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Religion and Women’s Dignity and Human Rights at the #UNCSW59

Written by Phyllis Curott
April 8, 2015

by Phyllis Curott, Vice-Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Board of Trustees, Chairwoman of the Parliament Women’s Task Force
“Thank you for doing this – this is is just what we needed.” This was the reaction expressed, and what we had hoped for, as we concluded our women’s interfaith service organized by the Women’s Task Force and the Interfaith Center of New York as a special sponsored event for the 59th Session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women.
The well-attended service at the Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations offered a chance for UNCSW attendees to gather and reflect, pray and meditate, share insights and strengthen hope, to offer their gratitude and honor our co-workers who have passed from this life.
A remarkable and diverse group of women religious leaders spoke: the Chaplain of the CCUN Chapel Rev. Dionne Boissiere opened the service with a warm welcome and was followed by former Trustee and founder and President of the International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation, Audrey Kitagawa who filled the sacred space with chanting before sharing reflections on Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Kusumita Pedersen offered the historic and pressing context for the service, reading from the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…”

She also honored the memory of several remarkable women including Tonya Frichner, founder of the American Indian Law Alliance and Advisor to the Women’s Task Force. Heartfelt and moving reflections were also shared by Indigenous leader Murial Borst, who worked closely with Tonya, Aisha al-Adawiya, founder and Chair of Women in Islam, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the Reverend Chloe Breyer, Episcopal priest and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York and Monica Willard, United Nations Representative of United Religions Initiative, who read a poem by Justine Merritt, founder of the Ribbon International Project to eliminate nuclear weapons that began with the 1993 Parliament in Chicago.
Dozens of women stood and shared, honored and remembered women who had inspired their lives and expressed why it was important for them to share their reflections. It was particularly moving that two young women from the Church of Latter Day Saints participated and expressed their commitment to supporting the Women’s Initiative and the Parliament by organizing homestays for visiting participants.
After the event, Kusumita Pedersen said, “It brought us together in a special way, strengthened us and we learned from each other. ‘Speaking from the heart’ is much needed, as many said and we proved. It also turned out to be entirely appropriate for the CSW.”
We are women of many faiths who have faith in women. And we have faith in what happens when women speak from their hearts. This is how we reclaim the heart of our humanity and we hope that you will join us in speaking from your heart at the Women’s Assembly beginning at 9 AM on October 15th, and during the Women’s Program Initiative throughout the Parliament from the evening of October 15th through October 19th, 2015.
There will be panels and presentations, workshops and conversations, and a Women’s Sacred Space available throughout the Parliament for spiritual gatherings, reflections, religious observances, prayers, meditations, rites and celebrations that express the great diversity, strength, wisdom and beauty of women’s spirits.
We invite you to share your reflections on what it means to be a woman of faith and what it means to have faith in women at #FaithInWomen
We invite you to submit a program proposal, spiritual or religious observance or celebration at:
We invite you to join us at the Women’s Assembly on October 15 and the Women’s Program Initiative and the Parliament of the World’s Religions October 15 – 19.
With love and gratitude,
Phyllis Curott
Above Left: poem by Justine Meritt, May 1993

Phyllis Curott is an attorney, author and Wiccan priestess. An interfaith activist and advocate of religious liberties for minority faiths in the courts and media, Jane Magazine honored her as one of the Ten Gutsiest Women of the Year, New York Magazine described her as one of the “culture’s most intellectually cutting-edge thinkers,” and Beliefnet has featured her in their video series Preachers and Teachers. Curott is founder and president of the international Temple of Ara and president emerita of the Covenant of the Goddess.