Salvationists Attend, Speak at the United Nations’ 61st Annual Commission on the Status of Women

By: Laura Poff

A delegation of Salvation Army officers and employees, led by staff of the International Social Justice Commission, highlighted the organization’s work to increase economic opportunities for women around the world at the United Nations’ 61st annual Commission on the Status of Women.

Economic empowerment was the theme of this year’s conference, held in New York City March 13-24. All sessions centered on economic factors that hold women back and what organizations have done, and can do, to tackle these issues.

“The ISJC has always been very interested in gender inequality, because it is one of the huge discriminations found all around the world,” said Lt. Colonel Eirwen Pallant, deputy director of the ISJC.

Since its establishment by General Shaw Clifton in 2008, the ISJC, headquartered in New York, has been the international voice of The Salvation Army. It has conducted research, written position statements and spoken on issues of social justice on behalf of the entire organization.

Though headquartered in the U.S., the ISJC reports to International Headquarters and addresses only issues that cross borders and impact multiple nations, such as the refugee crisis, human trafficking and protection of the environment. It also has a commitment to support gender equality and has organized a delegation to attend, and sometimes speak at, the Commission on the Status of Women every year.

Membership of the Salvationist delegation changes each year. This year’s team has members of the international anti-human trafficking task force, ISJC staff and a few non-taskforce members who work on issues impacting women in the U.S. and Canada.

Delegates attend seminars and lectures. They learn how other non-governmental organizations support, protect and empower women around the world. They occasionally lead sessions, explaining how The Salvation Army is working to do the same.

“People can attend whichever meetings interest them, based on what paths that they are working on or speakers they can learn from,” Lt. Colonel Pallant said. “We ask all delegates to fill out a report form of the main points of each session, what’s being learned and then all of those are posted on the ISJC website so that we can try and get info out to others beyond ISJC.”

One session focused on the international Salvation Army’s partnership with the Anglican Alliance to fight human trafficking around the world.

The London-based Alliance worked with The Salvation Army in South Africa and Nepal, hosting workshops to educate and train members of both organizations on trafficking in their communities. The ISJC produced a report from that collaboration that examined how the church can work across denominations at local, national and international levels to fight trafficking.

“This was really a chance to show off what The Salvation Army does and what other churches and Christian organizations are doing and how we are all trying to work together,” Lt. Colonel Pallant said. “It will take everyone to beat trafficking.”

The second session examined Salvation Army initiatives around the world that empower women through economic means, including local savings banks, income-generating support groups and job training programs. Speakers from OTHERS Trade for Hope, The Salvation Army World Services Office and territorial leaders presented programs that succeeded in their communities.

“We featured the All India Empowerment Program, Women of Worth in Sri Lanka and OTHERS,” Lt. Colonel Pallant said. “The reason for doing this now is because we have a very international group coming to CSW this year, because the anti-trafficking task force will be here, so we’ve got people from around the world who know what’s happening and can present.”

“Last year, we asked delegates to give us an evaluation, and they all came back saying it was a wonderful experience, a chance for learning and appreciating all the things going on around the world.”

By attending sessions led by other secular and faith-based organizations, Lt. Colonel Pallant has gained a deeper understanding of the benefits of and possibilities for working together to do good.

“I’ve been to a few Islamic organization sessions, and it’s been fascinating to sit and listen to them explain how the Quran influences them and how they interpret it,” she said. “Just like in Christianity, you’ve got a huge range of interpretations.

“So, to understand particularly Islamic progressives and the Imams who are promoting women’s equality is something important that we don’t hear much about. Realizing we can work fine with Muslims, and that there are places where we should be working with Muslims for the benefit of the community, has been most impactful for my work here.”

The Salvation Army has been affiliated with the UN since 1947 and signed on to support the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN following the end of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

The organization’s current UN representative, Major Victoria Edmonds, is a member of Ecumenical Women, an international coalition of women from denominations that are members of the UN’s Economic and Social Counsel, which is instrumental in organizing the CSW. She also sits on executive committees and is the vice-chair of the Working Group on Girls.