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New York, New York, March 27, 2023 – In the midst of Women’s History Month, three Dominican Sisters spoke of their efforts to empower women in rural areas around the world. They spoke on March 14, 2023, during the 67th Session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), held March 6-17, 2023.
Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, as representative of the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC) at the United Nations, facilitated the webinar.
Sister Elsa Myriam Londoña, OP, spoke of her experiences of accompanying the people in rural Ecuador, coming into relationship with families and forming them into service to the Church and the world. “This is a methodology that we use in our work: perceive the reality as it is, embrace this reality, understand, and take action at the same time,” she said.
In her ministry, she strives to form a group of Servers of the Word in each community to celebrate the sacraments, participate in pastoral care, and work together. One focus is the celebration of life at all stages and all seasons, she said. The biggest challenges Sister Elsa sees include taking care of the environment, organizing women, and training in human and social ventures.
Sister Elsa spoke of the key role of women in protecting the planet. “The woman is the one who always takes care of the land,” she said. The women follow their ancestral practices of natural medicine, promoting food security in their communities, and taking up the struggle to maintain a healthy environment, she said.
“The mission of consecrated women today begins with the understanding of our identity and the work within the Church – a lifestyle that has to be permeated by values – values that go through listening, through the relationship of care, through radicality, through tenacity to offer life,” Sister Elsa concluded. “These are the faces of the women we accompany – women working to organize themselves.”
Sister Nicole Kabore spoke of the many challenges and inequalities that women face daily in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, in West Africa. “One of the consequences of poverty is that women are treated poorly,” she explained. “She has to take care of the family. She’s responsible for feeding, healthcare, education, and all the responsibilities of the family,” including working outside the home if the family needs more money.
Because mothers and daughters are responsible for the household tasks, they rarely have the time to attend school – and priority is given to the education of boys, Sister Nicole said. Because of their lack of education, women are often treated poorly and, when they need to work, are relegated to menial work and work in the fields, she explained.
Sister Nicole also pointed to women in Burkina Faso who face particular difficulties: those who cannot have children and are blamed for this, even if they might not be the cause of infertility, and widows who have no support. A widow “loses all her privileges,” she explained. “Familial goods are confiscated by her husband’s family.” If the husband’s family tells her to marry one of his brothers and she refuses, she is often banished from the family.
A goal of the ministry in Burkina Faso is to teach women that they have rights, Sister Nicole said. “Women have the right to express themselves but this is the real challenge, especially in certain cultures,” she said. “Very few women have a voice in the nature of decisions that are made in regard to their community. We try to help them gain their voice.”
Sister Teresa, of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation, focused her talk on the Marie Poussepin Center (MPC), a boarding school for girls that her Sisters operate in the town of Guaimaca, Honduras. The MPC gives girls the opportunity for education that they ordinarily would not have in a society in which education of girls ends after sixth grade.
“Their education [at the boarding school] is in God, faith, and studies,” Sister Teresa explained. “Education is integral. We try to teach them things that would give them many resources so they can do better in life,” such as culinary and sewing skills, agriculture practices, medicinal plants, work in the environment, technology, and appreciation of their own culture.
“It’s beautiful to see what the girls know,” Sister Teresa said. “They don’t want to leave anybody in their family who can’t write. They’re helping to teach everybody, helping them to reach at least sixth grade.”
Sister Teresa said the boarding school has already come to a harvest. Many of its graduates go on to colleges and universities – some in the United States – and have chosen careers in areas such as nursing, agricultural engineering, business, psychology, and agronomy.
“The most beautiful part of this is that we work with a team of volunteers who put their talents and gifts at the service of others,” including many Dominican Volunteers, Sister Teresa said. She invited Sisters throughout the world who are looking for an opportunity to be of service to spend some months or years in service at the Marie Poussepin Center. “We would receive you with open arms,” she said.
In concluding the webinar, Sister Durstyne noted that a fourth Dominican Sister – Sister Monica from Pakistan – was unable to join the webinar because of technological issues. “We thank our sisters for their personal stories in working with women’s empowerment,” Sister Durstyne said. “Your work reminds us that no woman must be left behind. May we continue to raise the voice and the power of women through the help of one another and the power of God.”
March 6, 2023, Lansing, Michigan – About 20 Adrian Dominican Sisters and friends joined a delegation of more than 140 Michigan advocates, lobbying their legislators at the Michigan State Capitol for the passage of a bill that would again permit immigrants – regardless of documentation – the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license. For years, Michigan had such a law, but it was rescinded in 2008. The 2023 bill to reinstate that practice is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.
Drive Safe Advocacy Day was organized and sponsored by Strangers No Longer (SNL), a network of Circles of Support in Catholic parishes, congregations, schools, and immigrant communities to support immigrants, advocate for a comprehensive and humane immigration policy, and educate the public.
The Advocacy Day involved scheduled, 20-minute meetings of the advocates with their legislators. In all, 27 state representatives and 18 state senators met with their constituents to discuss the issue of allowing immigrants to have a driver’s license. Advocates came from around the state, from organizations such as Catholic and Protestant parishes; Catholic schools; immigration advocacy organizations; and congregations of women religious. In addition, participants met at the end of the day to share their experiences.
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney and Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office, spoke in an interview before the event of the hardship of not having a driver’s license places on undocumented immigrants. “Especially in rural Michigan, there is no way for people to get around to any place – to go any place,” without a driver’s license, she said. “People are forced to drive without a license” in order to get to work or take their children to school, daily risking arrest and even deportation if they are stopped – and risking the safety of others who share the road with them, she said.
“In the past, there were no questions asked about immigration status” when an immigrant applied for a driver’s license, Sister Attracta explained. “You need a form of ID.” But if immigrants are not permitted to get a driver’s license, they are also not permitted even a state ID. Having some state identification “gives them some security when they go to pick up a prescription or at other times when they need to be identified.”
Sister Attracta cited incidents in which immigrants working with the courts for their immigration status had to pay people to drive them to go to court, to visit her office, or to take their children to school. “This is so unfair and unjust because if they had a driver’s license, they would at least have that much security – and it would save them a lot of money,” she said. “For many of them, it’s almost impossible. Many lose their jobs because they can’t get back and forth to work.”
In its suggested script for the meetings, SNL offered a similar rationale for the bill. “Most of us take for granted life’s routine tasks, such as driving to work, going to a doctor’s appointment, taking a child to school, going to church, or picking up groceries. All of these situations require a driver’s license.” In the script, SNL also emphasized that the bill would make provisions to ensure that immigrants who are not U.S. citizens would not receive voter registration – a concern of many who oppose the suggested law.
Most members of the Adrian Dominican contingent met with State Representative Dale Zorn (R-Onsted), each in turn speaking of personal experiences with immigrants and offering her own reasons for backing the legislation. A group of five Adrian Dominican Sisters brought forward the same case to State Senator Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe). In addition, the Adrian Dominican contingent was invited to a short, impromptu meeting with Senator Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Senate Majority Leader, who encouraged them in their efforts to lobby for the legislation.
State Rep. Dale Zorn discusses the proposal for a bill to permit all immigrants – regardless of status – to apply for a driver’s license.
“I found Dale Zorn to be a listening person,” said Sister Carleen Maly, OP. “I think we were mutually engaged because of his interest in clarifying what the need was.” As Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, Sister Carleen is a long-time advocate for immigrants. “My personal reasons are our learners who are immigrants, primarily from Mexico.” She said 70% of the literacy center’s learners come from Mexico and another 20% from other Spanish-speaking countries. “For me, it’s personal from hearing their stories,” she said.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, an Adrian Dominican Sister who lives in Warren, Michigan, met with her State Representative, Lori Stone (D-Warren). “She was so supportive,” Sister Ginny said. “She has supported previous times [a similar bill] has been introduced, but it’s never made it through.”
Sister Ginny noted the complications that arise for immigrants who are not permitted to get a driver’s license. “If you get into an accident, you lose everything if you are driving illegally,” she said. Immigrants need to have the legal ability to drive to work and to other daily activities, she said, adding the importance of treating all people with dignity. “We’re a country of immigrants,” Sister Ginny said. “We have to be welcoming.”
Sister Helene Kloss, OP, who recently moved to Adrian from Florida said the experience “was an eye-opener for me. I learned a lot listening to the questions and the experiences … of the other Sisters.” She said the idea of not having access to a driver’s license for the daily activities of life – taking children to school, going to a hospital, going to work – was new to her. Sister Helene said she was grateful for the opportunity to “show support for those who don’t have much, and they need to be able to drive.”
Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, was among the Sisters meeting with Rep. Zorn. “I got energy from talking to other people.” She added the participants in the meeting with Rep. Zorn were “engaging and alive about what is still to be done.” She was also impressed by the staff members and secretaries of the legislators, who were “very engaging and really seemed to be on top of why we were there – and thanked us for coming.” She was also impressed by the students who attended.
Sister Beverly Stark, OP, said she was impressed by a group of young immigrant students she’d seen, and the impact that they had on the legislator they met with. She said that her own participation in the lobby day was an important aspect of her own efforts at justice and peace. “I’ve had a long commitment to social justice, and I could see that this was an issue that demanded social justice and was willing to do what I could to help bring it about.”
Sister Patricia added her own commitment to advocating for the immigrants and for anybody who doesn’t have a voice. “We are speaking for the people to bring about justice,” she said. “I thought it was a solid use of our time and I think we made an impact as an organization.”
Feature photo at top: Members of the Adrian Dominican contingent head into the Michigan State Capitol for the Immigration Advocacy Day.