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April 27, 2023, New York, New York – Seven Adrian Dominican Sisters joined Dominican Sisters from throughout the world in attending a key event for women: The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 67) – and came away with insights and a greater desire to speak up for women in issues.
Women’s issues have been a key interest for Adrian Dominican Sisters and CSW 67 was a fitting way for many to learn about the status of women around the world. At the Congregation’s General Chapter in June 2022, delegates approved an Enactment on Women, in which the Sisters strive “to attain gender equality and women’s full and equal participation and decision making in Church and society.”
“This is something I’ve wanted to attend because of the significance of it – women coming from all around the world to talk about the plight of women and raise their voices,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Earth. “I don’t know if there’s any other platform for women to come together to that degree – all these voices saying the same thing: that women matter.”
Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the Dominican Representative at the United Nations, invited members of the Congregation to attend CSW 67 March 6-17, 2023. Along with Sisters Durstyne and Kathleen, Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended the event were Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Ellen Burkhardt, OP, Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Judy Friedel, OP, Patricia Leonard, OP, and Patricia McDonald, OP. They were joined by Dominican Sisters Philomena Benedict, of the United Kingdom; Venetia (Veille), of South Africa, a member of the Dominican Sisters International (DSI) Coordinating Committee; Rose Mai Kim Pham, of Vietnam; Sarudzai, of Zimbabwe; and Maria deJesus, of Ecuador.
“We were able to attend three or four meetings throughout the day,” Sister Kathleen said. They then spent the evening sharing insights they had gained. “That was really a special time, because we were creating a sense of community with each other,” she said.
Gender Equality and Technology
Many of the Dominican Sisters who attended CSW 67 were struck by the theme of gender equality and technology. “In so many countries, women are left out of education and even [from] having access to digital technology,” Sister Kathleen said. At the same time, CSW 67 focused on the ways that digital technology was used “as an instrument of violence against women.” She gave the example of online pornography and of social media platforms in which women are coerced into activities such as sharing sexual photos of themselves – and then blackmailed with the threat of revealing these activities to their families.
“Technology can make or break a woman,” said Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, a member of the Congregation’s General Council who, in her native Philippines, has been working with abused women. She is the General Council Liaison to the Women Circle, a group of Sisters who are focusing on the Enactment on Women. “It can make a woman when it is used to develop the full potential of women, so they can become self-actualized. But it can also be used to keep tracking women wherever they go,” leading to cyber-sex.
While Sister Bless said she appreciates intervention programs – to help women already harmed by technology – she especially favors prevention programs. “When a woman is abused, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” she said. “Can we prevent damage?”
Many of the Sisters were impressed with the efforts of the United Kingdom to sanction people who use technology to abuse women. The national leaders “wanted Great Britain to be the safest place in the world for women because of the laws they’re hoping to make – groundbreaking,” Sister Ellen Burkhardt, OP, said. “Once [these laws] can happen in England, [they] can happen anywhere.” She stressed that national leaders need to set sanctions so high that they would truly affect the financial wellbeing of people who violate them.
Other Sisters focused on the benefits of digital technology and on the need for women to have greater access to it. One focus of the meeting was on “educating women so that they can become creators of the tech world out there,” Sister Judy Friedel, OP, said.
Sister Judy expressed her belief that technology can unite people. Through technology, we can “educate other people who aren’t at that point yet,” she said. “There can be a lot of shared experience. That’s the power of technology. We can learn from each other without going to another country.”
Challenges and Inspirations
Sister Kathleen spoke of the many events that she attended in which she learned about various forms of abuse against women. She was especially surprised by a session on child marriages in the United States. “The United States is the only country in the world that has laws on the books that allow child marriage,” she said. She spoke of a movement to abolish these archaic laws that still exist in various parts of the United States.
Her greatest challenge, though, was having to choose which side events and programs to attend – “not being able to talk to every person you run into, to learn from every woman who was there and wanting to have as many experiences as possible.”
She was especially impressed by a young women who spoke about creative programs to help communities on the margins and by the passion of many of the Dominican Sisters from other countries. “Being with these young women each night, sharing the experience with them, gives you a lot of hope.”
Sister Ellen was impressed by the caliber of the participants in CSW 67 and its side events. “Walking through the United Nations, every time you stepped into a session or walked down the hall, there were so many people from so many countries,” she said. “To see women from all over the world who were very well educated very well spoken and working to bring other women along – that was the biggest take-away. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Sister Judy came away from CSW 67 challenged and inspired. “I have to commit myself to be further educated,” she said. “I learned a lot. There’s a lot more to learn.” Being part of the Women Circle that focuses on the Enactment on Women will keep her faithfully involved in her studies, she added. Her challenge is to “become even more actively involved as time and energy permit.”
Sima Bahous, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, issued a statement at the end of CSW 67, noting the milestone event that “set the global normative framework on gender equality, technology and innovation that will shape the lives of women and girls right across the world.” Read her statement here.
Sisters who attended the UN Session but were not quoted in the article, from left to right: Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP; Sister Judith Benkert, OP; Sister Patricia Leonard, OP; Sister Patricia McDonald, OP
April 4, 2023, United Nations – A group of Dominican Sisters from throughout the world, while attending the 67th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 67), participated in a discussion on the “digital divide” and how women are affected by unequal access to technology. CSW 67 was held at the United Nations March 6-17, 2023.
Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters General Council and one of the Dominican Sisters invited to participate in CSW 67, told Global Sisters Report, a project of The National Catholic Reporter, that technology “has two faces with regards to women’s wellbeing: face of development and face of abuse.” She added that technology can facilitate “the development of the full potential of women” or break women when technology “ushers the culture of death into the life of women.”
Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the UN Representative for the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC), spoke of the importance of involving women in the field of technology, where they are often under-represented. Women need to be “in all places where decisions are made,” she told Global Sisters Report.
Sister Durstyne invited Dominican Sisters from throughout the world to attend CSW 67. These included Sister Philomena Benedict from London; Sister Venetia (Veille), of South Africa, a member of the Dominican Sisters International Coordinating Committee; Sister Rose Mai Kim Pham from Vietnam; Sister Sarudzai from Zimbabwe; and Sister Maria DeJesus from Ecuador.
In addition, seven Adrian Dominican Sisters joined Sister Durstyne at CSW 67: Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Ellen Burkhardt, OP, Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Judy Friedel, OP, Patricia Leonard, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
Read the entire Global Sisters Report article by Chris Herlinger.