by Joyce Dowling
As presented at Rumi Forum Interfaith Center 7/2000)

Unitarian Universalism has a long history of involvement in Women’s Issues from Susan B. Anthony in the 1850’s & the fight for suffrage (Frances Watkins Harper, an African American woman, [showing button] was also a Unitarian active in the movement, though lesser known). 

As a non-creedal religion, we hold our principles high and these principles support this work for women’s rights. The four most related to this topic are:
* The inherent dignity and worth of every person; 
* Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
* The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; and
* The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Our democratic process is held high during our annual conventions known as the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly. We vote on resolutions which are then used to encourage our congregations to take action and the Unitarian Universalist Association (known to us as the UUA) also takes action through our Faith in Action Office in Washington that lobbies congress in the name of the UUA.

Our resolutions in the past few decades that focus on women have been many. Reproductive Rights has been an issue of concern for decades. We’ve had twelve resolutions solely on this issue and each one has gone through a multi-year process to pass our General Assembly. Equal Rights for Women and fighting violence against women have also been high on our list of resolutions.

Our views on Women’s Rights have come to be looked on more and more as Human Rights, so we have fewer resolutions that come under that category alone. Our latest resolution is on fair wages and benefits, which includes a definition of an economically just society being one in which 1) government and private institutions promote the common economic good and are held accountable; 2) all people have equal opportunity to care for themselves and their families; and 3) individuals take responsibility for the effects of their actions on their own and others' lives. It also states that “Our work for economic justice must include support for:
* access to adequate housing, social services, child care, adult daycare, education, health care, legal services, financial services, and transportation;
* the removal of environmental and occupational hazards that disproportionately affect low-income people;
* respect for treaty rights of First Nations and Native American Tribes;
* government and corporate policies that promote economic investment in the urban core and rural communities;
* a more equitable criminal justice system;
* tax systems that prevent affluent individuals and corporations from sheltering assets and income at the expense of those less privileged; and
* campaign reforms that ensure equal access to the electoral process regardless of wealth.”

I have brought several copies of this resolution for you to look at, it’s so new that most Unitarian Universalists have not seen it yet, but I was among the delegates at General Assembly this year who passed the resolution. I feel that this is an excellent example of women’s issues as human rights issues.

Our resolutions are not just idealic statements, we have a history of taking action on these issues also. The UUA’s most recent issues of action include:
* Advocacy for Census 2000 since children, people of color, and the rural and urban poor are disproportionately missed - arguably the groups that need additional services the most. Plans to use statistical sampling to make up for the undercount are being fought by conservatives and others, so we’re trying to counteract that movement to protect funding for programs that cover those people.
* Lobbying efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, whether that orientation is real or perceived.
* Involvement in the Million Mom March to educate people around the country about the dangers of gun violence.
* Lobbying efforts to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act which would expand federal jurisdiction to reach, violent hate crimes committed "because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or disability" of the victim. 
* We are working to get the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized - In the first five years of the program, abuse rates dropped by more than one-fifth, but the problem remains significant and the current programs will use up all available funding early this fall. The reauthorization is especially important because one proposed version expands the programs to include victims of dating violence. However, the bill that was passed out of the Judiciary Committee's Crime Subcommittee covers only women living with their partners. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most likely to encounter violence in their relationships, according to a recent study, but often live apart from their abusers at that age. These women also need help from Violence Against Women Act programs.
* We’re also continuing our work on Reproductive Freedom, because 86% of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider; An estimated 1.2 million women each year seek illegal abortions; and Only 12% of obstetrics and gynecology programs offer training in first trimester abortions and only 7% offer second trimester training. AND
* We’re advocating to allow the United States to contribute to the United Nations Population Fund and assure that any attempts to restrict funding to desperately needed family planning services does not succeed.
These are just some of our latest advocacy issues.

Besides the UUA, there is the Unitarian Universalist- United Nations Office which has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, a significant increase in potential influence beyond that of a Non-Governmental Organization.
Their Current Issues are:
1. Security Council reform
2. International Criminal Court
3. Commission on Sustainable Development
4. International Declaration of Human Rights and
5. Eradication of Landmines 

There is also the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (known to us as UUSC) which is guided by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their "Women’s Rights Are Human Rights" program includes concern about the well-being of women and supports initiatives to strengthen women’s rights in the Americas, Asia and Africa. To enable women to speak for themselves and provide financial and technical assistance to help women work for self-determination, democracy and human rights.

In the past three years, UUSC’s Welfare and Human Rights Monitoring Project has documented and publicized the adverse impact welfare reform measures are having on marginalized women in the United States. UUSC actively supports the organizing efforts of low-income women to shape welfare reform legislation in several states.

UUSC believes the widespread abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children worldwide merits greater attention. We work to combat sex-trafficking and support sex workers in their struggle against exploitation and discrimination.

UUSC supports women in conflict and post-conflict situations who are rebuilding civil society in specific target areas. Current programs in the Great Lakes region of Africa, northeast India and the borders of Burma are being strengthened to enable women to lead their communities in a process of addressing human rights violations, rebuilding community support structures and healing ethnic and religious divisions.

To further international and domestic collaboration, UUSC provides networking opportunities to enable international and domestic partners to share their strategies on working for women’s rights. We bring program partners to the United States to testify before international forums such as the United Nations and to advocate for U.S. policies that enable them to protect their rights in their own countries.

UUSC provides women’s groups with the resources and training required to make the best use of available and appropriate technologies. In addition, UUSC works to improve marginalized women’s access to the media and other forums so they can publicize their concerns.

This is what Unitarian Universalists are doing now to improve the future for all people, but most of these concerns were once considered “Family issues” and “Family issues” were considered primarily “women’s issues”. Now that more women are active in politics and business there is more of a trend to see “family issues” as issues for everybody - basic human rights.

Also see:
Famous Unitarian Universalist Women

Unitarian Universalist Association Faith in Action
Unitarian Universalist Association Resolutions
Unitarian Universalist - United Nations Office
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee