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April 1, 2021, New York, New York – Women are strong, but they face obstacles to full equality with men, such gender violence and the lack of support from their cultures. In their efforts for equality, women seek to improve the lives of their entire community: women, men, and children.
That was part of the message of women from five continents who spoke on a panel sponsored by the Dominican Leadership Conference, which represents the worldwide Dominican family at the United Nations. Collaborating in this event were Domuni Universitas, an international online Dominican University, and Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, United Nations NGO representative of the Dominican Sisters Conference. Sister Durstyne is involved with the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
The webinar, “Changing our Narrative One Story at a Time,” was held on March 26, 2021, the final day of the 2021 World Conference on Women. The panel was presented in English, French, Spanish, and Aramaic, with instantaneous translations available in the preferred language of each webinar participant.
The panel discussion was facilitated by Carly Wood, a native of the United Kingdom and now living in Norway. She is Head of English Studies at Domuni Universitas.
Some of the members of the panel shown are, clockwise from top left, Carly Wood, Facilitator; Dr. Nontando Hadebe from Africa; Kateri Mitchell, a Native American; and Sister Manjula Tuscano from India.
Dr. Nontando Hadebe, of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, emphasized the basic strength of African women, but noted that they face obstacles to full equality with men.
“I will use the icon identified with African women: the three legged pot,” Dr. Hadebe said. The three legs represent national constitutions, culture, and religion. “A woman might receive all the opportunities through the constitution but when she enters into the cultural place, she is required to take a subordinate position to men – and this happens also in some religions,” she explained.
Dr. Hadebe said the Circle of Concerned African American Theologians uses the methodology of story-telling in its efforts to empower women. “We don’t use a text book but work with women’s stories on the way to liberation, to draw aspects of culture and religion that affirm women,” she said. The women’s stories point to patterns such as violence against women – even in their own homes – and to interpretations of Scripture that marginalize and subordinate women.
While affirming the value and dignity of women, Dr. Hadebe said, the theology of the Circle affirms the dignity of all people. “Together we have created a religion or a culture that has had a negative impact on women, so together we can create a new story,” she said.
Dr. Marie Monnet, an attorney and Vice-Rector of Domuni Universitas, spoke of the leadership of women and the difficulty that some men have in accepting it. “What happens is not the realization of power but the perception of power, because humanity has not yet gotten used to the power of women,” she explained. “To be subordinate to another man for a man is not difficult, but for a man to be subordinate to a woman is raising questions.”
Dr. Monnet spoke of a feminine model of leadership based on women’s status and dignity as daughters of God. God is manifested in women as well as men, she said. She encouraged a leadership model for both women and men based on Jesus’ call in Matthew 20, that those who have power over others should be their servants.
Attorney Laura Elizabeth Díaz Gómez – a member of an organization of lawyers working with indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico – spoke of her organization’s efforts to defend the rights of women and to train them to defend their own rights.
“It is important for us to share our experience of struggle in the work we are doing,” she said. The women have been organized as “weavers, heads of family, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, professionals, and transmitters of success from generation to generation.” With those efforts, she said, the women are ultimately recognized as members of a community who participate in decision-making processes.
Sister Manjula Tuscano, an attorney and social worker, focused on her work in India. “My message to everyone when I go to the villages is that we are all equals, all of us walking together,” she said. In India, her work is to help create families in which men and women are equals.
Sister Manjula said she is working toward the day when women are seen as equal to men. “They have the right to live in human dignity and they have the right to live in equality,” she noted.
Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Mohawk woman from North America, gave a message of hope for women and for the world, in spite of the damage caused to the Indigenous peoples of North America with the arrival of colonists from Europe.
“We cannot allow our past hurts to destroy our inner spirit,” Sister Kateri said. “We need to move forward beyond the dark sky and find hope in a new sunrise.” She noted women’s special role as life givers, and their sacred relationship to Mother Earth. Women today are growing stronger and stronger in their healing efforts for themselves, their children, and their families, she said.
“Our women are discovering their own truth and self-worth,” Sister Kateri said. She compared this new awareness to seeds planted in Mother Earth and nurtured, creating new life. “One sees new life coming above the ground, and soon stems, leaves, and blossoms are ready to flower – soon a whole garden and then beautiful fields of blossoms ready for the world to see a new generation of women…with a strong inner spirit who are ready to share and fulfill their purpose in life.”
Women and Men Working Together
During a question and answer session, panelists discussed the role men can play in fostering a culture of equality of women and men. Dr. Hadebe noted men’s organizations are working with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, helping men to become more aware of the different experiences of men and women.
“It’s an ongoing process,” she said. “I have a friend who is in a wheelchair. For me to understand my privilege as an able-bodied person, I need to listen to her about her disabilities and how people perceive her.”
In the same way, she encouraged men to listen to women about their experiences, but also to help other men to understand women’s experiences. “Become an ally of women or stand up for women when a predator’s statement is made,” she said.
Dr. Monnet encouraged men to “share in their responsibilities of the world, so that women are part of history and become examples to little girls, the women of tomorrow.”
Sister Durstyne concluded the webinar with gratitude for all who were involved. “You have widened the space for women,” she said. “We call on our sisters throughout the world to be brave.”
Feature photo: Image Courtesy of Body Liberation Photos
June 18, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – On the fifth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, U.S. congregations of Dominican Sisters announced the launching of a strategic investment initiative in collaboration with Morgan Stanley to address climate change, especially as it affects marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by global warming. The Sisters committed $46,650,000 to the initiative, seeding Climate Solutions Funds that have attracted more than $130,000,000 in capital investments.
“Dominicans have long been engaged in addressing issues related to poverty and Earth’s degradation,” said Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “Today we are extending these efforts to Wall Street by proactively investing in marketplace climate solutions that we hope will have a catalyzing impact for the common good of people and planet.”
Leaders of 16 congregations of Dominican Sisters, representing nearly 3,500 Catholic Sisters from Washington to New York and Texas to Michigan, are participating in this collaborative initiative in partnership with the Chicago office of Graystone Consulting Group, a women-led institutional consulting practice which is part of Morgan Stanley. The Sisters’ anchor investments in this initiative have attracted additional investors, providing a pool of more than $130 million for investment in climate solutions that integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on water, sanitation, food security, energy, and related challenges facing economically impoverished communities.
“We are bringing these resources to the marketplace to help address our deep concern about the integrity of God’s creation and the people most impacted by climate change,” Sister Patricia said. “Although we initiated this effort well before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global pandemic has underscored the link between climate change and ecological degradation and the health and wellbeing of people, especially those most vulnerable.”
The initiative, five years in the making, has attracted numerous other investors. Séamus P. Finn, OMI, Chief of Faith Consistent Investing of the Oblate International Pastoral (OIP) Investment Trust, said, “The OIP Trust is excited by the opportunity to join the Dominican-Climate fund and was especially attracted by the insight and innovation that is at the core of the fund’s approach. The vision for the fund is grounded in the transformation of the current financial system and gives priority to people, planet and sustainability.”
Lisa Zuckerman, Vice President of Treasury and Strategic Investing for CommonSpirit Health, said, “CommonSpirit Health is a long-standing socially responsible investor, and we are grateful for opportunities with like-minded investors that align with our values and create healthier communities. We seek strong social returns as well as financial returns. With its focus on climate change, the Climate Impact Solutions Fund helps address a pressing global health issue,” she said, adding, “When we can meet our financial goals, we are able to spread our healing mission to more people.”
Sister Patricia noted, “We are delighted that this integrated approach to climate investing has attracted other investors and investment managers, helping to scale this kind of approach to climate finance globally.”
The unusual partnership between U.S. Catholic Sisters and a global Wall Street investment firm emerged from a commitment the Dominican Sisters made as a Conference in 2015 to “develop an appropriate strategy to promote investment in climate solutions.” The commitment, made prior to the Paris Climate Agreement, was the fruit of a yearlong faith-praxis cycle of study, contemplation and action developed by the Earth Council of northeast Dominican congregations that had engaged Dominicans throughout the United States.
A Sisters’ Climate Finance Taskforce was formed, reaching out to more than three dozen financial institutions in search of a manager that would develop financial products addressing climate change and integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “We found that manager in The Graystone Consulting Group of Morgan Stanley,” said Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, a longtime corporate-responsibility advocate, who played a leading role on the taskforce and in forging the partnership. “This marks a new moment of collaboration in the world of finance. May this milestone spark a new movement of integrated climate solutions that are responsive to Pope Francis’ moral call to humanity in Laudato Si’ to care for God’s creation and God’s people,” she said.
Two years ago, on June 18, 2018, leaders of the 16 congregations gathered at the global headquarters of Morgan Stanley on Times Square to celebrate the inauguration of the initiative with their anchor commitments. The Sisters were hosted by officers from Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing and Graystone Consulting Institutional Consultants Kristina Van Liew and Linda Stephans.
“Partnering with Morgan Stanley’s Graystone Consulting, we seek to identify models for faith-based organizations and other institutions and individuals to proactively invest in climate solutions that will help our world shift to a renewables-based economy while assisting the neediest communities around the globe,” Sister Patricia said. “We want to do all we can to protect Earth, our common home, and help safeguard the future for young people today and for generations to come.”
Sister Patricia noted that their integrated approach to climate finance echoes the call Pope Francis issued in Laudato Si’ for “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature” (139). The initiative is aligned with efforts that Catholic Sisters around the world have undertaken for years to address issues related to poverty and ecological degradation. These include support for affordable housing and healthcare, education, microenterprise, community development, as well as clean water, land conservation, renewable energy, Earth literacy programs, wetlands restoration, and advocacy for climate agreements and programs serving people with low incomes, among others.
The 16 congregations of Dominican Sisters participating in this collaboration, and the congregational leaders giving voice to the statements are:
Adrian Dominican Sisters (Michigan) Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress
Amityville Dominican Sisters (New York) Peggy McVetty OP, Prioress
Blauvelt Dominican Sisters (New York) Michaela Connolly, OP, Prioress
Caldwell Dominican Sisters (New Jersey) Patrice Werner, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Hope (Ossining, New York) Catherine McDonnell, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Houston (Texas) Donna Pollard, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Peace (Columbus, Ohio) Patricia Twohill, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (Wisconsin) Toni Harris, OP, Prioress
Dominican Srs of St. Catherine of Siena (Saratoga, Calif.) Susan Snyder, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids (Michigan) Sandra Delgado, OP, Prioress
Dominican Sisters of Sparkill (New York) Mary Murray, OP, President
Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic (New York) Antoinette Guztler, OP, President
Mission San Jose Dominican Sisters (Fremont, California) Cecilia Canales, OP, Prioress
San Rafael Dominican Sisters (California) Carla Kovack, OP, Prioress
Springfield Dominican Sisters (Illinois) Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, Prioress
Tacoma Dominican Sisters (Washington) Sharon Casey, OP, Past President
U.S. Catholic Sisters, including congregations of Dominican Sisters, are financially independent of the Roman Catholic Church. Their revenues come from the ministerial earnings of their Sisters, which are pooled along with donations in support of their mission, social security payments, and earnings on investment of these resources.