The Rev. Yein Esther Kim says attending the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York March 13 – 24 was amazing, powerful and ought to happen all the time, not just two weeks each year.
She and others hope to take that recommendation for consideration by deputies to the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church, slated for July 5 – 13, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
“It would be great to have an interim entity between the UNCSW; it only happens two weeks a year and since different groups go each year, it doesn’t feel as if there is consistency in between,” Kim said. “We felt like it was important to have something going on all year round and make transition smoother from one year to another.”
Kim, associate priest at the Cathedral Center’s trilingual Congregation of St. Athanasius, was the only attendee from Province VIII at the annual gathering, which brings together women and girls, men and boys from the Episcopal Church and throughout the Anglican Communion.
“Just hearing the stories of women from around the Anglican Communion was amazing,” Kim told The Episcopal News recently. “The biggest takeaway I had was hearing their stories. We had a lot of testimony in each event and some people came despite the immediate danger they were facing. Some weren’t able to come because of these issues.”
Initially, Kim said she thought the theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” implied discussions about equal pay for equal work and parental leave, but quickly discovered, that in some areas of the world, they amount to matters of life and death.
Some women from developing countries shared that they could not speak their truth in their homelands, for fear of retribution or even death.
Kim attended the UNCSW official meetings as an observer on the floor of the United Nations as well as parallel events, including a Eucharist celebrated by President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, at which Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was the preacher.
The conference has convened annually or biannually since 1946; it reached a turning point in Beijing in 1995 when it adopted a global policy for gender equality and the empowerment of women that identified 12 areas of critical concern.
Curry in his sermon said participants aim “to encourage the powers that be in the world to enact legislation, to engage policy, to change in ways that promote true human equality as God intended from the beginning, to promote ways to emancipate women that they might in turn emancipate their children, and not only their children but their communities and their nations.”
According to an ENS report about the gathering, he added: “When they [women] get free the whole world gets free.”
“This is about the survival of the human race. Your work of advocacy, of encouragement, of gentle nudging, or a little arm twisting — this work is nothing less than the work of God,” Curry said during his sermon.
Curry and Jennings held an hour-long session with the delegates later the same day.
Kim said she was impressed by Phum Zile Mlambo-Ngcuka, an under-secretary-general of the U.N. and executive director of U.N. Women, whose words she still remembers: “There has never been any excuse for the inequality that exists. Now we are seeing a healthy intolerance for inequality grow into firm and positive change.”
Kim has helped usher in positive change at St. Athanasius’, where she serves with the Very Rev. Frank Alton, provost. The church offers three services on Sundays: a Spanish language (8:30 a.m.), a Korean language (12:30 p.m.) and an English language (11 a.m.) service and also conducts trilingual vestry meetings.
“The majority of the members are monolingual so every meeting we do is in three languages,” said Kim. “It’s come a long way. Father Frank [Alton] and I have tried hard to make this happen for us, to feel like it’s one congregation although we do services at different times. It’s not perfect, but it’s been great.”
She encouraged young people of the diocese to participate in the U.N. commission meeting next year, although she cautioned: “It’s a lot of document reading. There was a lot of information pouring in at us as soon as we arrived. You would think you’d go out and play in New York City but we stayed in the hotel and tried to catch up on the reading.”