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57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women
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By Brenda Mann

National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence against Women

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) discussed the relentless epidemic of violence against women and girls. There were two different kinds of events during the two week session from March 4-15, 2013.

Permanent Missions and United Nations entities held side events at the UN during the CSW session. Parallel events were held by NGOs in the Church Center and other locations close to the UN. Any NGO could organize and attend these events.

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is a NGO that is recognized by the UN. The Women's Department of the BWA had a team of 16 women that attended the first week of CSW 57. Out of the 16 that registered there were three young women.

Each day began with a devotional time at the Church Center. Everyone was busy each day attending the parallel events that began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m. There were 350 parallel events all focusing on this year's theme of violence against women and girls.

The Women's Department of the BWA hosted its first parallel event. The title of the event was EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT RELIGION AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK!

The facilitator for the event was Rev. Dr. Lauran Bethell - International Ministries, American Baptist Churches/USA; International Consultant around the issues of Human Trafficking/Prostitution, based in The Netherlands. Lauran was the first Director of the New Life Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offering hope and healing for those at the risk and victims of human trafficking, and is the founder of the International Christian Alliance on Prostitution.

The moderator was Dr. Nancy Murphy. She is the Executive Director, Northwest Family Life which is a Christian counseling center, working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. Nancy is a professor, therapist and author. Her parents were Baptist missionaries in British Colombia, Canada. She is responsible for bringing together the expert panelist.

The following women were the panelists from different faith groups.

Vi Mundy: Vi was the first woman Chief for the Ucluelet First Nations in Canada. She recently was awarded The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her significant contribution and achievement of leading and successfully negotiating a treaty for her tribe. She shared first hand stories about First Nations women and violence.

Rabbi Lisa Gelber: She is Associate Dean and Rabbi of the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue, and has worked on several domestic violence projects within the Jewish community. She began by sharing a prayer in Hebrew.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune: She is a pastor in the United Church of Christ in the United States of America. She is the Founder and Senior Analyst at FaithTrust Institute, a national multifaith educational organization located in Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Denise Starkey: She is a theologian and professor. She teaches at The College of St. Scholastica and is Chair of the Theology and Religious Studies department. Starkey is currently writing a nomadic spirituality of home for survivors of domestic violence. She is the author of The Shame that Lingers: A Survivor-centered Critique of Catholic Sin-talk.

Robina Niaz, MS, MSW: She is a social worker, an activist and fierce advocate of Muslim women's rights. Robina is a 2009 CNN Hero and named one of the "500 Most Influential Muslims" in 2009. She has spoken extensively against domestic violence locally, nationally and internationally.

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra: She is the Director of Justice for the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She has over 35 years of experience in a wide variety of ministries with a social justice component. She is the co-creator of a new faith-rooted organizing and biblically-based public policy advocacy model, which she teaches for World Vision and other national/international ministries, colleges and seminaries.

Each of the panelists shared from their faith perspective the challenges that women have, and how their faith group is responding to violence against women and children. There was a time for questions and answers at the end of the session.

On April 5, 2006 religious and spiritual leaders came together to address violence against women. The following declaration is the culmination of their work, and it was affirmed at this parallel event.

National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence against Women

We proclaim with one voice as national spiritual and religious leaders that violence against women exists in all communities, including our own, and is morally, spiritually and universally intolerable.

We acknowledge that our sacred texts, traditions and values have too often been misused to perpetuate and condone abuse.

We commit ourselves to working toward the day when all women will be safe and abuse will be no more.

We draw upon our healing texts and practices to help make our families and societies whole.

Our religious and spiritual traditions compel us to work for justice and the eradication of violence against women.

We call upon people of all religious and spiritual traditions to join us.

The BWA team had a time of fellowship with the panelist after the event. The fellowship time gave the BWA team members a chance to talk personally with the panelist which was a special addition to the day's event.

---------------- For those of us who have a Christian faith this was an amazing opportunity to see how "others" in the world deal with the issues raised in this year's focus of "Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children".

WWJD is an acronym many of us in the Christian faith tradition use - What Would Jesus Do?

As we heard panel discussions and projects from all around the world, I did ask myself, "What would Jesus do?". The word that comes to mind is "respect". Jesus raised the value of women in all of his interactions with them. In His encounters with Mary and Martha, Mary Magdaline, the Samartan woman at the well....and so many more, He gave women dignity, respect and places of leadership. He showed love and compassion on those who had made bad choices in life and those who received the backlash because of poor decisions made by both religious leaders and the common citizen of the day. Jesus did not lay blame but offered a chance to make a new beginning.

I believe that we as Christians and as women need to follow Jesus example and share that same gift of love, acceptance and encouragement to all people. To be honest, I used to close or avert my eyes when passing a strip club or bar as I drove or walked by the streets in my area of Etobicoke and Toronto. I am embarrased to say that I used to inwardly judge the scantily clad young woman who hung out near the clubs in Peterborough, those I provided foot care for at the local shelter, or those who I read about in our small town newspaper.

Now, my eyes have been opened to the reality that the vast, vast majority of women caught in prostitution are not there because of personal choice. It has been either by force or co-ersion or the wrong information about what job they accepted - or circumstances in life have driven them to have to provide for their children and now they have been sucked into this degrading life style.

Now I pray when I drive or walk. Now I encourage our churches and women's groups to be aware of such indignities. Now I invite you and your groups to show a screening of the documentary, "Nefarious, Merchant of Souls".

WWJD - what would Jesus do? I believe He would invite us to join Him in bringing hope and healing to our world...one woman, one child, one man at a time.

Brenda Mann is married to Pastor/Chaplain Ralph Mann where they live on a small farm in Ennismore near Peterborough. They have three adult married kids and Brenda enjoys her time with her three beautiful little grand-daughters

Brenda is the Executive Director for the Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec which supports women in ministry in our 355 Canadian Baptist Churches.

Brenda was ordained in June 2010.