Dominican Sisters at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Empowerment, education focus of sessions

The 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) began Monday, March 4, and continues through Friday, March 15. I had the privilege of attending for a few days as a member of the Dominican Sisters Conference staff, along with Sister Mary Sue Kennedy. We spent two days at the UN, attending “parallel events” that were offered in conjunction with the general sessions.

Our experience was enriched by the opportunity to meet and talk with Dominican sisters from other countries whose attendance was sponsored by Dominican Sisters International. A group of 12 students from St. Catherine College in St. Catherine, Kentucky, were also attending on their spring break.

One session we attended, sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was “Moving the Immigrant Girl from Violence of Cultural Uprooting to Empowerment of Creative Expression.” Members of the panel included Christina Igoa, teacher and author of “The Inner World of the Immigrant Child.” The testimony of 12-year-old Rosario Campos, born in Mexico, was especially compelling—she came to the United States at age 6 and was confused by language and cultural differences. With the help of Ms. Igoa, she learned to read, in English, by the third grade, was elected student body president in the sixth grade, and is currently in seventh grade and on her school’s honor roll.

I also attended “Media as an Instrument to Fight Violence Against Women in Conflict-Affected Settings.” Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, human rights lawyer and World YWCA general secretary, introduced the session. The panel included Abigail Disney, filmmaker and philanthropist, who made the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” about the civil war in Liberia, and also produced the PBS mini-series “Women, War & Peace.”

Other sessions we attended included “Gender-Based Violence and Religion: An Intersectional Perspective” and “Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in Afghanistan.” One of the women who spoke on this panel was a member of the Aghanistan parliament. During this session, there was a brief film clip with testimonials from young women in Afghanistan. One woman, possibly now in her early 20s, was stabbed repeatedly and left for dead by her father and brother after she refused to marry the man who had been chosen for her. As a girl, she was regarded as the property of her family, with no rights of her own.

As I reflect on this experience, and as I read the reflections of the Dominican Sisters attending the CSW, I am feeling especially grateful to be working among those advocating for change, and for the opportunity to “inform, promote and inspire” through the ministry of Dominican Life | USA.

Some thank-you's are in order here. Sister Margaret Mayce, DSC UN-NGO representative, was an invaluable guide to the ins and out of the UN, as well as the logistics of New York City commuting. Sister Mary Ellen O’Grady was queen of the road in her red Prius as she navigated through the heavy snowfall to get us to the airport on Friday. And we all enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the Dominican Sisters of Hope at Mariandale Retreat Center in Ossining, New York.

Sister Pamela Robles Espinoza, OP, is a member of the Dominican Missionaries of the Rosary in Peru. She works in the office of Human Rights of the Apostolic Vicariate of Mother of God in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. She is also a member of her congregation’s Justice, Peace and Care of Creation Committee.

Sister Paulina Chioma Ogbonnaya, OP, is the prioress of the Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena in Nigeria. She is the Promoter for Justice and Peace for Dominican Sisters Africa and co-promoter of the Order for the Continent of Africa. She is also a council member of the Dominican Sisters Africa (DSA) coordinating team.

Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, is a member of the leadership team of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Adrian, Michigan. As general councilor, she serves on various boards of the congregation’s sponsored institutions, works with their communications and technology department, and is the liaison for the congregation’s Office of Global Mission, Justice and Peace.

Sister Edel Murphy, OP, serves on the leadership team of her congregation, the Cabra Dominican Sisters in Dublin, Ireland. She taught sixth grade prior to being elected.

Sister Cecilia Espenilla, OP, is a member of the Congrergation of St. Catherine of Siena, Philippines. She is chair of her congregation’s Council on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC). She is also in the last year of a six-year term as the DSI Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific region.

By Susan Oxley
(March 18, 2013)