From March 13 to 24, Venerable Yifa led a group of twelve representatives from Woodenfish Foundation to attend the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The primary theme of the conference dealt with “Women’s Economic Empowerment and the Changing World of Work”; and an emerging issue regarding the “Empowerment of Indigenous Women” was an important focus at the conference.
One major goal of the 2017 CSW conference was to promote conversations and provide solutions for women’s empowerment, specifically in the leadership and business arenas. In the past three decades, women’s status in China has been elevated, and women’s employment rate has increased, so how have those changes influenced worldwide development? How do people view women in China from a global perspective? How has religious culture complemented the empowerment of women? At the conference, “China,” “Beijing,” and “women in China” showed up multiple times in the keynote speeches. However, reports have indicated that systemic, problematic biases against women still exist. For example, the economic value and social contributions of housewives remain unacknowledged and unmeasured. A lot of problems await effective solutions, and world leaders and citizens need to convene to improve the situations.
On the first day, Yinju Zhang (Shandong, China)—founder of AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth (APEPCY)—shared her founding story with all the delegates. Rui Ding introduced how her charitable foundation, Theresa Foundation, assists projects in Cameroon, Africa. Ven. Yifa, Zhang, and Ding continued their conversation and exchanged ideas with Rev. Kyoichi Sugino—Deputy Secretary General at Religions for Peace International—after the conference commencement. Woodenfish representatives attended many of the CSW conference sections and met with others such as Ms. Lakshmi Puri, the Deputy Executive Director and UN Assistant Secretary General, UNWomen.
On March 15, Woodenfish representatives participated in an event on the Launch Platform of “Gender Equality and Religion for the Gender Responsive Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” held by the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations. They discussed how religious communities, while promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, align with Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. A number of representatives coming from different countries attended the conference. Ven. Yifa gave a special presentation on current missions and actions of Woodenfish, including her optimistic interpretation of Buddhist scriptures that dictate respectful treatment of bhikkhunis.
Through the conversations with various delegates and leaders across the globe, we have perceived this rising notion of prioritizing positive religious cultures. Despite unavoidable disagreements, we do agree in many areas. And because of the exchange and collision of different viewpoints, we are able to move forward and devise feasible solutions to overcome the long lasting bias against women, therefore empowering women in society.