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June 23, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – “Women over recorded history have always made an impact. … We need to improve the world where we are, as we are. This is our turn, my friends. The world we have created is [the product] of our thinking. It cannot change without changing our thinking.”
These words of encouragement came from Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, during a live-stream presentation by several Dominican Sisters who reported on their experiences of the 67th meeting of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at the United Nations in March 2023. The live stream presentation on CSW 67 by Dominican Sisters was broadcast June 20, 2023.
Founded in 1947, the CSW is “the biggest global policy entity for women by the United Nations,” explained Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP. The Commission is “driven to advance the rights of women and girls everywhere,” she said, adding that CSW 67 ended with 89 agreed conclusions.
As the Dominican Representative to the United Nations, Sister Durstyne invited Dominican Sisters from throughout the world to attend CSW 67. The Sisters stayed together at the Center at Mariandale, a retreat center owned by the Maryknoll Sisters, and commuted together daily to the United Nations to attend three or four of the many side events offered to the public. Back at Mariandale, they shared dinner and discussions about their experiences.
Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, connected the work of the CSW to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2022 Enactment on Women. The Enactment commits the Congregation to “strive to attain gender equality and women’s full and equal participation and decision making in Church and society.”
“We all agree that the realization of all human rights and the fundamental freedom of all women is essential for the empowerment of women,” Sister Kathleen said. “What is implicit in our Enactment and in the agreed conclusions [of CSW 67] is a world where women and girls have the right to live free of violence, go to school, participate in the decisions of the societies in which they live, and receive equal pay for equal work.”
Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, General Councilor, spoke to the theme of CSW 67: technology and women. “There is a need to address challenges associated with the misuse of new and emerging digital technologies which can be used to incite violence, hatred, discrimination, and hostility,” she said. “Technology can make or break a woman. It can make a woman when it is used to develop her full potential, but it breaks a woman when it is used to inflict pain and suffering in her life.”
Other Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended CSW 67 and who spoke during the presentation were Sisters Ellen Burkhardt, OP, Patricia Leonard, OP, and Judith Friedel, OP. Adrian Dominican Sister Judith Benkert, OP, also in attendance, read the written experience of Sister Sarudzai Mutero, OP, of Zimbabwe. Other presenters were Sister Philomena Benedict, OP, of England, and Sister Venentia Velase “Velie” Muthembu, OP, of South Africa. The Sisters from England and Africa represented Dominican Sisters International.
Sisters who attended the UN Session but were not quoted in the article, from left to right: Sister EllenBurkhardt, OP; Sister Judith Benkert, OP; Sister Patricia Leonard, OP; Sister Judith Friedel, OP
Watch a recording of the presentation below.
March 25, 2022, New York, New York – Women around the world are on the front lines of global climate change and, in many cases, are especially suffering because of it. Yet, in many ways, their voices still need to be heard.
That was one of the messages of a March 14, 2022, webinar, Climate Change and Environmental Injustice: Empowering Women, offered by the Dominican Sisters Conference as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) parallel event of the United Nations’ 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW66 was held March 14-25, 2022.
“The world is a web of relationships where everything is connected,” said Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, in her introduction. Sister Durstyne is the NGO Dominican Representative to the United Nations.
Sister Durstyne noted Pope Francis’ urgent appeal in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, for a new dialogue among people throughout Earth as humanity works to combat global climate change. “We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environmental challenges affect us all,” she said.
The webinar was an opportunity for about 100 participants from throughout the world to listen to four women speak about the challenges their countries face and the efforts – especially of women – to heal Earth.
Ndivile Mokoena, a committed Catholic lay woman from South Africa, said Africa has experienced many effects of climate change, such as floods and droughts, that have “already caused enormous damage and displaced thousands of people.” She said Africa is also challenged by competition for land, deforestation, and activities such as coal mining, which threaten the biodiversity of many areas.
Ndivile is involved in the social justice movement for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and works on social justice with women’s cooperatives. She spoke of the challenges faced by African women and of their involvement in sustainable practices and environmental issues. African women and girls “carry the brunt” of climate change yet are often “pushed aside” from conversations about the issue, she said.
Ndivile described climate change as an equity issue. “If you are poor, female, or otherwise marginalized, you are at great risk of losing your already limited assets, livelihood, and life from climate change impacts,” she said.
But Ndivile focused her presentation on the many ways that African women are working to build sustainability and combat climate change. Working from their traditional and indigenous knowledge, they are involved in food processing, preserving food through jams and sauces, and growing herbs and medicines to generate income for their families, Ndivile said. Because of the struggle to obtain land for this work, she added, women often approach local schools and churches and receive permission to use their land as a community farm.
Ndivile also spoke of the challenges of energy access and transition. “Electricity and [other forms of] energy are critical for driving development, but sub-Saharan Africa remains the most electricity-poor region,” she said. “Addressing this issue through the use of renewable resources provides the opportunity to support immediate development objectives to improve lives.”
Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, spoke on the variety of ways the Congregation is addressing climate change.
One way to make the Motherhouse campus sustainable is through permaculture, a system of land use that follows the patterns of nature and works with natural systems, Sister Corinne said. “We understand our ministry is to care for the Earth, the same as caring for others,” she said. “We strive to live in balance, reciprocity, and simplicity with Earth.”
Through permaculture, the Adrian Dominican Sisters engage in a number of healing policies, including:
Sister Mary Tahu Paia, a lecturer on climate change and biodiversity at Solomon Islands National University, focused on the role of women and young girls in sustainability efforts.
Women and young girls “are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive livelihoods,” she noted. Climate change affects their daily lives. With less rain and dry rivers, they have to travel farther to collect water for their family’s use. Yet, Sister Mary added, “their voices are always missing, especially in decision-making. Their realities and perspectives are mostly ignored.”
Sister Mary focuses on training and empowering women to help build resilient communities and to deal with the challenges brought about by climate change. Women in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Island Region are already involved in a number of initiatives. For example, she said, women are leading the efforts to restore the mangrove, a shrub or tree that grows in coastal waters. The mangrove attracts fish to the area, providing more food for the people, and can trap carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere 10 times faster than land trees, she explained.
Sister Mary advocated for the combined efforts of entire communities to combat climate change, and for equal access to climate finance for all people. “Climate change should provide us with a new lens to charter a new, efficient way of life in a more sustainable manner,” she said. “Women tend to have local knowledge. They should be equally participating in decisions, especially in areas that deal with the environment.”
Sister Olga Maria Botia, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation, spoke from her experience as a social worker and as a Justice and Peace Promoter in the Dominican family of the many challenges facing Colombia. These include extreme weather conditions, a collapse of ecosystems, natural disasters such as mudslides, deforestation, and a lack of government presence in their country.
“The people don’t receive any protection from the state,” she said. “It makes them vulnerable to being invaded by corporations. They become vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and drug trafficking.”
Sister Olga said local communities need to work together against climate change. “It is necessary to join forces so that we can find solutions to these environmental and social problems,” she said, noting that women have always been effective in community efforts.
Finally, paraphrasing Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, Sister Olga advocated for three movements: dialogue to listen to the cries of the poor, especially women; education to empower women with practical knowledge, so that they can fight for their rights; and work, the creation of jobs “not only as remuneration but also as a sign of dignity.”
The webinar concluded with time for the presenters and audience members to discuss the challenges involved in sustainability, global climate change, women’s roles in efforts to heal Earth, and the need to work with young people. “There’s no doubt about it, we have to include everyone,” Sister Durstyne concluded. “This is our world, and we need to work together to help the world.”