SOMI-MICA TEAM Coordinator
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”.
1. Women indwelt by the Spirit
As a missionary family, invited by God the Father-Mother to be listeners and servants of his Word, this fragment of the Gospel is enlightening to account for and look at women’s realities through God’s eyes. In the process of becoming women, we are invited to look at history and the socio-cultural conditions in which we develop our being-in-the-world. He, who has come to proclaim freedom, is able to reveal to us our captivities and blindnesses, to free us from the existential conditions that oppress us, and to give us a year of grace. As women who believe in Jesus as a liberator who makes all things new, we are sure that he dwells in us with His Spirit, who groans with us in labor pains to give birth, not only to a different future for our sons and daughters but also for ourselves. It is the Spirit that dwells in us, that proclaims with us, that raises its voice in our voices, to denounce every inequity and ignominy that threatens the life and dignity of women.
The naturalization of the existing hierarchy between the feminine and masculine genders, even when we try to normalize and make it invisible, is reflected in family, institutional, community, state, and church structures, through the sexual division of labor, as a way of ordering the status and double bond inherent in the nature of the patriarch, who imposes moral authority and power at the same time.
These words, alive and free, want to be an opportunity to go back over history, share our reflection on this particular present, and propose some actions.
2. A struggle with agenesis of pain and blood
If we refer to history and the systematic struggle of women claiming equal rights with men, the emergence of the 8th March as International Women’s Day was built on the basis of milestone events, some of them particularly tragic. These events, from the beginning, showed the naturalization of violence against women, using a pedagogy of punishment, which included ill-treatment, torture, and femicide.
International Women’s Day emerged at the end of the 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a context in which women’s living and working conditions were exploitative and socially and legally unprotected.
On 8 March 1857, in New York, women working in the textile industry (called “garment workers”) organized a strike. They were fighting for fairer wages and more humane working conditions. However, the moment they raised their voices, they were arrested by police officers.
Two years later, the protesters formed their first union to fight for their rights. Fifty-one years later, on 8 March 1908, 15,000 women again took to New York streets to demand higher wages, shorter working hours, the right to vote, and a ban on child labor. The slogan they used was “Bread and Roses,” as bread stood for economic security and roses for a better quality of life. On 28 February 1909, National Women’s Day was celebrated throughout the United States. In 1910, an international conference was held in Copenhagen between different nations of the world. More than 17 countries participated, and hundreds of participants attended. One of the initiators was Clara Zetkin.
In 1911, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in several countries in Europe and the United States. The day chosen was 19 March. A week later, a terrible tragedy occurs: more than 100 textile workers, mostly migrant women from Eastern Europe and Italy, die in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York. A total of 123 women workers and 23 men died. The oldest victim was 43 years old and the youngest 14 years old. This tragic event gave an even stronger impetus to the struggle of women.
The feminist movements during the Russian Revolution of 1917 were also very important.
At the time of the fall of the monarchy in Russia, a large number of women were on strike to demand better living conditions. This prompted the provisional government to grant women’s suffrage on 23 February 1917, according to the Julian calendar, or 8 March, according to the Gregorian calendar.
It was not until after the Second World War that more countries also joined in and began to commemorate Women’s Day on 8 March.
In 1975, the United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time on that date. Today, the struggle continues with the aim of eradicating gender-based violence and achieving equal relationships between women and men.
3. In the face of a historically entrenched pandemic, respond with a praxis of care and new relationships.
This year the UN invites us to commemorate International Women’s Day 2021 by addressing the theme: “Women Leaders: For an Equal Future in the World of Covid-19”. The UN invites us to celebrate the enormous efforts of women and girls around the world to forge an equal future and recover from the Covid 19 pandemic. It is also in line with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women: “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, and the elimination of violence, to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” and with the flagship Equality Generation campaign, which calls for women’s right to decision-making in all spheres of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to all forms of violence against women and girls, and health care services that respond to their needs.
The health crisis we are going through as humanity and the economic and social crisis deepens social inequalities, exacerbating social inequalities, including gender inequalities. The articulation of the other inequalities generates a synergy of factors that especially overburden women and girls who are “naturally” assigned the social responsibility of “care.”
In these times, the notion of “care” takes on a qualitative depth for Christians, insofar as women and men feel called by the God of Life and Love to commit themselves to the care of Creation in the integrality of its biodiversity and to the transformation of structures and links that dehumanize and neglect us, putting life, the defense of Human Rights and the good life understood as a community synergy at risk. We do not save ourselves alone, we save ourselves in the community. The extractivist mode of the economic system of production has its parallel in the extractivist and inequitable model that is deployed in the treatment of women. This life- and dignity-destroying paradigm normalizes domineering and abusive behavior towards women: women are required to give of themselves and care for others, assuming that these attitudes are women’s “natural gifts”. By establishing these demands as a natural obligation, the dedication and sacrifices that women constantly make are devalued and made invisible, leaving them outside of any social and – especially – economic recognition. Those hours that women dedicate to care and the reproduction of life constitute daily unpaid work, on which men reinforce the exercise of power, being able to live more freely for themselves. For women, the meaning and, above all, the “experience” of private and intimate time is very different. A delicate but effective plot justifies this difference by showing as “merit” what in reality are gender privileges granted by the fact of being born male.
In the perspective of designing public policies that respond to the socio-economic and health crisis provoked by Covid 19, considering the pre-existing inequalities of the pandemic will allow us to understand gender-based violence as a historically rooted pandemic that needs to be reversed, In addition to policies for the protection of rights on the part of the State, it requires the involvement of civil society, institutions, men and women willing to transform their view of socio-cultural gender mandates, to uncover the captivities that limit and restrict the development of human dignity and the bonds of the good life.
Despite the fact that women constitute the majority of frontline staff, there is a disproportionate and inadequate representation of women in national and global policy spaces related to Covid-19.
As Pope Francis reminds us in the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “…doubly poor are women who suffer situations of exclusion, mistreatment, and violence…” (FT 23); “…” (FT 23); “…” (FT 23); “…” (FT 24). (FT 23); “…it is unacceptable that someone should have fewer rights because she is a woman” (FT 121).
4. A new masculinity: with the heart, the tenderness, and the audacity of Joseph.
As a Claretian family, we invite communities to become aware of and committed to the dignity of women. Where women build dignity, children grow up in dignity. Women, who have historically integrated the essential meaning of care when they work and earn income, participate and build an equitable economy of solidarity. They share their income to the point of giving what they do not have. They do not shirk their economic responsibilities towards their family members, they do not try to evade child support payments, nor do they try to avoid being present overtime in the care of their children. There will be exceptions, of course, just as there are countless men who live their masculinity in a new way, integrating tenderness and self-giving into their person, bearing witness to the example of St. Joseph.
In this sense, alternative models of masculinity to the hegemonic model are possible, which make it possible to sustain men’s lives in humility and in communion with other women and men, without the need to demonstrate to the world and their relationships, especially to their gender peers, that they exercise power and make decisions. There are men who are willing to give up privileges in favor of the care of their family, as St. Joseph, Patron of our Mother Church, knew how to do. In the midst of the crisis that is hitting us, “our lives are woven and sustained by ordinary people – usually forgotten – who do not appear on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, nor on the big catwalks of the latest show, but are undoubtedly writing today the decisive events of our history: doctors, nurses, supermarket stockers, cleaners, carers, transport workers, security forces, volunteers, priests, nuns and many, many others who have understood that no one is saved alone. How many people every day show patience and instill hope, taking care not to sow panic but co-responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, teachers show our children, with small, everyday gestures, how to face and deal with a crisis by readapting routines, raising their eyes, and encouraging prayer. How many people pray, offer, and intercede for the good of all”. Everyone can find in St. Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, the man of daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, support, and a guide in times of difficulty. St. Joseph reminds us that all those who are apparently hidden or in the “second line” have an unparalleled role in the history of salvation “1.
St. Joseph was a man who “did not look for shortcuts, but faced with open eyes what was happening to him, taking responsibility in the first person”. Christian men are invited to embrace the history of salvation and, like St. Joseph, to embrace the care of the lives of women and children with tenderness, renouncing the temptation to hold on to the powers, privileges, and status that threaten and denigrate the lives of so many women.
Joseph was the man through whom God dealt with the beginnings of redemptive history. He was the true “miracle” through whom God saved the Child and his mother. Heaven intervened, trusting in the creative courage of this man who, when he arrived in Bethlehem and found no place where Mary could give birth, took up residence in a stable and arranged it to make it as welcoming as possible for the Son of God who was coming into the world (cf. Lk 2:6-7). Faced with the imminent danger of Herod, who wanted to kill the Child, Joseph was once again alerted in a dream to protect him, and in the middle of the night he organized the flight to Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14)”. The creative and courageous masculinity lived by St. Joseph makes him a model for our brothers who assume as a life project the gift of self and the responsible assumption of the care of life in its most fragile and vulnerable expressions.
5. Said and done: suggested activities for our communities
On this International Women’s Day, we think it is important that in each country where our Claretian communities and positions are inserted (schools, parishes, projects, etc.), in order to better defend the rights and dignity of our sisters, we investigate and know the national regulations that protect them. Also, the International Norms have been ratified by the countries where we are.
Are equality and non-discrimination, the right to live free from violence, the right to physical and psychological integrity, freedom and dignity, to just and favorable conditions of employment, among other rights, guaranteed in the Constitution of your country?
Research and learn about the various binding regional and international standards that your country’s law has incorporated into its national legal system to regulate women’s rights in private and public spaces, at work, and in the community.
□ Make a brief report on the regulations known, share it with the SOMI team in your organization, and make it clear which women’s rights are regulated by these regulations and what legal procedures they establish to make their protection effective.
Relate them to Goal 5 of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Have national, provincial, or departmental governments been involved in the implementation of regional gender agendas within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
Research, inform yourself and raise awareness together with your community or with other groups or institutions willing to work and generate actions in favor of the most vulnerable or at-risk women, within the framework of protecting their rights.
6. You cannot serve two masters: Eucharist or predation?
All these principles and fundamental rights are violated when situations of inequality and discrimination based on gender arise. And the violation of human rights constitutes a violation of human dignity. God, Mother-Father, will call us to account for the smallest of these.
At this moment in the history of humanity and the earth, in our Common Home, the outbreak of the pandemic has exposed our frailties. The caged body of women, as a naturalized socio-cultural prison, continues to prevent them from expressing themselves and being recognized as persons, associating ideas of inferiority, inequality, and dependence with them. The body and the world become – not infrequently – a place of fear for women. Female corporeality is more complex: from this hollow, empty, and somewhat fearful body, life is born: a woman’s womb is the alpha of human history. Many men still face the challenge of losing their fear of that closeness and intimacy which is on the plane of the mysterious, the secret, and the divinely potent.
We need to recover the feminine dimension in all Creation, to return to our bodies and to inhabit them with a dignity that opens us to the profound dimension of the Eucharist. As Christians, we have been given a choice between life and death:
Will we choose to be Eucharistic or predatory?
May the relationships that inhabit the Spirit of Jesus integrate the ethics and aesthetics of Love. May it be so.
SOMI-MICA TEAM Coordinator