Sr Eilis Coe RSC writes: "March 2016 was a busy and interesting month from the point of view of Anti Human trafficking. Three evens took place which were of significance for our work as RSCs committed to Care of the Earth and the Abolition of Human Trafficking :
- 5th March, a one-day Conference on Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development, Moran’s Hotel, the Red Cow, Dublin
- The RENATE Board Meeting in Mater Salvatoris Retreat and Conference Centre, Budapest
- The CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) at the United Nations, New York.
Pastoral Renewal and Faith Development Day in Moran’s Hotel
On 5th March, over 140 groups from around Ireland gathered in Moran’s Hotel to participate in the Conference organised by Julieanne Moran of the Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development Office, Maynooth. His Excellency, Archbishop Charles J. Brown, Papal Nuncio, addressed the gathering and expressed his joy at seeing so many lay people involved in the various ecclesial movements, new and old, coming forward to share their work.
I was there with Ms Ruth Kilcullen, representing APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking) and MECPATHS (Mercy Efforts to Combat Prostitution and Trafficking in the Hospitality Sector). We displayed our banners, handed out information leaflets and promotional shopping bags and engaged in conversation with attendees at the conference. Ruth took advantage of the occasion to meet the manager of the hotel, making sure that Moran’s is an establishment which is aware of and vigilant about traffickers using hotels as venues for child abuse and/or trafficking and has a policy reflecting this.
Professor Michael Conway of the Department of Faith and Culture, St Patrick’s, Maynooth College, spoke about the “vending machine culture” where everything, including human beings and their services, is for sale. As followers of Jesus, we are asked to love one another, not to buy or sell one another. Human beings are not commodities.
The third presenter was Susan Gately, author of God’s Surprises; the new movements in the Church. Susan’s address was interactive and very lively and interesting.
For information and photos of the day, please see www.catholicnews.ie/openingthedoor
RENATE Board Meeting and Training in Budapest 6th to 11th March
As a member of the Board of RENATE (Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation), I was invited to attend the Board meeting and training in Budapest, Hungary, 6th to 11th March. I travelled to Budapest with Mrs Anne Kelleher, Communications person for RENATE. I knew hardly anything about Hungary, except that Budapest is the capital and is really two cities, Buda and Pest, one on either side of the Danube. I recalled that as a Primary School child in the 1940s and 50s, I used to pray, with my class for Cardinal Mindszenty, a very brave Cardinal who was a prisoner behind the Iron Curtain, suffering torture for the faith at the hands of the Communists. Among the Hungarian, Romanian and Czech Sisters in Budapest for the meeting, were many who knew Sisters who had suffered during the Communist era. We saw a film on the subject, with shots of the Centre where we were gathered. Under the Communist regime, it had been used as a detention centre for religious. Nowadays, due to falling numbers of Sisters, the house is used as a retreat and conference centre, but some Sisters said they remember when the building was a flourishing convent.
Delegates had come from all across Europe, from Ireland to Albania. Sr Patricia Kenny RSC was there as a member of TRAC, UK. The first day was taken up with decisions to be made regarding RENATE; later the non-board members joined us for the training in Advocacy, Lobbying and Campaigning, given by Mrs Ivonne Van de Kar from the Netherlands, a board member. Ivonne gave us a very interesting workshop with a ten-step approach. We found many issues were shared right across the continent. Among the interesting points Ivonne made was that if we do our awareness-raising properly, the politicians will come to us, rather than having us trying to gain access to them.
We were shown the RENATE film which was made by a RENATE member. The film will be used as promotion of the work of RENATE.
With regard to the Hungarian Church and Anti Human Trafficking, the Sisters told us that they, like us in APT, had spoken to the Bishops’ Conference, who were very welcoming and pleasant but did nothing by way of passing the information on to the priests and parishes, which exactly mirrors our experience. A group which I encountered for the first time were Servants Anonymous, lay women with a strong Christian faith. There were two Hungarian members there and they described their practical work in rehabilitating victims of human trafficking. Their website is very interesting and offers resources www.safoundation.com
As usual, a very profitable aspect of the gathering was meeting the members from the different countries. A Lithuanian woman, Mrs Kristin, told me that in Lithuania there are villages where many women have been to Ireland to be “married” to non- EU men seeking EU citizenship, who tricked them with promises of love and a good life. After these sham marriages, the women were abandoned and now, back home, are shunned by their neighbours. They cannot obtain divorces for some years since they willingly entered the “marriages”. Kristin said she would like to see the Irish police coming to Lithuania to see these women and how they are suffering. This gives me a task to fulfil, passing on the information to the APT member who deals with GNIB (Garda National Immigration Bureau). I was able to share the very valuable material on Early Legal Intervention from the ICI conference in Dublin in January, including the name of a lawyer from Croatia, which was of great interest to the Sister from Croatia. Sr Judit, a Hungarian Sister, told me about Bishop Walter Lynch of Galway, who fled Ireland in Cromwellian times and is buried in Gyor, Hungary. Among the items he carried was an image of the Blessed Virgin and Child, which is known to shed tears of blood. The Diocese of Gyor celebrates the 17th March as its Diocesan feast day in memory of Bishop Lynch.
We were taken out to see the city of Budapest, including the Church where the hand of St Stephen is enshrined and also the island in the Danube where St Elizabeth lived in solitude and prayer. Of course, we sampled Hungarian food, including the famous goulash, which was very tasty indeed.
Mrs Annie Bannister, RENATE’s IT adviser, gave the board members a session on making our website more attractive and more effective. Annie explained the advantages of a hub or portal, which would enable RENATE to put much more information available to more visitors to the RENATE site.
It is interesting to note that any Religious in Europe, or any lay colleague, can become a member of RENATE, as long as they support the work of combating human trafficking. Application is made directly to RENATE on their website. There is then a consultation with the board member in the country of the Religious who is applying, who can recommend the applicant and on receiving the information from the board member, the application is processed. From then on, RENATE gatherings throughout Europe are open to successful applicants for membership.
The RENATE website, www.renate-europe.net, is well worth a visit.
The task now is to share the information gathered in Budapest and to implement the strategies through APT and other groups.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
A Brief Word on the Background of CSW
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is a global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to promoting gender equality and empowerment of women. The Commission was established in 1946 with a mandate to prepare recommendations on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields”. The Commission also monitors, reviews and appraises progress in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 and the outcomes of the twenty third special session of the General Assembly of 2000, at all levels, and supports gender mainstreaming.
This year’s gathering marks 60 years of the life of CSW and is called CSW60. The priority theme of the gathering this year, 2016 was “Women’s Empowerment and its link to Sustainable Development”. In addition, the Commission evaluated progress in the implementation of the agreed conclusions from the fifty-seventh session (2013) on “the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”.
I have taken the above quotes from the CSW60 booklet. I have three copies of this 7-page booklet and will share them with anyone who is interested in having or copying them. The booklet refers to the website, www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw60-2016 for more information.
It would also be interesting to visit the UNANIMA website www.unanimainternational to establish how UNANIMA , an NGO representing 20 religious congregations, relates to the CSW.
RSCS at CSW60
Attending the CSW at the United Nations was an unforgettable experience. The energy of so many committed women gathered together in one place was incredible. Among the crowds of women gathered in New York in March 2016 were four RSCs, Srs Suzette Clark, Eilís Coe, Kathleen Bryant and Patricia Byrne. Suzette is our RSC representative in UNANIMA and was due to return to Australia in September but very kindly remained on for a few days to introduce the three new-comers to New York and the United Nations. Suzette’s predecessor, Pat Kenny RSC, had given Patricia and me very valuable information in advance of our trip, so I knew the drill at JFK Airport: Ground Transportation, Super Shuttle, Leo House, and so arrived safe and sound at the said Leo House, our home in Manhattan for the duration of the CSW. Leo House, 332 West 23rd Street, named for Pope Leo XIII, is affordable accommodation, run by the Sisters of St Agnes. Sisters Marilyn and Carol and the chaplain, Fr Conway, together with the manager and staff could not have been kinder or more welcoming. Leo House provides bed and breakfast and there is a wide choice of dining places nearby.
Suzette initiated us, helping us to get our metro tickets and necessary documents for admission to the United Nations Building. It was so exciting for me as a new-comer to see Fifth Avenue, Lexington Avenue, First Avenue, Central Park and Broadway. Two bus rides or an hour’s walk takes you from Leo House to the United Nations building, an awe-inspiring place indeed. There on the ground floor are portraits of the Secretaries General, from Trygve Lie to Bang Ki Moon, all men.
Events were arranged to take place in the United Nations Building and in various venues in the vicinity. We were given a book with all the events, times and venues listed and we had to pick and choose which sessions to attend. The topics included all aspects of women’s lives and the challenges they face in their various countries: gender-based violence; forced or child marriages; FGM; poverty; lack of access to education and training; discrimination in the workplace; no access to clean water and medical facilities; trafficking; forced prostitution and many other features of women’s lives.
Among the Irish attendees were Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, Rachel Moran, well-known author and campaigner, Mary Hession of Soroptomists Ireland and Sr Angela Dolan PBVM of APT. There were probably many more Irish women and men there, but in such crowds, it would not have been possible to meet them.
The Zambian delegation included the Zambian Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr Kasese Bota, Minister for Gender and Child Development, Prof Nkanda Luo, Chief Nyamphande of the Nsenga people from the Eastern Province, a man who is doing very practical things to support women and girls, like supplying bicycles to enable girls to go to school and computers to enable better learning, together with measures to end child marriage and discrimination against widows and promoting mechanised farming and the provision of water. One of the men in the group told me that he knew Sr Kayula and had worked with her.
The Syrian Women presented a very moving workshop. Their bravery and determination in the face of war and destruction inspired all who attended the session. A group of students from the West Midlands, UK, presented the findings of their research into factors which can either enable or discourage the girls in their choice of career. Parents, friends and school all exert powerful influence at different stages of the girls’ development. The crucial time seems to be early teens, when girls lower their sights and begin to lose the dreams they had of high achievement. Choice of subjects in school is crucial at this point.
A session on pornography revealed that there is a direct link between pornography and sexual exploitation. Pornography affects the mind and heart. A group of very young girls, one of them 11 years old, presented a workshop on leadership. The girls came from different cultural backgrounds and showed extraordinary wisdom and maturity about girls’ roles and boys’ roles. They all seemed to share the experience of doing the washing-up in the kitchen while their fathers and brothers watched TV in the sitting-room!
Nigeria was extremely well represented. I had the very pleasant experience of having lunch with a group of women, Bangladeshi women on one side and Nigerian on the other. It was one of the sunnier days and we sat on a low wall outside one of the venues eating our take-aways from the falafel van, hot and tasty and freshly cooked. One of the Nigerian women told me that she had taught Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, (Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Sun) in Primary School. Next to her was Chief Lolo Dr Kate Uzomaka Ezeofor, Foundress and President of Umuada Igbo Nigeria and in Diaspora, a very unassuming but effective woman. This Nigerian group presented an event on Women’s Empowerment and its Link to Mechanised Farming.
This account only touches on the activities of CSW60 There was so much to see and take in it was hard to choose where to go. The whole atmosphere was of very high energy and enthusiasm.
More information can be obtained on the CSW website. Altogether, it was a great privilege to be there. It puts our local work in a global context and highlights the interconnectedness of all our efforts on behalf of women and girls. I have the handbook and a guide to NGOs and Women’s Rights Activists at the UN and CSW and will gladly share them with anyone who is interested.