Read About Our Sisters’ Trip to the UN

April 6, 2018
At the United Nation’s 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in March, Medical Mission Sisters were greeted with a message of resilience in the face of great odds. It was a message that our Sisters and Associates, many of whom have witnessed the suffering and discrimination inflicted on women across the world, can understand well.
     Sister Celine Paramundayil, who serves as our United Nations representative, was a moderator for one of the conference events. She was joined by Sisters Evelyne Mballa, Mary Jo Grethel, Frankie Vaughan, Maria Hornung and Immaculate Tusingwire, who is visiting the United States from her native East Africa. Speaking at one of the workshops with Sister Celine, Sister Maria had the opportunity to share insights from her years of teaching and engaging in interfaith dialogue.
     Addressing the audience, Sister Maria said, “I have experienced that resilience is applying a person’s inner strength to face crises, change, attacks; it is the backbone of empowerment.”
      The conference was dedicated to the empowerment of rural women and girls. With more than 4,000 participants from six continents, the stories shared by many of the women from around the world were not pleasant ones: they told stories of rape, trafficking, incest and other forms of unimaginable abuse.
     Their stories struck a nerve for Sister Immaculate and initially she wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t even been aware that some of these problems existed in the modern world. Nonetheless, she connected their experiences with the sexism and misogyny that she saw growing up in her own culture. While women in her culture are still expected to be subservient to men, things were even worse when she was a child. Women were expected to kneel when greeting men, even men younger than themselves, and in some cases they did not even eat the same foods as men- it was  considered taboo for women to eat chickens or eggs.
     “Everyone took it as culture, no one thought of it as oppressive because culture was all a good thing,” she recalls. “No one thinks of it as oppressive because respect is a good thing, but no one questions why only women should be respectful and not respected.”
     For years, she had second-guessed herself, wondering why she wanted so badly to be a voice for women’s issues. Was it just her ego that was driving her passion for female empowerment? Listening to the stories at the conference, she found the validation she had been searching for.
     Sister Immaculate shares,”God’s answer for me was at the UN- ‘Imma, you are not alone and you are not wrong, things are not alright with women as they seem to be from the outside.’ I realized there were many women more passionate than I am and they did not regret their passion. It was touching, relieving and hopeful.”
     While the problems faced across the world are complex, the overall message of the conference was one of unity. On the second day of the conference Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, proudly declared himself a feminist and announced the radical steps he is taking to achieve gender equity in the UN’s leadership. Much work remains to be done to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving global gender equality by 2030, but the Sisters recall feeling heartened by how many people are showing commitment to the fight. If people continue spreading the message at the grassroots level, Sister Immaculate observed, only then will we be closer to achieving “the dream.”
     Sister Evelyne reflected on the hope she feels for the potential she sees in young people to transform their world, sharing “I have been touched by the youth attending the CSW 62, their generosity, their enthusiasm and their knowledge of international relations and global strategic issues.”


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