The Opening Ceremony of the United Nations CSW68 - Buddha’s Light International Association Demonstrating Commitment to Global Issues

The 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, took place this year from 11 - 22 March at the UN Headquarters, with participation from 6,000 representatives of governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) globally, focusing on women’s issues.

Since the CSW62, the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA), Bhikkhuni and Fo Guang members have consistently attended each gathering. This year, at the opening ceremony, once again, continued the advocacy for equality, poverty reduction, and education for women and children.

The theme of this year’s conference is "Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective." The conference, spanning from March 11th to 22nd, features numerous ministerial round tables and parallel events held by NGOs. On March 14th, BLIA conducted a parallel event on the ‘Hope through education - India's Hope Village,’ presenting the content and achievements of the poverty alleviation and educational initiatives over the past six years.

In his opening address at the 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that although the General Assembly recognizes women as promoters of world peace, the status of women has not improved but rather declined. Gender discrimination and women’s poverty remain serious issues. He urged governments to adopt more equitable measures to enhance women’s economic status, recognizing them as crucial national investments and providing equal access to financing and employment opportunities, particularly in the technology sector, which is predominantly male.

According to the UN, 10.3% of women worldwide currently live in extreme poverty. To meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, efforts to eradicate poverty must be accelerated by 26 times. This acceleration necessitates substantial investment; data from 48 developing economies indicates that achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in key global objectives, such as eliminating poverty and hunger, requires an annual investment of USD$360 billion.

“As long as we adhere to the concept of equality of all beings and take practical actions to integrate the forces of the two genders, there is no need to fight for gender equality.” Venerable Jue Cheng, Deputy Secretary General for Southeast Asia of BLIA, said that “Buddha said that all beings are equal”, and Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan, emphasized the need for respect and tolerance. Venerable Master Hsing Yun suggested that if everyone aligns their ideas with the Buddha’s teachings, then there won’t be a lack of opportunities for women. At this year's parallel event, BLIA shares how to promote women's rights and educate children through India's Hope Village program in Chennai, India.

Venerable Yung Ku, BLIA Eastern North America Deputy Secretary-General, emphasized that due to war, women and children suffer the most, losing their jobs and economic stability. Under the guidance of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, Fo Guang Shan committed to addressing women’s issues. As the Venerable Master stated, Fo Guang Shan values the practice of giving, and our focus is on how to actively contribute and share.

Venerable Chueh Lin, Abbess of Fo Guang Shan New York Temple, highlighted that each topic shared by the BLIA reflects Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s concept of equality. She hopes that the presentation on India's Hope Village education plan will share with everyone the efforts made by the BLIA.

Venerable You Lin expressed that this year’s gathering once again unites diverse causes worldwide, demonstrating the collective creative power led by Venerable Master Hsing Yun within Fo Guang Shan and the BLIA. Mabel Lam, UN Committee Director of BLIA, mentioned that this is the second in-person meeting after the pandemic, and she looks forward to hearing more positive news this year.

Venerable Miao Ru, the Abbess of the FGS Kolkata Buddhist Centre in Kolkata, India, who will share insights in the parallel event, believes that to uplift impoverished Indian women and enhance their employment prospects, providing quality education and technical training is essential. Only then can they qualify for better job opportunities.

Zhijie Zhou, the Youth Group Leader of Fo Guang Shan New York Temple, and Evan Ralske, the Deputy Leader, attended the opening ceremony. For them, this event holds significant meaning. However, hearing about various women’s issues from the “adults” evoked both compassion and indignation. They were moved by the efforts made by many individuals to advocate for gender equality. Simultaneously, they felt anger upon learning about the harsh realities of women being persecuted during wars.

Zhijie Zhou shared that growing up in the inclusive city of New York, he rarely encountered gender inequality issues. However, participating in this conference opened their eyes to ongoing discrimination against women in other parts of the world. It served as a reminder for them to cultivate a deeper understanding of respecting women.