Time to bridge gender gap in education, says UN Status of Women meeting

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The Rev. Laura Marie Piotrowicz, centre, relaxes with other members of the Anglican Communion’s delegation to the 62nd meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. With her, left to right, are Ruth Bridgen (Australia); the Rev. Ellen Bernstein (New Zealand); Heather Hye-Kyun Noh (Korea); and Kaori Nakamura (Japan). Photo: Contributed

A Canadian priest serving on the Anglican Communion’s delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session this March says she’s glad the commission was able to agree on a number of issues of concern this year, especially gender equality in education.

“I’m impressed with the recognition that education is key, especially for women and girls, and that we are working towards acknowledging and identifying some of the realities of the world today,” says the Rev. Laura Marie Piotrowicz, rector at St. John’s Anglican Church (Port Dalhousie), in St. Catharines, Ont. Piotrowicz and the rest of the delegation attended the 62nd meeting of the CSW in New York City, which took place this year March 12-23.

Women comprise two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate, and many of them live in rural areas, according to a 2012 global CSW report. Only 39% of rural girls attend secondary school, compared to rural boys (45%), urban girls (59%) and urban boys (60%), it noted.

Education is frequently mentioned in this year’s Agreed Conclusions, the document that is the formal outcome of each CSW meeting.

The education of rural women and girls, which was part of the theme of this year’s session, figures prominently in the document’s conclusions and recommendations. It states, for example, that “despite gains in providing access to education, rural girls are still more likely than rural boys, and urban girls and boys, to remain excluded from education,” for a range of reasons, including the imposition of work instead of school on many girls; early and forced marriage and pregnancies; and violence and harassment faced by some on their way to and from school.

Among other things, the document calls on governments and civil society (including faith-based organizations) to “promote and respect women’s and girls’ right to education at all levels, throughout the life cycle…by providing universal access to quality education, and free and compulsory primary and secondary education.” It also calls for more vocational and technical training for rural women and girls.

Piotrowicz says the Anglican Communion delegation was also relieved the CSW was able to agree on a set of conclusions this year. In 2012, when the meeting also focused on rural girls and women, it was not able to produce a set of Agreed Conclusions that its 45 member states could agree on, and this year, she says, delegation members had heard there was some possibility of member countries again not being able to come to an agreement.

“Coming into this session, there was a lot of energy around making sure that we did have Agreed Conclusions, because to have two sessions in a row…without anything to work from, would have been challenging, difficult, disappointing,” Piotrowicz says. “There was a lot of breath-holding and praying going on.”

All told, the annual event attracts about 8,000 people, Piotrowicz says, because in addition to the negotiators for the member states and their staff, there are also members of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across the globe, such as the Anglican Communion. In addition to the closed-door meetings of the CSW itself, there are hundreds of smaller events, which members of NGOs and others can attend.

One highlight of the session, Piotrowicz says, was a meeting she and other Anglicans had with Cameron Jelinski, a member of Canada’s permanent mission to the UN. They discussed, she says, issues they felt were important to Canadian culture and society, the Canadian church and the church globally—climate change, human trafficking and Indigenous rights, for example.

“We had some really good fruitful conversation there,” she says. “[Jelinski] was able to take our knowledge from those conversations when he went back into the negotiating room.”

Piotrowicz says she and other members of the Anglican Communion delegation were brought closer by worshipping together and sharing their concerns, experiences and stories of ministry.

“We start off as strangers, and within days, we’re friends and we’re sisters and we’re working together,” she says.

Learning from one another about how issues of concern to the world’s women and girls affect them, she says, transformed them.

“We don’t just go and experience this and come home unchanged,” she says. “This whole thing will help to mold and influence our ongoing faith journey.”

In addition to the delegation of 20 women from 16 provinces of the Anglican Communion, this year’s session was attended by seven women from the Mothers’ Union, an international Christian charity founded by Anglicans; and 17 representatives from The Episcopal Church.

Piotrowicz was appointed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, to serve on the delegation last year; her appointment was renewed to allow her to rejoin the delegation this year. She describes her experiences at the meeting in her blog.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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