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Toward an equitable world: Lutherans and the status of women


By Fern Lee Hagedorn


Twenty years ago, the 189 United Nations Member States unanimously adopted the Beijing Platform for Action, a blueprint to achieve equality for women. What has happened with this plan which outlined 12 critical areas of concern?


This March 5-12 in New York City, I was a member of the ELCA-Lutheran World Federation delegation at the 59th UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), focusing on "Beijing 20." It was clear that improving a woman’s life lifts up her whole family and community, and that raising up women does not call for diminishing men. Men and boys are joining together with women and girls to become allies in the movement for a more equitable world. Yet equality has a long way to go. If situations continue,

  • A newborn girl today would be 81 years old until she has the same chance as a man to be CEO of a company — and 50 years old before she has an equal chance to lead a country.

  • Violence impacts 1 out of every 3 women worldwide, including in the US.

  • Many poor rural girls – some as young as 9 – are sold to pimps and forced into sex up to 10 times daily; then, in a few years, thrown into the streets to die with children they have borne.

  • Women enslaved as spoils of war still cry out for justice. During WWII, they were "comfort women," forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. Today, girls are rounded up in rural villages to be raped by their invaders.

  • Cycles of drought and flooding make it impossible for poor farmers – many of whom are women – to grow food.

How do we respond? People I met at the UN were politely curious about the Lutheran church. Often, "the church" that others see is shaped by media images that focus only on personal morality. Meanwhile, I have hopes that our church can become a safer and sacred place for everyone, more and more; where we can speak candidly without being written off; where we are generous in charity and staunch as champions for justice, to change systems that cause hunger, poverty, and gender imbalances. We can:

  • Amplify – say it out loud. Break the silence if something is unjust, unfair, or wrong. Tell a friend, write a letter, post on Facebook.

  • Break the cycle. Highly-sexualized images of women are common in movies and on TV…30% of American girls get pregnant before they are 19…1 in 5 young women are sexually-assaulted on college campuses. Do we dare talk about this in our churches, and act? Discuss stereotypes. Be active as role models and mentors. Support efforts already underway.

  • Share responsibility. "Where faith and justice meet" was how the Lutherans described themselves at the UN. How shall we work in interfaith and even no-faith circles to ward off blame from victims of injustice, and advocate with them? The UN’s new motto toward a more equitable world is "Planet 50-50 by 2030." How will we "step it up" for gender equality?

Learn more about ELCA gender justice work hereFor more on ELCA work at the UN, contact the Lutheran Office for World Community. You can also read more about the experience of the Lutheran delegation here


(Fern Lee Hagedorn is a Sunday School teacher and council member at St. Paul's, Narrowsburg. She can be heard Friday mornings on WJFF radio in Jeffersonville, NY. Fern also serves on the ELCA Social Statement Task Force on Women & Justice.)



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