UN Commission on the Status of Women
By Margaret Mayce, OP (Amityville)
“It is no secret that we live in dark times and that we often feel perplexed and discouraged. When we reflect on the story of the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, carrying their perfumes, perhaps we can learn something from their ability to deal with events with both wisdom and boldness. We see these women, carriers of perfumes, rising early on the ‘first day of the week,’ ‘when the sun had risen,’ to anoint the body of Jesus. The reference to the ‘first day’ and ‘sunrise,’ accompany their vision of a scene submerged in a universe of new meaning. We are at the beginning of the new creation and the light of the Risen One enfolds them in its splendor. They are aware of the size of the stone and of their inability to move it; but this is not an obstacle to them in their determination to go and anoint the body of Jesus (…).” (Cf. Dolores Aleixadre RSCJ).
In preparation for their experience during the Commission on the Status of Women, our Dominican Sisters from DSI reflected on this meditation on the women at the tomb. It was provided by Dominican Sister Maria Alejandra Leguizamon (Peru), who attended last year’s session. Each evening, as we gathered to review the days’ events, we used this meditation as our starting point.
The past two weeks have been an experience of great paradox. On the one hand, we have listened to the sobering lived reality of women and girls worldwide, who contend with crushing poverty; lack of access to appropriate health care, education, land, credit, employment and remuneration for employment equivalent to that of men; rape; early/forced marriage; trafficking and sexual exploitation; discrimination of all kinds; lack of opportunities to participate in making the decisions that impact their lives and the lives of their children.
Yet, and incredibly so, there have been glimmers of hope. In panel after panel, we witnessed women who would not cave-in in the face of darkness. Their resiliency, their commitment to life, and their belief in their capacity to shape a future of hope for their children was palpable. Like the women who went to the tomb, they have experienced life – even in the midst of death.
What follows are some brief reflections from our Dominican Sisters and Dominican Volunteer who have been part of this experience.
Like the women going to the tomb, we, as “workers in the field” often find ourselves standing before a stone which is much too heavy to move: so much sorrow, so much evil (I am working against human trafficking), no real future for either victim or perpetrator. But sometimes the stone moves, and a perspective opens. This was one of my hopeful impressions during the CSW events. So many women, first of all young women, enthusiastic, full of power and willing to change things! There I found something about the work of the Spirit. Distances diminish, and that gives people of good will the chance to approach each other and to remain in touch. Together—and only together—we are strong! The globalized world is moving forward, and despite of all bad things ,the stone will be moved… —Marjolein Bruinen, OP (Netherlands)
It’s easy to feel discouraged and helpless in a world seemingly spinning out of control with violence, corruption, inequality, and poverty. I often feel overwhelmed and powerless as I work on NGO committees at the UN that deal with human trafficking, migration, peace and security, and women’s and girls’ issues. I hear over and over how, as the most vulnerable, women and children are disproportionately impacted by these global issues. Just as the women from the tomb, women (and men) have gathered at the UN for CSW with wisdom and boldness to tackle these issues and ensure equality for all of humanity. Having the opportunity to meet and listen to so many passionate activists and leaders has given me renewed hope that a future where humanity comes together and takes care of its most vulnerable is possible, and we are working to make it possible. —Kelly Litt, Dominican Volunteer
At dawn, the women rushed to the tomb, to the place of pain and grief, to anoint the body of their loved one.
This is my body—the women killed by violence, war, abuse and trafficking;
This is my body—the raped, tortured, abused, abducted, broken bodies and spirits in need of healing and wholeness.
This is my body–those who perpetuate the power paradigm over women in a spirit of entitlement and impunity.
This is my body—in need of open eyes, open ears, and an open heart to see and know that we are one.
How can we fear ourselves? We are one body.
—Bernadine Karge, OP (Sinsinawa)
Women hurrying to anoint the body of Jesus, knowing the tomb stone was impossible to move, were not intimidated! They were eager, hopeful and focused. For me, as a Dominican woman, this image is powerful. Every situation demanding justice is a potential opportunity to be present as “the body of Christ.” There will always be “tomb stones” to move; but like the women carrying perfumes, my presence—my support—our support is what matters. “Miracles” happen when we step out in hope to face the challenges that our professional and personal commitments encounter on a daily basis. And, in spite of “tomb stones,” we “perfume” the body of Christ—mine, and yours, every day. Here is some of what I will carry with me after this experience, along with the imperative to continue striving for: gender equality; ending the violence against women and girls; sustainability of Planet Earth; women need to be at the table, with the United Nations, in partnership, if peace is to be realized. —Maureen O’Connell, OP (Australia)
Each one of us who participated in the CSW59 made some kind of journey; namely, physical, emotional, intellectual, ideological, spiritual—just like the women who went to anoint the body of Jesus. In different capacities we bear our jars of perfume and soothing balms in terms of our lived and shared experiences, our struggles, our cares and interventions in a bid to heal a world torn and broken by injustice and wars. At the center of this phenomenon are women and girls, the marginalized, and surmounting the crises in our world today remains a daunting task. However we are not deterred by perceived or real obstacles. Instead, our shared hope is ever renewed, especially as we gathered for this experience. —Emmanuela Okafor, OP (Nigeria)
The women who went to the tomb were a determined lot, and filled with hope, for what, they did not yet know. During these weeks that we’ve gathered here at the UN, we have listened to women who bear witness to gender inequality, poverty, violence and abuse in the many countries they represent. The words that come to mind are determination and hope. One can’t but notice their determination and hope. It is a wonder that gives us hope! Just how did the women face the tomb in the morning to anoint their friend? And how is it possible to experience the desolation, violation, and violence that our speakers have with such determination and hope? Their gift to us is the passing on of that hope. My prayer is that we become one with them in their hope and determination, for we know that this “hope does not disappoint.” (Romans 5:5) —Pat Farrell, OP (San Rafael), Dominican Sisters Conference Executive Director
The “mirróforas,” the women bearing perfumes, go to the grave to embalm the dead body of their friend. But to these ordinary women, something new is given; to know the secret of the Resurrection; the victory of life over death. Indeed, they are given a new mission: to be proclaimers of the good news to all people. From women on their way to anoint the dead, they become bearers of the message of new life in the midst of death.
We, too, are a group of women in charge; every day anointing and embalming the bodies of suffering people in our realities, in our countries: victims of trafficking; migrants; girls threatened by the forces of death. During our time here we have had the opportunity to meet women from around the world; women who, with their struggles and experiences, gave testimony to the truth that life is stronger than death; women who came to announce to us the pleasing fragrance of life. By our sharing of these experiences, we go back to our realities bringing new perfumes; the fragrant scent of resurrection. And we return to our homes with the certainty that our mission is not to embalm dead bodies; it is, as St. Paul (2 Corinthians 2:15) says, to be the pleasing fragrance of Christ. It means that we carry with us the perfume of life, so that we might be better able to rescue the dignity of life wherever it is threatened. —Sandra Ede, OP (Brazil)
It was a great opportunity to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women, especially at the time of evaluation of the 20 years of the Beijing Platform for Action. I have lived through many experiences throughout these days; a lot of listening, learning, questioning, enchantment and admiration. Beauty and challenges were blended together through the witness of women and girls from five continents, who enthusiastically shared their struggles and achievements in defense of life and the rights of women and girls. They manifested concretely their sense of empowerment and hope.
Just as the women in the Old Testament—Miriam, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Judith, Hagar, Deborah and many others who walked with the people of God—just as the women who accompanied Jesus in his Passion and at the dawn of Resurrection, women continue to keep alive the flame of hope; of a utopia opening paths and offering new opportunities; rescuing and empowering other women who are still being violated and discriminated against because they are victims of an exclusionary and oppressive system which does not recognize gender equality and our rights as women.
Addressing these challenges, we will continue to struggle to build a world based on the values of the Reign of God. We are the protagonists of our history. We are powerful and will continue to work with our many networks engaged in defending the life and dignity of all persons, especially women and girls. —Celestina Veloso Freitas, OP (Brazil), DSI Justice Promoter