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New York, New York, November 15, 2023 – Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the United Nations is a set of objectives that it’s been working on since 2015: its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). That’s one situation that Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican Representative to the United Nations, hopes to rectify soon.
Originally called the Millennial Goals, the SDGs were established in 2015, with the objective of completing them by 2030 – a deadline that Sister Durstyne doesn’t believe will be met. The goals range from No Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Good Health and Well-being to Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions and Partnerships for the Goals.
“In the United States, most people don’t know what the goals are, and they don’t realize how much we’re each impacted,” Sister Durstyne said. “They’re about us and about our environment, protecting the planet and us. We’re trying to protect the Earth and humanity, especially in peace and security.”
Sister Durstyne described the goals as “pathways to tackle the problems of hunger, environmental degradation, and so on.” She explained that each goal includes indicators: areas that need to be addressed for the goal to be accomplished.
“They’re for the benefit of the world, for all countries,” Sister Durstyne said. For example, she said that reaching the goal of Quality Education (No. 4) would ensure that women and girls in Afghanistan are permitted an education, thus helping support and build up their families and nation. But the goal also benefits local children, ensuring they can access quality education. “We have to keep educating girls because they are our future, our hope that this world will become more equal and that we will become more life-giving,” she said.
Sister Durstyne recommended that the worldwide Dominican family focus on Climate Action (No. 13) and Gender Equality (No. 5). “So many of our Dominican Sisters live in Africa, where [women] don’t have any equality,” she said.
She also related a few of the goals to the Enactments that Adrian Dominican Sisters adopted during its 2022 General Chapter. “Our Enactments are in tune with the SDGs,” she said. “Gender Equality is so much in tune with our Enactment on Women. We are trying to bring about gender equality for all women worldwide so that they can exercise their own decision-making and leadership skills.”
Three SDGs particularly in tune with the Congregation’s Sustainability Enactment are Clean Water and Sanitation (No. 6), Climate Action (13), and Life on Land (No. 15), which address environmental issues such as forest management, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. The Congregation lives out its Sustainability Enactment and makes progress on the above SDGs through efforts in its Permaculture garden, retired Sisters’ gardens, and recent installation of solar panel arrays. In addition, Brad Frank, Director of Sustainability, often challenges Sisters and Associates in responsible consumption and production (No. 12).
The Sustainability Enactment calls on Adrian Dominican Sisters to join Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ Action Platform. This seven-year global program invites Catholic individuals, families, and institutions to work together to build a sustainable future for the world. It builds on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical (letter), Laudato Si': On Care for our Common Home, which addresses the ecological issues of our times. Sister Durstyne noted that the seven goals of the action platform correspond well with the SDGs.
The Sisters also exemplify Goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals. “We have so many partners in the mission,” Sister Durstyne pointed out. “I think we can make people aware by sharing our own partnerships and showcasing what we’re doing.”
While delineating specific, distinct goals, the SDGs are also related to one another, Sister Durstyne said. “If I’m satisfied and not hungry, I’ll be a good student, and my well-being will be better,” she explained. “I’ll be able to work and bring in an income. I’ll be able to help bring about a better partnership. … That’s why we want to decrease hunger and poverty – all of these will help us move forward together.”
Sister Durstyne emphasized several ways that people can help move the SDGs forward. “The most important thing is to have our government get behind it and put in some money behind these goals,” she said. “It’s about financial commitment. Every one of these goals requires a financial commitment.”
She noted the importance of more prosperous, developed countries such as the United States making a financial commitment to the SDGs so that less-wealthy countries can have some financial support in their work with the goals. That will be addressed at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, Conference of the Parties (COP) 28, planned for November 30-December 12, 2023, in the United Arab Emirates.
Sister Durstyne also spoke of more specific ways that individuals can work toward achieving the SDGs.
• Commit the 17 SDGs to memory.
• Adopt one of the goals and investigate it to discover the related indicators and how to move the goal forward in your local area.
The SDGs “are for the benefit of the world, for all countries,” Sister Durstyne said. “So when we do our part, we are helping other countries do their part."
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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.