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Dominican Representative to the UN Addresses Women’s Rights and Issues

March 9, 2020, United Nations – Women have seen great progress in their rights through the years, but much work still needs to be done toward gender equality and empowerment.

That was the assessment of Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican representative at the United Nations, as she contemplated the status of women ahead of March 8, 2020, International Women’s Day.

Since being selected recently by the Dominican Sisters Conference to fill her new position, Sister Durstyne has been involved with the Commission on the Status of Women, a UN organization established by the Economic and Social Council to promote women’s rights and to monitor their status throughout the world.

The Commission’s annual two-week session – which includes official meetings and public “side events” of workshops, presentations, and other events to explore the status of women – was scheduled for March 2020. The session was canceled to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The 64th session would have marked the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, the fourth world conference on women, which set forth a platform and a number of areas of concern to be addressed worldwide. These included the “persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women,” unequal access to education and training, violence against women and the effects of war on women, and “lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women.”

In the past few months, in preparation for the sessions, commissions of women have been studying the Beijing Platform to see if new language needs to be added, Sister Durstyne said. “Twenty-five years ago we weren’t talking about the climate,” but now the climate crisis needs to be discussed in light of its impact on women and their families, she said.

Sister Durstyne has seen progress in the status of women. “Just look at our political situation in the United States,” she said. “We don’t have a woman president yet and I’m not sure we will in 2020 – but maybe in 2024.” Yet, the performance of the female candidates for nomination by the Democratic Party showcased their “amazing abilities,” she added.

But Sister Durstyne sees the need for much more progress for women in the United States and around the world and noted that women have made varying levels of progress in different parts of the world. “I think all women want the same thing in many ways, but how far do they have to go? How close are they to getting gender equality in Vietnam or Latin America?”

Sister Durstyne hopes for a more sustainable world, including economic sustainability. “Economic sustainability will come from gender equality,” she said. “We still have to raise the level of women’s status in the world, wherever they’re coming from, and see that their hopes and desires are recognized and held up so that change can happen in our world. Change can’t happen with over half the population in the world excluded from engagement with civil society.”

Women’s overall status is affected by their economic status, Sister Durstyne said, noting that homelessness at the global level involves more and more women. “The fact that women have a responsibility for their families is a huge aspect” of their need for economic equality, she added.

Sister Durstyne also sees the need for women to be affirmed in their leadership roles. Women and men “have to honor one another’s leadership roles and competency,” she said. She gave the example of the Catholic Church, which “needs to strengthen its relationship with women and call on more women in leadership.”

The various congregations of women religious present at the United Nations – Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, Dominicans, and Franciscans – are serving as a model of leadership development for young women, Sister Durstyne said. “We’re all here because we want to promote the leadership of women,” she said. “We’re doing it by inviting young interns to work with us, helping young women to see what contributions they can make to the sustainability and development of all people – not just women.”

Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates Live out Call to Work for Social Justice

Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates join in the 2017 Climate March.

February 20, 2020, Adrian, Michigan
– As we celebrate World Day of Social Justice on February 20, 2020, a number of Adrian Dominican Sisters reflect on their call as Christians and as Dominicans to work toward social justice and to advocate for those who are denied it in any way.

“Our commitment to peace and social justice is very Dominican,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office for Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation. “It’s part of our DNA because of our charism of searching for truth and speaking truth – veritas. There’s no greater truth than the Gospel call to justice and following in the Gospel values.” 

Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, front right, and other Dominicans in the Houston, Texas, area at the Houston Lights for Liberty rally, advocating for immigrants.

Members of the Dominican Order work together to respond to social justice issues. The International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace is made up of Justice and Peace Promoters of the world’s regions and continents. Each of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Mission Chapters has a Justice and Peace Promoter to help coordinate the efforts of the Chapter in various issues of peace and justice.  

Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter, said the Florida Mission Chapter has worked for years advocating for the repeal of the death penalty in their state. Sister Patricia has also been very active in working toward a just immigration reform and just treatment of immigrants. A nurse practitioner, she serves every Saturday at clinics in Mexico for people who live in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in the United States.

The Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, has been working on immigration issues for years. Sisters and Associates “respond to the social, educational, legal, and spiritual needs of documented or undocumented immigrants” through service such as weekly prayer at a detention center for immigrants, observing and reporting on court procedures for detainees, and serving as literacy tutors. 

Associate Peggy Treece Myles, left, and Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, stand in front of the Nuns on the Bus at its stop in South Bend, Indiana, during the 2018 tour on tax justice.

Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, participates in a monthly public witness in Chicago with Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants,” she said. “We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”

Sister Judy Byron, OP, Program Director for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (ICPJ) based in Seattle, Washington, said much of the organization’s work deals with justice for women, such as those who work in agriculture and are subjected to sexual abuse. The ICPJ also offers programs to educate the public about human trafficking and, from its beginnings in the 1990s, with the housing issue. 

Sister Virginia King, OP – Justice and Peace Promoter for the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter based in Detroit – has focused on climate change since she ministered in California. Climate change “is aggravated by our use of coal and gas,” she said. “Green energy is where I’ve put some energy and focus to address climate change, to use less of the polluting energies and more of the green energies.”

Sister May Cano, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter based in the Philippines, deals with a variety of issues in her work with the Diocese of Kalookan. She also has a unique focus, working with family members of victims of extrajudicial killings – people killed, with the permission of the government, because they are suspected of being drug dealers or users.

Sister Cathy Olds, OP, right, helps prepare a meal for immigrants staying at Annunciation House, a hospitality house in El Paso, Texas, for immigrants coming out of detention.

While the Sisters and Associates might focus on different specific justice issues, they see those issues as connected.  “They’re all part of the whole,” Sister Kathleen said. “We need to see those [issues] as connected, as respect for life – all life, not just human life. All life is the issue.”

Sister Janice Holkup, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Dominican West Mission Chapter said justice work is “all about values. My values are human values, values that support justice for all.”

The Sisters also recognize their justice work as rooted in the Gospel and their faith.  “Since from initial formation and as a young religious, I was exposed and had worked for justice and peace,” Sister May said. “I am inspired by the Gospel of truth, to proclaim the Gospel to the lowly, free the prisoners, and so on.” 

Sister Patricia agrees. “My faith life is based on the Gospel, and that’s where I learned what justice and peace means – through what I read and through what Jesus teaches me through the Gospel,” she said. 

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, left, and Associate Patricia Gillis attend the People’s Climate March in April 2017.

Many of the Sisters said their justice ministry is a challenge because there is widespread injustice. “You have to figure out where you’re going to put your energies,” said Sister Virginia. Sister Judy said added challenges are the need to raise funds for resources and the political environment.

But the Sisters also find hope as they continue in their justice advocacy. Sister Patricia finds hope in the immigrants and asylum seekers. “The people are in such dire circumstances,” she said. But “along with their faith, they have hope that things will be better for them.” She is also encouraged by the number of younger people who are becoming involved in work for social justice. 

“If enough people come together, we can make a difference for the common good,” Sister Janice said.

More information on how Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates are involved in justice issues can be found on the Congregation’s Engaged in the Mission page. The website also offers opportunities to advocate for justice and peace through its action alert page.



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