status of women
Cheryl Pennington, right, speaks with Vanessa Morrison, left, at The Auditorium at The Douglass on Saturday, March 2, 2019, after a Black Space Oklahoma panel discussion. (Tres Savage)

Women in Oklahoma City have a chance to push for change through filling out a survey created by Cheryl Pennington to determine the status of women in OKC.

Pennington, a retired teacher and Oklahoma City native, will attend the 63rd session of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as a delegate this coming week. The commission will take place on March 11-22 at the U.N. Headquarters in New York.

“The objective is to find out as much as you can about the status of women around the world, learn different ways that people have made things better, ways that they have empowered women and ways that they have helped increase gender equality,” Pennington said. “You come back and use them in your own community.”

Pennington hopes to enact change through association with Presbyterian Women. According to the organization’s website, the PW Purpose includes aspects of ministry, resources and relationships. Presbyterian Women, an NGO, is sending delegates from across the United States to the two-week conference. Pennington, who has been involved with Presbyterian Women nationally in the past, is one of those delegates.

“I’m already on a couple of boards, but I feel like mostly I just sit there, or just agree or write a check. And so this way I feel like maybe I can actually bring some new and exciting things back to the table,” she said.

Survey seeks guidance

To make sure she is focusing on what women in Oklahoma City actually want, Pennington created a survey with the help of her daughter, Chaya. She wanted to look at what women were actually experiencing. The survey asks questions about where women see opportunities for growth, presence, and gender equality in Oklahoma City. It also asks what positive outcomes already exist.

“They feel like, for women, there have been less positives than for men,” she said of survey responses. She noted that women were looking for more events that “help women come together and feel empowered,” but that women are seeing increased representation as well.

“Some of the positive outcomes were that we got more women elected in this last election, and they feel like there has been some expanded medical care and education,” Pennington said.

‘The precipice of a new beginning’

Joy Durrant, a delegate from Austin, Texas, and a member of the Presbyterian Women, is attending the U.N. commission with Pennington. She has attended once before, in 2013.

“There were a couple pretty poignant moments,” Durrant said. “It’s one thing to know about female genital mutilation. It’s another thing to sit across the table from someone who had that done to them.”

Like Pennington, Durrant said she hopes to return to her community with new knowledge and enact change through Presbyterian Women on a national level.

“This is our first year to be granted consultative status from the Economic and Social Council of the U.N.,” Durrant said of Presbyterian Women.

Consultative status allows select NGOs to speak during the general discussion. NGOs without this status must collaborate with those that have it in order to express ideas or concerns.

“We’re on the precipice of a new beginning, and there’s lots of moving parts to figuring out how that status will move us forward from here on out,” Durrant said.

Commission an ‘opportunity to learn’

Kristen Campbell Presbyterian Women member who attended the conference last year and will attend again this year. She described the U.N. commission as an amazing experience that inspired her to push for change.

“I think it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about what is going on in real women’s lives in places other than Spring, Texas, where I live,” Campbell said. “It was really inspiring to me to meet people who are doing the work, and then to think about ways that I can take that home with me and apply some of that to what’s happening in my community.”

Pennington is hoping to experience that same reinvigoration after this year’s conference.

“The women, particularly the young women who I’ve met that went to it, they just came back so excited and willing to work on behalf of women in any way they could,” Pennington said.