wonderful children of my cousins), for the children I babysit for who are now adults and moving and shaking the world, and for the kids in Clemson, Nashville, and Richmond who have taught me more about loving and living than I can explain.
So, now I have a practice. I go through the same routine at the beginning of each of my new day at the UN Commission. It could be called a prayer. A moment of centering each day where I name to myself (and God) where I am, name what I plan to do, and name one person (or several people) in my life that I am going out into my day of work in honor of. It reminds me that in our global world, we all are in it together. Right now my role is absorbing stories and learning as much as I can so that I can spread the news of the women of the world to my community, whatever that may look like, and to work to implement changes in my community to make the world a fairer, safer place for all people. But whatever I do, I never do it alone. I am always part of the larger, global family. When that becomes too much to try to conceptualize (which it often does), I remember that I am a part of a community where I am supported and I provide support. I am encouraged and I offer encouragement. I cheer for my friends as they have new experiences and this week I have felt and heard so many friends cheering for me.
So on Tuesday, in honor of Anna and the rest of my amazing, empowering peers, I went out. I took the support I received from their mere existence with me. Then Wednesday my alarm went off to walk with one of my favorite six-year old feminists from my seminary campus to church for children’s choir. So, I went through my meetings thinking about her and other six-year olds who have less safe childhoods. And I prayed for all of them. This practice is what helps me stay grounded and at the same time remember that I am one person in a global movement. The work is hard because it is within me and beyond me at the same time. That is why I need the support of my friends and family. That is why I am here, at 5:30PM (Friday) at an intergenerational panel about strategies to accomplish gender equality. It is within me and it is beyond me.