Ruth Brigden – who receives an ADM grant to work with emerging female Christian leaders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Northern Territory – recently attended the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women (UNCSW62). Held on 12 to 23 March in New York, representatives from all over the world attended to discuss the main theme of ‘challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’.
Here Ruth describes her experience and key learnings for Australian Christians, especially in working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters towards their greater social inclusion.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was a wonderful experience for me, despite the serious and weighty subject matter it dealt with.
It was wonderful to be part of a group of 20 Anglican women from places as far apart as Botswana and Japan, D.R. Congo and New Zealand, and Madagascar and Korea to talk about our work among rural women and girls, and to work together to think of ways ensure women and girls are given proper respect and recognition as image-bearers of our creator God.
In many places around the world, women and girls still do not have the same rights as boys and men to education, health or financial resources. In some parts of the world, women and girls are deliberately singled out for harsh and inhumane treatment simply because of their gender. In an address by human rights defender Sameena Nazir from Pakistan, we heard that in some villages, women pregnant with female babies are beaten or denied food because it is thought that they are responsible for the resulting gender of their child.
Women and girls living in rural parts of the world face significant disadvantage with respect to standard socio-economic measurements. The word ‘intersectionality’ came up many times during CSW62 side events and parallel sessions. Intersectionality refers to the interconnectedness of social categories like race, class and gender, where these overlapping systems result in discrimination or disadvantage experienced from more than one angle. Discussions about ‘intersectionality’ are highly relevant to Aboriginal women living in remote parts of the Northern Territory and, arguably, other parts of Australia.
CSW62 afforded me a great opportunity to hear from Indigenous groups around the world about Indigenous women and intersectionality, some with very similar colonial histories to Australia. I attended sessions on the ‘Mass Incarceration of Rural and Indigenous Women in Canada’, hosted by the Institute for International Women’s Rights in Manitoba; ‘Violence Against Indigenous Women in Rural America’, by the Indian Law Resource Center; ‘Indigenous Women’s Rights’, by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and others. These sessions were stimulating and helpful in thinking about how the Anglican Diocese in the Northern Territory, and the wider Anglican Church, could be working with Aboriginal women toward greater social inclusion.