What's Happening


Representatives of nation states gather in one of the large conference rooms at the United Nations for a town hall meeting

April 4, 2024, New York, New York – Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the Dominican Representative to the United Nations, urged participants at the UN’s 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), held March 11-22, 2024, to promote women throughout the year. “Women in all their diversity – take that with you and promote it,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things we can do this year.”

Sister Durstyne hosted 10 other Dominicans – including five Adrian Dominican Sisters – at the annual event at the United Nations. 

The Dominican sisters were among an estimated 6,000 people who attended the conference in person and another 15,000 who attended virtually. Along with the UN officials and governments were members of civil society organizations, experts, and activists. 

Worldwide, women experience extreme poverty and suffer from gender violence, domestic violence, and inequality in their access to education and funding – all while, for the most part, shouldering the most responsibility for the care of their families. Officials at the United Nations addressed these issues during CSW68 under the theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.” At the end of the session, UN delegates signed on to a statement on women and agreed conclusions.

Members of civil society did not attend the official proceedings, but they spent their two weeks at CSW68 attending a series of side events – workshops and presentations by UN governments and their NGO partners – and parallel events presented by other members of civil society. 

Dominican Community Experience
Among those attending the side events, along with Sister Durstyne, were Adrian Dominican Sisters Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, Xiomara Méndez-Hernandez, OP, Maria Eneida Santiago, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP; Sister Yelitza Ayala, OP, of Puerto Rico; Sister Philomena Benedict, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Stone, England; Sister Ameline Intia, OP, of the Philippines; Sister Selena Wilson, OP, of the Amityville Dominican Sisters in the United States; and Sister Valentine, of South Africa. 

During the often frenzied two weeks of sessions at the United Nations and nearby parallel – after daily commutes on the train from the Marydale Retreat Center of the Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining, New York – the Dominican Sisters formed community and shared numerous experiences and perspectives. Among the notable experiences was attendance on March 16 at the St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown New York and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 

Reflections on the Experience 
Sister Eneida recalled the “positive energy that was lived at every moment” during CSW68. “It gives me a lot of energy and hope to hear so many women, all in their diversity and in the same cry, united to provoke the changes that we deserve in any context of today’s world, which in turn produces a transformation of lives away from violence, exclusion, poverty, and abuse of power.” Sister Eneida said this message is key to her ministry as a counselor at a school in her native Dominican Republic. She said she hopes to transmit to the school’s adolescents and their mothers “all that energy that I received to continue multiplying that desire to get out of the oppressive situations that keep them afraid to raise their voices.”

During an interview with Global Sisters Report reporter Chris Herlinger, the Dominican Sisters joined other women and men religious in reflecting on their experiences during the first half of the two-week conference.

From the beginning of the experience, Sister Xiomara was impressed by the sense of “sisterhood,” not only among the Dominican Sisters but also among the CSW68 participants. She recalled standing in line on the streets of New York for two hours on March 10 waiting to receive her credentials for the event when another woman in line spoke of dancing the flamenco. Sister Xiomara offered to show them the Latin salsa and another woman sang an opera. 

“It was so much joy, that power of sisterhood, that when we went inside, we were just clapping and talking.” Asked by a UN guard why they were so happy, Sister Xiomara responded, “Because we are women.” She said she was inspired by “listening to the voices of women and the power of women … and all the possibilities we can do together, claiming our voices. … I’m leaving inspired.” 

Sister Bless was especially inspired by the sessions focusing on women’s education and financial empowerment. “If we educate women, women will know their rights. It’s essential for them to know their rights so they can assert themselves and they will not just be subjected to abuse by men.” 

She also noted that domestic violence is a “worldwide issue, one of the factors that is really contributing to the abuse of women.” To counteract domestic abuse, Sister Bless focused on the need for education not just for women and girls but also for men and boys. “Men and boys can be educated in terms of their role in having a good family, and also [in] respect for women,” she said.

Many of the Sisters named as a highlight their experience of participating in a silent march several times around the US Mission to the United Nations to call for a ceasefire in Palestine. “I was very touched by the organization and the compassion,” Sister Xiomara said. “I felt like I was one of the women from Palestine walking. They couldn’t be there. I was there because of them. … It was inspiring to feel like I was walking as one of the women from Palestine [calling] for the ceasefire.”

Sister Durstyne raised another issue: land rights for the Indigenous peoples whose lands have been taken from them. She serves on the US Caucus of UN Women and the Amazon Subcommittee for the Indigenous People. “How can we address women and their right to own land, their right to have this incredible gift that should not only be a gift but a right?”

Signs of Hope
Sister Durstyne hopes to see the issue of land rights for women included in the CSW’s official agreed conclusions. As an NGO, she said, the Dominicans have been able to “give some input into the statement on women and the agreed conclusions.” Though the document might not include everything she had hoped for, she said, “we have an opportunity to try to move the needle a little bit further, and that’s what the Commission on the Status of Women is all about.”

Sister Jules echoed Sister Durstyne’s hope. “This conference invites us to continue to be passionate in giving hope and uplifting the spiritual situation of our women in our own community, our own country, and the women who we live and work with,” she said. “And let us be an instrument in making their lives worth fighting for.”

For more information on CSW68, the influence of Catholic Sisters, and the formal documents that resulted from the session, read the article by Chris Herlinger in Global Sisters Report, a project of the National Catholic Reporter.

Women work in a garden and starter plants begin to grow in tiny pots

March 28, 2024, New York, New York – Dominican Sisters around the world continue to dedicate their lives to empowering women and work to eradicate poverty, especially in the areas of human trafficking, asylum, and the dangers that women and children face in combat areas.
Dominican Sisters from Brazil, Cameroon, and Ireland spoke of their work during a “Dominican Webinar: Our Commitment to Empowerment of Women and the Eradication of Poverty.” Hosted by Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican Representative at the United Nations, the webinar was held March 19, 2024, during the second week of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 68, March 11-22, 2024. “We hope you will learn more about the Dominican commitment,” Sister Durstyne said in her introduction. 
“Human trafficking is the result of the misery of the economic system that commodifies people and doesn’t respect human rights,” said Sister Sandra Camilo Ede-Brasileira of the Cry for Life Network (Um Grito Pela Vita) in Brazil. The inter-congregational network works to combat and prevent human trafficking, which includes sexual exploitation of women and child labor. “Our network is a space for prophetic action and solidarity, linked to the religious conference of Brazil,” Sister Sandra said.
Survivors of human trafficking receive support from psychologists and by participating in handicraft and baking projects, Sister Sandra said. “We can fight for wounded people with a praxis that can free them,” she said. “Our network gives us the creativity to start from different points of view,” developing models that can address the issues of society.
Sister Sandra said the network also holds awareness campaigns. “A person who is aware of this reality can really open their eyes to the situation,” she said. 
Sister Marie Cleide Pires de Andrade, OP, also from Brazil, works with other Sisters to combat domestic violence and to accompany its victims. “This is the experience of many women in this social context marked by inequality,” she said. A member of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Cleide said the emphasis is on “encouraging self-knowledge and self-esteem” among the women through activities that enhance their daily lives.
Sister Cleide used the community garden where the women work as a metaphor for the Sisters’ ministry with the women. “The seeds have been sown, such as spaces for welcome, friendship, listening, and raising awareness,” she said. “We want to continue dreaming and sowing seeds of joy and hope.… We are bearers of light.”
Sister Linda Nkechi Korie, OP, a Dominican Sister of Blessed Imelda, helps women combat poverty through services such as childcare. The Sisters of Blessed Imelda have worked for women’s empowerment for the past 40 years and now have six communities in three regions, building schools wherever they are, she said. 
She focused on efforts to educate girls and women, noting that 129 million school-age girls are not attending classes. “Early marriage, poverty, low family income, large distance to schools, lack of school infrastructure – all these factors contribute to increasing the social gap in the region” because of lack of education, she said. 
The Dominican Sisters of Blessed Imelda strive to provide schooling for more girls by offering scholarships. “We have sent 600 to schools, but that’s not enough,” Sister Linda said. She added that the Sisters are also building more schools to make up for many that have been destroyed.
In addition, Sister Linda said that the Sisters train women through income-generating skills, such as producing soap, and have employed many women in their schools.
Also in Cameroon, Sister Joseph Ngo Ndezeba serves at the St. Dominic Multipurpose Center in Balikumbat, in a conflict zone. “The schools have been shut down for a very long time; therefore, the children have been deprived of education and feel abandoned,” she said. “Girls are prey to unwanted pregnancies and unwanted marriages.”
Sister Joseph said the St. Dominic Multi-purpose Center trains girls to care for themselves and their children through education and training in crafts, home management, and masonry to build a decent home for themselves. The center is also opening the first technical school in the region.
Sister Marie Williams, the Coordinator of the Dominican Justice and Peace Office of the Dominican Sisters of Cabra, Ireland, spoke of the Young Mothers’ Network. Sponsored by her office, the network serves young immigrant mothers who came to Ireland seeking asylum and are now living in Ireland’s Direct Provision System. This system of accommodation centers provides asylum seekers with room and board, food, and healthcare until they are allowed to live independently. 
Sister Marie spoke of the hardships of this system. “The average length of stay is three years, but some have stayed for nine years,” she said. “People don’t have a say in where they live. A person or family could be moved without warning.” In some cases, she said, people are moved into tents.
One particular aspect of the poverty faced by families in the Direct Provision System is shame. “The women speak of the humility of being known by a number and only being spoken of by their needs,” she said. “They want to be recognized and valued for themselves.”
Sister Marie said that the Young Mothers’ Network offers women and their children a sense of dignity and recognition. Mothers in Direct Provision are invited to monthly peer meetings, where they can listen to talks on topics such as their essential rights. 
“When the women in the group give us feedback, they speak to us about the sense of being accompanied and the friendship and support they have found in the group,” Sister Marie said. “They no longer feel alone. This humanizing experience with others helps them the most – simply being there with others.” 
The webinar concluded with concerns from young Dominican students. Maddie and Emily – a sophomore and a senior at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin – spoke of the small things that young people can do to make a difference in the world. Tatswana and Michelle spoke of aspects of life in their nation, Zimbabwe, that keep women from achieving their potential: the lack of access to finances, early marriage, and teen pregnancies. Erin, Eva, and Katilyn shared a statement by Dominican girls on the importance of education. 
The webinar was presented by the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC) in the United States and the Dominican Sisters International Confederation.



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