The Catholic Sisters Empowering Women Around The World

Next week, Catholic sisters will be joining a U.N. discussion on opportunities for gender equality.


Published:

Next week, hundreds of women will gather from around the world to explore the challenges and opportunities for empowering women and achieving gender equality at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Joining the conversation are Catholic sisters who live among the disenfranchised globally and share the common goal of improving the lives of women and girls.

© Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, Unsplash

It’s no secret women have had a rough year. From the revelations of the #MeToo movement in the U.S. to the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, we are being subjected to a consistent message that our needs, or even our rights, aren’t of primary importance.

But at the Dominican Sisters of Hope, a community of 140 Catholic sisters where I work, one conviction prevails: Women worldwide hold the keys to our future. And we’re not alone in this belief: Next week, hundreds of women will gather from around the world to explore the challenges and opportunities for empowering women and achieving gender equality at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Joining the conversation are Catholic sisters who live among the disenfranchised globally and share the common goal of improving the lives of women and girls.

“I see an awakening,” Dominican Sister of Peace Judy Morris of Kentucky tells me. “I see women energized, confident, and wanting to make a change in attitudes toward women, from demonstrations to women running for office. Years of us being ignored or intimidated are beginning to fade.”

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I asked Sister Judy and other Dominican Sisters who attended last year’s meeting to discuss the work they have been doing to help women and girls in their home countries. Here’s what I learned.

Combating Human Trafficking

Morris spent seven years as a justice promoter in Columbus, Ohio, creating a human trafficking committee to focus attention on a growing problem facing girls and women there and across the state.

She led the installation of billboards throughout the city to help the public learn how to spot human trafficking and report problems to authorities.

Her committee teams visit hotels, hair salons, tattoo parlors, and other locations where victims of human trafficking are often taken. There, they educate managers on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and contact the proper authorities.

“Human trafficking is one of the most critical issues for women and girls,” Morris says.

In 2014, committee members met with lawmakers, trafficking survivors and experts, law enforcement officers, and advocates to push for legislation to toughen up the state’s trafficking laws. They also launched a campaign to support trafficking legislation in Congress.

And although she is now retired from the committee, Morris continues to advocate on behalf of trafficked victims. She’s been focusing recently on sporting events, where trafficking is on the rise. She met, for example, with the staff of hotels in Columbus during the recent Arnold Sports Festival to alert the staff and help them identify the signs of trafficking. She did the same in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Kentucky Derby, working in conjunction with Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution and distributing bars of soap in hotel rooms with the numbers of human trafficking hotlines on the wrappers.

Independence As An Escape From Violence

In East Timor, Sister Elsie Bagaypo works with domestic abuse survivors. The first step to safety, she says, is independence. She and her colleagues teach the women agricultural skills, about growing and harvesting crops they then sell to local schools, as a way to generate their own income separate from their abusive partners.

Bagaypo opens her home to women from the center as well as others throughout the community, inviting them to reach out to her at any time. “In the middle of the night, neighbors come to me asking to borrow my car,” says Bagaypo, of the Dominican Sisters of the Rosary. “They’ll say, ‘My mom was beaten over the top of the head with a chair, and she needs to go to the hospital.’ When I go to meet the women, they act like it is not a big deal that they got hit.”

In teaching independence, she teaches the women that they have inherent value and dignity, and that they can make a life for themselves free of violence.

Making Girls’ Education A Priority

As a teacher and a leader, Sister Juliana Idoko of Gusau, Nigeria, prioritizes the education of girls, which she sees as the key to empowering women not just in her country, but everywhere.

Growing up in rural Nigeria, she witnessed a cultural cycle where women were not allowed to go to school but married young and became responsible for husbands and children when they were still children themselves.

“Many girls are not given priority when it comes to education,” says Idoko, of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena. “If the family has low income—if they have three children, for instance, and they can sponsor only one in school—they will sponsor the boy and allow the girls to go and get married.”

Idoko works with families, emphasizing the importance of girls’ education while trying to ensure they understand family barriers that might prevent girls from going to school. In group sessions involving women and mothers, she makes female power and dignity a strong focus. She teaches sisters-in-training to encourage their female students to stay in school. And she reaches out to principals in the local community on practical matters, such as the lack of separate toilets in co-ed schools.

“We must encourage girls to not only study well, but to see themselves as being an embodiment of power,” she says.

Making Health Care Accessible

Living among the Tsotsil-speaking Mayan people in Chiapas, Mexico, Sister Helena Im sees a disturbing trend: women allowing their illnesses to worsen because they don’t have enough resources to see a doctor. Her congregation arranges for doctors and dentists to visit the community once a year, but that presents its own challenge: a lack of sanitary, equipped places available where medical professionals can treat members of the community.

Her continued advocacy for sustainable primary health care for Chiapas is bearing fruit. A team of 10 “health promoters” is now training under a Mexican doctor to bring a combination of clinical skills and Mayan herbal remedies to the community year-round.

“To allot every weekend to courses and field work has not been easy for our health promoters, but they took their commitment seriously,” says Im, a Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose. “When a health promoter shared that she didn’t have enough to pay for transportation to come to class, another promoter offered to walk with her. They walked three hours together to class, not once, but many times.”

For her, the next step is creating space called casas de salud (houses of health), where these professionals can offer basic but urgent medical care. Visiting medical professionals can also use these facilities. She’s helping to outline a campaign to raise funds to start the building.

The idea is to construct the casas de salud using natural resources and on a model that can be emulated without relying on aid. Meant to “serve as an inspiration for our people to reclaim their sustainable practices,” each will be equipped with herbal medicines as well as basic pharmaceutical medications.

“Where poverty has made adequate health care inaccessible, despite challenges such as lack of basic education and resources, we dare to dream about instituting health care facilities because we carry the pain of the suffering of our people,” Im says.

Intercultural Understanding, Not Westernization

Sister Margaret Hillary, of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan, lives with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. For the past nine years, she has served as a pastoral counselor and youth minister in a community that was originally Native and is now home to generations of mixed-race people.

White and Native children attended school together, became friends, grew into adulthood together and married across cultures. Now Hillary says many of these mixed families struggle with identity and how to incorporate both Christianity and their traditional spirituality into their lives in meaningful ways.

While many have attended Western, Christian schools, there is a constant aim to recapture the culture and heritage they believe they lost when their parents or even grandparents were forced into boarding schools in the 1900s.

She listens deeply, offering the kind of counseling that allows those facing this confliction to feel at peace with all aspects of who they are. She encourages them to embrace and take pride in their complexities.

Some people, Hillary says, “want to return to traditional ways. Some families are split between traditional and Western practices. When I’ve told them it’s OK to be both, they’ve felt really good. That’s the key to surviving: having a sense of who they are and their identity.”

Gina Ciliberto wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Gina is a digital writer for the Dominican Sisters of Hope. She lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
3 Strategies Today’s Activist Women Share With Their Foremothers
Me Too Creator Tarana Burke Reminds Us This Is About Black And Brown Survivors

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day!!! Let’s all celebrate our one true home! The Moon is in the fertile sign of Cancer, ideal for planting flowers, vegetables and trees and offering thanks to Mother Earth. A sweet, easy lunar sextile to Venus gets the morning started with…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

April 2018

Usui Holy Fire II Reiki I Prerequisite: a desire to learn Reiki Study includes the history of Reiki, the Reiki principles, the hand positions used to give Reiki to yourself and to others,...

Cost: $175 (pre-registration required)

Where:
The Studio at One Earth
191 Emery Mills Road
Shapleigh, ME  04076
View map »


Sponsor: The Studio at One Earth
Telephone: 207-636-2500
Contact Name: The Studio at One Earth
Website »

More information

Have you done yoga before but feel a little rusty? Haven't been on your mat in a while? Yoga Basics is a great place to begin again. Do you feel you need motivation to jump-start your...

Cost: $60

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-969-8968
Contact Name: Brian Serven
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. How do we connect with our hearts? And what keeps us from staying connected? In this...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Feel the bliss of opening your spine, while being totally supported and meticulously aligned. Great for sciatica and low back pain! Classes also held Saturday mornings.

Cost: $18 drop in

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As springtime rolls around, many of us get out our trash bags, buckets, and boxes in order to clean out and tidy up our homes and offices. Physically cleaning our spaces is great and all, but did...

Cost: Free

Where:
WeWork
31 St. James Ave
Boston, MA  02116
View map »


Sponsor: The Kabbalah Center
Website »

More information

Ayurvedic practitioner. Presenting a 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and nourishment of your body, mind and soul, inspiring results that can last a lifetime. For...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. What does it mean to be deeply touched inside? To feel something deeply? To be connected?...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Join Mediums Laura Wooster and Andrew Dee for an evening of mediumship! In addition to sharing how you also can become more aware of your connection to passed loved ones, Laura and Andrew will...

Cost: $40

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01835
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

YogaLife studio would like to offer this opportunity to slow it down, step back, notice your breath and sit quietly in community. Join us Thursdays from 5:40-6:30 PM. No Yoga...

Cost: Free

Where:
YogaLife Institute
6 Chestnut Street
Suite A
Exeter, MA  03833
View map »


Telephone: 603-969-8968
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

Friday, April 27 - Sunday, April 29, 2018 April Ropes and Ritu Kapur Sohum’s 3rd Annual Retreat will be offered in Beautiful Berkshires, The Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center in...

Cost: $385

Where:
Spirit Fire Retreat Center
407 W. Leyden Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

April 27 - 29, 2018 What if there were 5 love languages in the bedroom…and you had a secret decoder ring? Imagine the erotic satisfaction you could unlock…for yourself and for...

Cost: $1097*/couple; Early bird $997* by Feb 14, 2018

Where:
Angel’s Rest Retreat Center
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01301
View map »


Sponsor: Conscious Intimacy
Telephone: 415-244-1652
Contact Name: Brynn Bishop
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

India Discovery Center is pleased to announce the next seminar in the “Let us explore the Cultural History of India.” The fourth event entitled “Seminar on the Golden Period,...

Cost: $20

Where:
Bemis Hall
15 Bedford Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
View map »


Sponsor: India Discovery Center
Telephone: 781-259-0029
Contact Name: Bijoy Misra
Website »

More information

World Qigong Taichi Day is celebrated globally, and at Eastover, it is a day of free presentations, demonstrations and mini-classes offered by nationally recognized leaders in Taichi, Qigong,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Sponsor: Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

April 28 - 29, 2018 Led by Marconics Teacher Practitioners:  Josh Brotherton and Nadine Muhammad To register:  From US:  Tel: 774-987-9449 Email: yourhealinglight@gmail.com...

Cost: $450

Where:
Suffield Massage Therapy and Wellness Center
230 Mountain Rd
Suffield, CT  06078
View map »


Sponsor: Marconics
Telephone: 774-987-9449
Contact Name: Josh Brotherton
Website »

More information

With award winning author Nancy Smith. Starts April 28th, 7-month certification program about Akashic records. One Saturday a month, 10am - 4pm. womenofwisdominc.com

Cost: $860

Where:
Women of Wisdom
North Easton, MA


Telephone: 508-230-3860
Website »

More information

Be a part of healing history! The last saturday of April each year in hundreds of cities, spanning over 80 nations, people come together…to breath together and provide a healing vision...

Cost: Free

Where:
Elm Park
Russell St
Worcester, MA  01609
View map »


Sponsor: Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of New England
Telephone: (774) 321-6611
Contact Name: Sifu Gary
Website »

More information

2018 Eclectic-Fest! Our fourth event that is building community, celebrating all spiritual beliefs and practice. Free parking and free admission. Featuring aura photography by the...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Taunton V.F.W.
82 Ingell Street
Taunton, MA  02780


Sponsor: The Enchanted Forest Taunton
Telephone: 774-208-6195
Contact Name: Brother Granite
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags