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Reflection on the United Nations’ 62nd Commission on the Status of Women


In March 2018, the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) brought together leaders from around the world. Established in 1946, the CSW is the principal international intergovernmental body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The annual session is the largest UN gathering each year. This year, CSW62 focused on rural women and, specifically, two themes:

Priority Theme: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls; and

Review Theme: Participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women (agreed conclusions of the forty-seventh session).

Below, guest writer Angela Marie Dejene, president of Dejene Communications, reflects on these themes, her time at CSW62, and the critical importance of narrative – “truth told well.”

Even in the United States in 2018, women still face very different challenges and live very different lives than men.

But the stories the media has told, until very recently, have rarely reflected those female narratives and the daily inequalities with which they struggle.

I am the granddaughter of South Dakota farmers, and I grew up on the prairie in Crookston, Minnesota – a farm town of fewer than 8,000 people in the far-away northwest corner of the state.

You knew you were getting close to reaching the edge of town when you started to smell the odor of rotten eggs from the sugar beet plant.

Health complaints from local mothers were ignored – it was and still is a mostly male world in the sugar beet plant and in the fields … and only the local land-grant university had a greater impact on the local economy.

The local newspaper, the Crookston Times, reflected the male-dominated agricultural industry mostly when I was young – and still does today. The front page story last Wednesday featured a meeting of the Mid-Valley Grain cooperative and showed a group shot of male-farmer members.

My grandmother held up “half the sky” on that remote South Dakota farm where my mother grew up and where I spent wonderful summers as a young girl. But where is that female narrative if I don’t find it … if I don’t tell it?

Without truth-telling narratives, there is rarely progress.

Progress for women in rural northwestern Minnesota remains bleak today:

  • According to the US Census Bureau, fewer than 1 in 4 (23%) of residents there, in Crookston, Minnesota, have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Full-time male employees make 1.34 times more than female employees in Crookston.
  • According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in isolated rural areas of northern Minnesota (the greater region surrounding Crookston) there is only 1 physician for every 3,191 people.
  • Only 4 percent of the state’s physicians are located in the northwest counties of the state, the most rural part of the state.
  • About 1 in 5 people still live below the poverty line and the largest demographic living in poverty are females ages 18-24.

But you have to dig deep for that statistic and deeper still for the story behind it. Without narratives, there is no progress.

I was raised by a single mother who worked full-time as a university professor. Still, she had to struggle to make ends meet. I remember going to the local grocery store, HUGOS, on Saturday mornings with my mom and brother, and with my mother’s purse-sized calculator in hand, we would add up the prices of each item we put into the cart. She needed to make sure she had enough in her bank account to get us fed until she got paid the following week.

I always did well in school, and fortunately, those grades and perhaps a compelling narrative in my applications helped me qualify for academic-based scholarships when I started applying for college. With the generous help of those scholarships, I enrolled in Augustana University, an extraordinary liberal arts university affiliated with my Lutheran faith, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At Augustana, I double-majored in journalism and government/international affairs and served as an editor for the school newspaper.

I’ve always had a passion for uncovering and telling true stories. When women are in charge of the narrative, policies change, communities are empowered and the lives of women and girls are transformed. I started my career as an unpaid lobbying intern in Washington, DC, advocating for health care policies that would improve the lives of women and children. I spent most of my time on Capitol Hill finding and sharing the true stories of how the U.S. healthcare system at the time was failing women, families and children.

These were stories that reported on real families, some forced into bankruptcy because a mother, a wife, or a sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and their health insurance policy had a “lifetime limit” on how much of the treatment would be covered.

These were stories of real families who relied on the Children’s Health Insurance Program for their children’s critical visits to the doctor to manage a chronic condition like asthma or Type 1 diabetes.

These were stories of real high school girls who were experiencing teen dating violence but had nowhere to turn because the local legal system had failed them.

The re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law on March 7, 2013. The new law made targeted expansions to address the needs of especially vulnerable populations and help prevent violence in future generations.

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010, giving millions of families new-found hope and access to affordable, high-quality health care.

Narratives – truths told well – were the empowering difference.

Stories of horror and struggle.

Stories of compassion and empowerment.

Stories of survival and success.

If we strive to find and to communicate, if we work to broadcast the truth about women from and to even the most remote of places – we fuel and ignite progress everywhere.

Narrative – truth told well – by women and about women – can advance and empower the lives of all who live on this planet.


“I Carry Her with Me”: A Reflection from the UN CSW


This post is in honor of Wynona J. Fields.

The ELCA Young Adult Cohort is a partnership of the ELCA Justice for Women program, the ELCA Strategy on HIV and Aids, the Young Adults in Global Mission Alumni, ELCA Young Adult ministry and ELCA World Hunger. These networks have identified a shared interest in young adult leadership development and faith formation within a social justice framework. In March 2017, members of the cohort participated at the United Nations 61st Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW).

In preparing for the trip to the UN CSW, some thoughts would keep coming to mind: How will what is learned from this experience influence my work? How can I share this with my church and community? How can I share with the team I work with on a daily basis? In this extraordinary space, there are signs of God’s work all around us, and as I hear the stories, it will become more clear not just for me but also for all those in attendance what we will be led to do after this experience.

My maternal grandma’s face keeps popping up in my head when I hear the words “caregiver,” “care work,” “domestic” and “economic impact of women.” As my grandma aged and was looking at how she was going to support herself in her later years, she was told she did not work enough in her lifetime to receive any Social Security benefits. The amount of money that she received was dependent on her husband’s work and the fact that she was his caregiver. Her worth in dollars was tied to her marital status and caring for him; therefore, it was deemed that she could receive an income. I remember thinking, as a kid, how could they say she has not worked enough? My grandma was always busy, working and taking care of someone else’s needs. She raised seven kids and helped raise several grandchildren, myself included. The regular income she worked for in her lifetime was for cooking, cleaning and care-taking jobs for a local school, children’s home and local people. As kids, if we wanted extra money for special events, she was the first one to tell us we needed to work for it, and she would take us to pick strawberries, wild blackberries, wild onions and walnuts to sell. Many times my grandma did those same things for extra money for gas, food or personal care needs. Other times when she would need money, she would make pies. I would go door-to-door and sell the pies.

Looking back, I would give anything to have those times again, to be able to say, “Grandma, you have worked too hard, let me care for you, tell me what you need.” She was a strong, Cherokee woman. She was a fighter, and she had great faith. She had faith that her Lord and Savior would provide for her family. She had faith that she would be taken care of despite her struggles, and she had faith that these values would live on in her family.

Throughout my time here at UN CSW 61, I carry her with me; I carry her spirit and her dreams of independence. There are many stories like this and many more that have not been told.

Thank you to ELCA World Hunger, The Lutheran World Federation, and Ecumenical Women for advocating for women to be recognized for their work and contributions. I am honored to be here with such phenomenal women who use their gifts selflessly to make the world a better place for women and children.

Jennifer Kirby is a member of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort and Eben Ezer Lutheran Church in Oaks, Oklahoma. This post originally appeared on the ELCA Young Adult Cohort’s blog at