Empowering Rural Women, Girls
CSW theme resonates with Shalom ministry
The pervading theme of the 2012 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – empowerment of rural women and girls – is particularly relevant to Sister Roxanne Schares, SSND, for many reasons. She, too, comes from a similar background, growing up in a rural area of the U.S. Midwest, and as the International Shalom coordinator for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, her current ministry includes peace and justice work on behalf of rural women and girls.
Sister Roxanne notes that many School Sisters of Notre Dame minister in developing countries or areas, such as Peru, Nepal and Africa. In addition, they work with people who have migrated from rural areas into the cities, another dimension to this theme and concern.
“One of things I really have appreciated is that several people this week have said is that we really need is to do good analysis and discernment about how we respond to this issue,” Sister Roxanne said. “We need to do deep listening, not only to their stories but to the land they’re coming from.”
Understanding root causes
In one session of the sessions that Sister Roxanne attended, Zanele Mbeki, the former first lady of South Africa gave closing remarks. She said that sometimes those providing assistance wire or power women into a system that does not work for women. They may be giving women an education, but it might not be an education that empowers or is relevant. They might be using old models of empowerment
“I found that very important,” Sister Roxanne said. “I think often in my justice and peace work, we look at reading the signs of the times. But it is not only just knowing the facts. It is understanding the root causes. That came through today in my group on migration. Why must women leave home? It is not just the demand for cheap labor. They’re pushed to search for something. We need to really understand those root causes.
“Another part of discernment is that we must recognize and appreciate that there are a great many rural settings or rural women. I come from the rural Midwest, and my background is very different from someone from rural Appalachia. It also struck me that I did not hear very much about the women of rural North America.”
Progress yet great urgency
Sister Roxanne said that she also was moved by a comment from Michelle Bachelet, undersecretary general and executive director of UN Women. Bachelet acknowledge that progress has been made, but also said that there still remains a great urgency to do more.
“In my ministry, we struggle to hold both,” Sister Roxanne said. “We see the progress we have made and hold that up as a sign of hope. But there also is the urgency, and we must keep that in front of us. “
Sharing experiences with students
This is the second time that Sister Roxanne has attend a CSW meeting, but she has attended other United Nations events and summits. Already, she said, she has plans to draw on this week’s experiences when she begins visits next week to five schools where Schools Sisters of Notre Dame minister. She will be speaking to students and to Shalom Clubs.
“As I speak about some of the division in our world reality and give examples, I know that this will very much be with me,” Sister Roxanne said. “I know there is discrimination against women and girls for many reasons, but the rural women experience it in devastating ways that we cannot imagine. I will be in city high schools, and I want to bring out that these are our sisters and help the students to understand their experiences so that they connect with them and build a relationship with them. I do believe that is one way that we empower each other.”