ST. FRANCIS – More than 450 women of various ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8, at the Cousins Center. “Women as Agents of Hope” was sponsored by the Intercultural Ministries of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“No matter what your role is, Maya Angelou gives us permission when she says each of us – look around, look at the person on your left and right – each of us has the right and responsibility to assess the roles that lie ahead, and those for which we have traveled,” said emcee Rev. Dr. Trinette V. McCray, executive director of the Center for Calling and Engagement at Cardinal Stritch University and the first clergywoman elected president of the American Baptist Churches, USA. “And if the future role looms ominous and unpromising, and if the road back is uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. And if the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that one as well.
“In other words, you know how they say that women change their minds all the time? The world is better when we change our mind,” laughed Rev. McCray.
In addition to ethnic foods and dancers from around the world – including the Israeli Folk Dancers, Palestinian Girls Dance Troop, and Native American dancers Gwen LeMieux-Petrovic and Lorraine Berger – the night included a presentation by keynote speaker Sr. Ann Scholz, a School Sister of Notre Dame who just completed an eight-year term as the representative for her order at the United Nations in New York.
“What a gift we are to each other, what a gift we can be to this world of ours,” Sr. Ann said during her presentation. “So many people desperately in need of our gifts, of our love, of our wisdom, of our concern. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to celebrate International Women’s Day … none have been so full of joy, so full of hope, than the celebration we’ve had this evening.”
She described International Women’s Day as a time when women around the world are recognized for achievements without regard to differences or traditions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, political or religious. She called it an occasion to look at struggles and accomplishments, and for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
Celebration marks 100 years
“Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change, to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who continue to play extraordinary roles in their communities,” she added, explaining that International Women’s Day was marked for the first time, on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than 1 million women and men gathered together to call for equality.
Since then, she said the commemoration has become a rallying point to build support for women’s and girls’ rights, and for their full participation in their homes and communities, and their nations and world.
Sr. Ann asked audience members to remember the women in history who have made a contribution to the causes that are reflective today, such as the works of Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, Mother Seton and Corrie Ten Boom. In addition, there are also lesser-known women who’ve made differences in the every day lives of individuals, she added.
“We celebrate the lives of ordinary women, our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, our mentors and colleagues and friends,” she said. “Those extraordinary, ordinary women who have brought us to this day. Tonight we remember those women who’ve taught us to read and write and tie our shoes. Those women who’ve showed us how to live and love and pray. Those women who’ve challenged us to stand up, to speak out and to give ourselves fully to a cause far greater than our own. To build God’s kingdom of peace, justice and equality for all women and men, all boys and girls, everywhere.”
Gender equality not realized yet
Although women have come far in the world, according to Sr. Ann, she reminded her audience there is much work to be done for gender equality.
“Now, for many of us, life has been getting better and better. We have more choices and more chances than our parents or our grandparents, and that’s particularly true for many women and girls, but it’s not the case for all of us,” she explained. “Not for all women, and surely not for many girls. While women’s lives have improved enormously since that first international women’s day 100 years ago, it’s still true that if you’re a girl in this 21st century world of ours, you are more likely to be poor, more likely to be a victim of violence, more likely to be voiceless and more likely to be exploited.
“If you’re born a girl, you are less likely to have access to quality education and quality health care, less likely to inherit property of your own family, less likely to have access to government services and less likely to have entry to the corridors of power.”