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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.”