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Future figuring

Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns works to define role, purpose

July 27, 2009

LOUISVILLE

The July meeting of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns was a busy one.

In addition to meeting in small work groups and hearing from several presenters, the committee focused on crafting a presentation of its own — to representatives from the Advisory and Advocacy Review Team of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC).

That presentation came on July 18, the end of the three-day meeting. ACWC answered 15 questions put forth by the review team, presenting the answers to representatives from the team. 

The questions largely focused on the role of advisory and advocacy committees. They were also put to the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.

The questions are a way to look at how the three committees relate to each other, said ACWC member Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, who prepared a report on the review team for ACWC.

The General Assembly Council Manual of Operations, dated June 2008, defines the roles of the advisory and advocacy committees. According to the manual, both kinds of committees are related to an entity or agency of the General Assembly. Contrary to most groups, however, they report directly to the Assembly.

An advisory committee “is formed for the purpose of providing advice, recommendations, resources, information, or counsel to its parent body.”

An advocacy committee “is formed for the purpose of providing resources and support for a stated cause, constituency, policy or defined interest through recommendations, advice, counsel, and efforts that endorse, define or encourage. The committee reports regularly to its parent body and constituency.”

ACSWP has been allocated about $400,000 for its staff; ACWC and ACREC have about $80,000 budgeted for a shared position. The three committees have the same approximate meeting budget of $55,000.

The questions touched on topics like whether ACWC considers itself at parity with other permanent GA committees, how it envisions nurturing its relationship with the General Assembly Mission Council and vice versa and how its work is changing.

In answering the questions, ACWC members discussed why there is a need for women’s advocacy in the church. Many people think the world is now post-sexist, said ACSWP liaison Gloria Albrecht.

ACWC co-chair Bill Gray said that there are plenty of data to show otherwise, naming pay gaps, domestic violence and health care inequalities as examples.

Disparities are also seen within the church, said Erica Harley, liaison from the National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen. Women are more likely to be part-time pastors, she said.

Hinson-Hasty said that ACWC’s role is not only to highlight women’s concerns, but to use methodology to see how the system plays a role in inequality. Just because the executive director of the GAMC is a woman does not mean the church is without problems, she said.

Doing away with labels is also necessary, said member N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie. Sometimes, people focus on gender issues and ignore other aspects of a person, such as race and class, she said, adding that better collaboration is needed and that vision must be translated into action.

The division between ACWC and ACREC is helpful in some ways, but members need to be prepared to answer questions about why they are separated, Albrecht said. If people are multidimensional, what is the need for discrete committees?

One important task for ACWC — and ACSWP and ACREC — is to identify why it is needed, said ACWC member Jan Martin. ACWC must define how its role is different than women’s offices within the GAMC, she said.

Looking to the future

On the final day of their meeting, ACWC members met with Curtis Kearns, executive administrator of the GAMC. The discussion centered on the job description for ACWC staff.

Because the committees are in a transitional period, Kearns said he thought it would be helpful to discuss the differences between an advisory committee for a programmatic unit and an elected advocacy committee.

ACWC isn’t programmatic, said Louise Davidson, outgoing vice moderator for Justice and Peace, Presbyterian Women. ACWC doesn’t create resources — it looks at the world through a gender lens, she said.

Hinson-Hasty questioned the difference between programs and policy, calling it a “false dichotomy.” She questioned why a program would not be implemented to back up a policy.

ACWC does not develop programs, said member Terry Alexander. It monitors the work of the General Assembly. When the GA passes something, it goes to the program areas within the GAMC, but those staffers often haven’t been involved with the research that went into the proposal. It’s important to figure out how committees can work with staffers to develop understanding, leading to more effectiveness.

“We want to be seen as partners,” Alexander said.

When hiring the full-time staff person for the committees, there needs to be a clear job description, Kearns said, adding that this involves creating a new job description, not merely modifying the existing one.

Once the primary responsibilities of ACWC are defined, a job description to support those responsibilities can be developed, he said.

Answering questions

After the session with Kearns, ACWC met with review team members Doug Megill and Sylvia Washer.

The team is in information-gathering mode, posing the same questions to all three advisory and advocacy committees, Megill said. In November, the team will attempt to draft a report. It will be circulated with the goal of being finalized by January. It will then be sent to the GA.

ACWC members took turns answering the 15 questions they had discussed earlier in the meeting.

The 15 questions to be answered by the advocacy and advisory committees:

  1. PC(USA) related mission networks are becoming increasingly influential in GA mission work; how have networks impacted the work of your committee and how does your committee understand its tasks in relation to these networks?
  2. Do you consider yourself at parity with other permanent GA committees, particularly Advisory and Advocacy, and if not, why not?
  3. Generational dynamics are having considerable impact on the church. What consideration has your committee given these dynamics and what plans do you have for recognizing the implications of these changes?
  4. What types of interactions are taking place between your committee and the other Advocacy and Advisory committees and what kinds of additional interactions would you like to see take place? Give specific examples.
  5. Is your committee’s work enhanced by its relationship with the GAMC and how would you envision both your committee and the GAMC nurturing their relationship?
  6. What decision making authority does your committee have especially with regard to its status as a GA committee and its relationship to the GAMC?
  7. Is the description of your committee accurate and if not how should it be changed to more adequately reflect your duties and responsibilities?
  8. How do you understand the lines of authority with regard to reporting … to GA, GAMC? How can those responsibilities be more clearly expressed?
  9. How do you see Advocacy and Advisory committee staffs relating to the Executive Director of the GAMC?
  10. Using specific examples can you give us some of the highlights of what your committee has been doing with regard to its assigned functions since the last General Assembly?
  11. What is your vision for your committee in the 21st century and what resources (financial, people, support) do you have to implement this vision?
  12. In what ways is your work changing and how will there be even further changes in the future?
  13. Are there additional sources of funding you have investigated or that you would suggest for your committee?
  14. How can the work and materials produced by your committee be more effectively disseminated in the church? Does your committee see this as one of its primary responsibilities?
  15. Do you have addition requests for the Review Committee to address?

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