Religious women participate in the UISG Advocacy Forum Religious women participate in the UISG Advocacy Forum 

UISG Advocacy Forum: Religious women can influence global policies

As the 2023 UISG Advocacy Forum wraps up in Rome, religious sisters are invited to change global policies by advocating for victims of human trafficking, migrants and refugees, and everyone on the peripheries of society.

By Sr. Nina Benedikta Krapić, VMZ

Regenerative economies and sustainable lifestyles, diversity and dialogue, building a narrative and telling people’s stories, global sisterhood in advocacy for people and our planet: These are just a few of the subjects that religious sisters discussed on the second day of the two-day UISG Advocacy Forum 2023 that took place on 23-24 October in Rome.

Discussing the role of sisters in advocacy on regenerative economy and sustainable lifestyles, religious women pointed out the interlinks between the economy, climate change, and the most challenging issues of our time, such as human trafficking and migration.

An economy without human trafficking is one of the global issues that sisters are working toward at both local and global levels, especially as labour and sexual exploitation are on the rise.

Profits derived from human trafficking are worth more than US$ 150 billion annually, according to Sr. Abby Avelino, international coordinator of “Talitha Kum”, a program run by UISG.

“Be mindful our clothes that we're wearing, the food we're eating, the tea that you're drinking: where it is from? Child labour? Many pick the tea leaves that we drink every day,” noted Sr. Avelino, in an interview with Vatican News.

Systematic transformation for world’s most pressing challenges

Sisters present at the Forum shared the experience on advocating for the homeless at the UN. It was only after the representatives of religious men and women brought the issue of homelessness to the United Nations that the first Resolutions on the topic were proposed. Today, UN Member States are bound to regularly report on their work on homelessness.

Sisters of the “Talitha Kum” network are also making big steps in advocating globally to stop human trafficking, working with national governments and parliaments.

“Our sisters at national level do their best to get their policy into government and then making it global,” said Sr. Avelino.

She shared a story from Japan where “Talitha Kum” advocated for the rights of women involved in forced labour.

The women signed contracts by which they were not allowed to get pregnant in order to keep working, so many were forced to choose between having an abortion or keeping their job.

“We were doing the advocacy, awareness raising, trying to explain to the women. We tried to lobby it in the government,” said Sr. Avelino. As a result of their advocacy, the government put in place a new policy that confirmed that “the right of women is to give birth, the right for women to carry their baby even though sometimes they don't know what they're signing for.”

There are 50 million people victims of modern slavery, warned Sr. Avelino, pointing out that online sexual exploitation of children is really rampant, especially in Southeast Asia. “And this is not being reported,” stressed Sr. Avelino.

Sisters advocating for migrants and refugees

There are currently an estimated 183 million migrants in the world. Within that number there are more than 80 million forcibly displaced people. Sisters all over the world are encountering and accompanying them.

“Sometimes it depends on the conflicts that are happening like in Ukraine, so it can go up to a 100 million. But the vast majority of people displaced are still in their country but not in their home, so we call them internally displaced,” said Sr. Maryanne Loughry, Co-coordinator of the International Migrants and Refugees Network, another project of UISG.

About 38 million people among the forcibly displaced are refugees and asylum seekers, “and they are the ones needing protection because they don't have their own country,” said Sr. Loughry, speaking to Vatican News.

Many sisters work with migrants, offering them practical assistance. But while meeting migrants and refugees “we realised that that's not enough,” said Sr. Loughry.

Working daily with the poor and migrants gives sisters much useful information that can be transformed into concrete action, which is why their stories need to be shared globally.

“Sisters have a unique position because we are on the ground. So, we can help to tell the story, but we can also help the people to tell their own story of why they are moving, what's the impact on their family, on their community,” said Sr. Loughry.

Pope Francis ‘puts migrants into focus’

Most complex issues of our time are interlinked, Sr. Loughry pointed out, adding that we cannot focus on resolving migration without working on climate change.

“There's now a discussion of climate displacement, it's not possible now to just stay with one issue and to just focus on one issue. The call of our world at the moment is to see why is there conflict? Why is there displacement? What are we doing to our environment? That means that we are now running out of natural resources,” said Sr. Loughry.

“They are all interlinked and it's important for us to understand that. I think Pope Francis clearly understands that, and his advocacy has led us to also bring what we are seeing to a wider audience,” she said.

Several sisters recalled Pope Francis’ actions on advocating migrants and refugees, and called the Pope a leader that has brought migrants and refugees into focus for the Church and the world.

Changing the narratives

One panel of the Forum was dedicated to building narratives regarding people who are marginalised. Sisters can tell their stories and help to change the public discourse.

“It is the possibility to give voice to those that are in need and to tell their own, real stories. Their stories are full of life and hope,” said Sr. Maria Jose Rey Merodio, Project Lead at Communities of Hospitality from Jesuit-run Centro Astalli in Rome.

She spoke to Vatican News about the importance on changing the narrative on migrants.

“When you see why they are moving out from their countries and from their houses, it's because they have hope in their movement,” she said.

This movement is not only bringing problem to the community they are moving to, as often perceived but they are also bringing their hopes for a safer life.

“They think they can build their dignity with the people that are there. That can give them the possibility of building their own life, sharing the hope they bring with them,” said Sr. Merodio.

The first step to change the narrative is to stop calling people on the move “migrants”.

“Migrants are not only migrants. They are kids; they are families; they are young people; they are students; they are ill people sometimes,” said Sr. Merodio, inviting everyone to give them a chance to be seen as people.

“Most of them don't want to be considered as only refugees or migrants. They say ‘I have a name and I am a person on the move that is trying to build a life in a safe place’,” concluded Sr. Merodio.

UISG Advocacy Forum 2023The two-day UISG Advocacy Forum 2023 took place in Rome, on 23 -24 October, at the General Curia of the Society of Jesus. The forum is an initiative of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in collaboration with the Global Solidarity Fund.

The Forum sought to offer a platform to help religious women identify priority areas for national, regional and international advocacy that can lead to systemic change.

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24 October 2023, 18:55