Gender, Race, Class Focus of Event on Global Status of Women
By Michelle Scott*
Women who live at the intersection of multiple “identities” become especially vulnerable during times of economic crisis, climate change, natural disasters, war and conflict. So said speakers at the “Beijing + 15: What Do Gender, Race, Class Have To Do with It?” workshop at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City, March 3. The workshop is part of a series of events convened parallel to the United Nations 54th Commission on the Status of Women, in New York City, March 1-12.
While government leaders meet at the United Nations to review global progress on women’s rights since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, China; women leaders of faith-based and other non-governmental organizations are discussing issues impacting women around the world and strategizing ways to make women’s voices heard in events at United Methodist Women’s Church Center for the United Nations.
The workshop allowed space for women to share their stories and explore ways to increase awareness of the unique circumstances and needs of these vulnerable women. United Methodist Women co-sponsored the workshop.
Identities or vulnerabilities discussed included race, class, living in rural areas, language, being a migrant, belonging to a specific ethnicity, family status, age and several others. “If we forget the women who live at these intersections, they will be left behind,” said Carol Barton, United Methodist Women’s national staff for community action.
Many women gathered for the U.N. commission will share information gained in workshops with their nation’s representatives as a part of their strategy to encourage governments to strengthen efforts to the implement the Beijing Platform for Action.
For the bulk of the workshop, women gathered in groups of 10 to share experiences and stories as well as ideas for invoking change in their communities, nations and the world. Stories of heartache and triumph filled the room as the women spoke.
- In Kenya, laws protect girls under 18 from female genital mutilation (FGM), but there is no law to protect women whose husband or in-laws force them to undergo the painful procedure later in life.
- Homeless women in Atlanta face isolation from their faith communities because their lives are transient. They lose touch with those who can help them most.
- In Finland, Muslim refugees find themselves facing discrimination that forces women to remove their hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf, for employment.
- A woman, born the fourth daughter in a Dalit (the lowest caste) family in Nepal was not fed for three days after birth in hopes she would die. She was not encouraged to go to school by family or teachers because of her gender and caste. Yet, she persisted and later founded an organization that helps some 40,000 women like her to step out of the cultural limitations placed upon them.
At the end of the workshop, groups shared their stories and strategies for communication, education and action by both governments and women organizations that would address the problems faced by the women they identified. Throughout the U.N. commission meetings, United Methodist Women will work to lift up the intersectional realities of women in situations of economic crisis, climate, natural disasters, migration and war and advocate for new policies that will ensure full human rights to women in all their diversity.