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May 3, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – People who migrate from their home countries in Central America or other regions of the world do so largely out of desperation and the need for survival.
That was the message that Karla Rivas, a journalist and activist from Honduras, brought to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse Campus April 19, 2023, on the first day of an eight-city, 15-day tour of the United States. Karla spoke to the Sisters from her own experience as an award-winning journalist for Jesuit-sponsored Radio Progreso, an independent radio station in Honduras. She coordinates the radio station’s Network with Migrants in Central America, as well as the Jesuit Reflection, Research, and Communication Team (ERIC).
Also making the tour was Reynaldo Dominguez, a water defender from Guapinol, Tocoa, Honduras, whose brother Aly was assassinated on January 7, 2023, for defending the health of the country’s rivers. He spent his first full day in Detroit.
Speaking through a translator – Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP – Karla noted the difficult conditions that compel people from Central America to flee their homeland. “It’s a condition to save their own lives that pushes them out of their own country,” she said. “Seven out of 10 of our citizens are poor and do not have the basic necessities covered with what they earn.”
The lives of people in Honduras are also threatened by gangs and organized crime. In addition, activists who attempt to protect their land and water from exploitation have been targeted and killed. In many cases, Karla added, young people flee Honduras for fear of being arrested under suspicion of being involved in gangs or other crimes, she said. Under the current “state of exception” – martial law – they can be arrested and detained with no evidence of any wrong-doing.
Karla spoke of the danger that migrants from many countries face as they struggle to enter the United States through Mexico. Many must pass through the jungle of Panama – often walking “five, six, seven days without eating, without being assured of any protection or food,” and facing possible human rights violations as they cross into other countries on the way to Mexico and the United States, she said.
Because so many people pass through Mexico to get to the United States, “Mexico has become the new frontier of the United States – and Guatemala, being the next country over, has become the second in importance,” Karla said. “So, the frontier of the United States keeps getting farther and father south. In the same way, the pressure from the south of people trying to go north continues and puts a pressure on those new frontier countries.”
But Karla finished her presentation on a positive note, on the benefits of migration. “Migration really is or can be a mutually enriching experience,” she said. She spoke of the “broad gamut of possibilities which collaboration – being together, coming together, thinking together, sharing together – give us to create a new future for ourselves … I’m learning today and will be learning from other groups here [in the United States] that open us up to new possibilities of what we can create.”
Karla’s brief visit to Adrian included a tour of Adrian Rea Literacy Center, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and offering one-on-one tutoring of English as a Second Language to the majority of students; a tour of the Congregation’s Permaculture gardens; an informal lunch with the committee of Sisters who planned Karla’s visit; and the presentation.
Karla continued her tour in Detroit, beginning with a formal dinner at the University of Detroit-Mercy. The tour also included stops in Cleveland, Ohio; Omaha, Nebraska; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Atlanta.
The tour was organized to educate people in the United States about the struggles of migrants and of environmental activists in Honduras to defend their water and land from corporations and government seeking to exploit the natural resources of Earth.
The tour was sponsored and organized by the SHARE Foundation, which for more than 40 years has focused on building solidarity among the people of El Salvador, Honduras, and the United States through a model of mutual accompaniment. The SHARE Foundation also sponsors delegations of people from the United States to El Salvador and Honduras to learn about their struggles.
In December 2022, two Adrian Dominican Sisters participated in a delegation co-sponsored by the SHARE Foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
Watch Karla’s entire presentation below.
April 27, 2023, New York, New York – Seven Adrian Dominican Sisters joined Dominican Sisters from throughout the world in attending a key event for women: The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 67) – and came away with insights and a greater desire to speak up for women in issues.
Women’s issues have been a key interest for Adrian Dominican Sisters and CSW 67 was a fitting way for many to learn about the status of women around the world. At the Congregation’s General Chapter in June 2022, delegates approved an Enactment on Women, in which the Sisters strive “to attain gender equality and women’s full and equal participation and decision making in Church and society.”
“This is something I’ve wanted to attend because of the significance of it – women coming from all around the world to talk about the plight of women and raise their voices,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Earth. “I don’t know if there’s any other platform for women to come together to that degree – all these voices saying the same thing: that women matter.”
Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the Dominican Representative at the United Nations, invited members of the Congregation to attend CSW 67 March 6-17, 2023. Along with Sisters Durstyne and Kathleen, Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended the event were Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Ellen Burkhardt, OP, Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Judy Friedel, OP, Patricia Leonard, OP, and Patricia McDonald, OP. They were joined by Dominican Sisters Philomena Benedict, of the United Kingdom; Venetia (Veille), of South Africa, a member of the Dominican Sisters International (DSI) Coordinating Committee; Rose Mai Kim Pham, of Vietnam; Sarudzai, of Zimbabwe; and Maria deJesus, of Ecuador.
“We were able to attend three or four meetings throughout the day,” Sister Kathleen said. They then spent the evening sharing insights they had gained. “That was really a special time, because we were creating a sense of community with each other,” she said.
Gender Equality and Technology
Many of the Dominican Sisters who attended CSW 67 were struck by the theme of gender equality and technology. “In so many countries, women are left out of education and even [from] having access to digital technology,” Sister Kathleen said. At the same time, CSW 67 focused on the ways that digital technology was used “as an instrument of violence against women.” She gave the example of online pornography and of social media platforms in which women are coerced into activities such as sharing sexual photos of themselves – and then blackmailed with the threat of revealing these activities to their families.
“Technology can make or break a woman,” said Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, a member of the Congregation’s General Council who, in her native Philippines, has been working with abused women. She is the General Council Liaison to the Women Circle, a group of Sisters who are focusing on the Enactment on Women. “It can make a woman when it is used to develop the full potential of women, so they can become self-actualized. But it can also be used to keep tracking women wherever they go,” leading to cyber-sex.
While Sister Bless said she appreciates intervention programs – to help women already harmed by technology – she especially favors prevention programs. “When a woman is abused, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” she said. “Can we prevent damage?”
Many of the Sisters were impressed with the efforts of the United Kingdom to sanction people who use technology to abuse women. The national leaders “wanted Great Britain to be the safest place in the world for women because of the laws they’re hoping to make – groundbreaking,” Sister Ellen Burkhardt, OP, said. “Once [these laws] can happen in England, [they] can happen anywhere.” She stressed that national leaders need to set sanctions so high that they would truly affect the financial wellbeing of people who violate them.
Other Sisters focused on the benefits of digital technology and on the need for women to have greater access to it. One focus of the meeting was on “educating women so that they can become creators of the tech world out there,” Sister Judy Friedel, OP, said.
Sister Judy expressed her belief that technology can unite people. Through technology, we can “educate other people who aren’t at that point yet,” she said. “There can be a lot of shared experience. That’s the power of technology. We can learn from each other without going to another country.”
Challenges and Inspirations
Sister Kathleen spoke of the many events that she attended in which she learned about various forms of abuse against women. She was especially surprised by a session on child marriages in the United States. “The United States is the only country in the world that has laws on the books that allow child marriage,” she said. She spoke of a movement to abolish these archaic laws that still exist in various parts of the United States.
Her greatest challenge, though, was having to choose which side events and programs to attend – “not being able to talk to every person you run into, to learn from every woman who was there and wanting to have as many experiences as possible.”
She was especially impressed by a young women who spoke about creative programs to help communities on the margins and by the passion of many of the Dominican Sisters from other countries. “Being with these young women each night, sharing the experience with them, gives you a lot of hope.”
Sister Ellen was impressed by the caliber of the participants in CSW 67 and its side events. “Walking through the United Nations, every time you stepped into a session or walked down the hall, there were so many people from so many countries,” she said. “To see women from all over the world who were very well educated very well spoken and working to bring other women along – that was the biggest take-away. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Sister Judy came away from CSW 67 challenged and inspired. “I have to commit myself to be further educated,” she said. “I learned a lot. There’s a lot more to learn.” Being part of the Women Circle that focuses on the Enactment on Women will keep her faithfully involved in her studies, she added. Her challenge is to “become even more actively involved as time and energy permit.”
Sima Bahous, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, issued a statement at the end of CSW 67, noting the milestone event that “set the global normative framework on gender equality, technology and innovation that will shape the lives of women and girls right across the world.” Read her statement here.
Sisters who attended the UN Session but were not quoted in the article, from left to right: Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP; Sister Judith Benkert, OP; Sister Patricia Leonard, OP; Sister Patricia McDonald, OP