TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Innovation for a gender-equal future

For most, this message will be opened on Tuesday 7 March, on the eve of International Women's Day. This day is celebrated around the globe to honour women in all their diversities.

From the International Women’s Development Agency, it is a day to:

Embrace their facets and intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender of sexual identity, or disability. We celebrate those who came before us, those who stand beside us now, and those who will come after us.

It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of women, whether social, political, economic or cultural.

The theme for International Women's Day 2023 is Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 but was not recognised by the United Nation until 1975.

To celebrate this day, about 100 women from diverse backgrounds will gather in the Victor Peters Suite for a Sisters of Faith Dinner, with the theme – How important is Spirituality and Equality to Humanity?

Such gatherings are important to women of faith and to those women who are seeking. We come together to:

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #Embrace Equity. (IWD)

I note the theme for this year’s World Youth Day is:

Mary arose and went with haste (Luke 1:39)

Mary, having accepted the invitation to be with child, goes with haste to her older cousin who is also with child. It is in their greeting of each other that the Magnificat (Mary’s Song) is proclaimed. The hope, in choosing such a theme for WYD, is an invitation for young people to be courageous missionaries, to go out beyond the borders that might restrict them, to proclaim faith to the world in need of such proclamation.

In my role, I am blessed to encounter many women and men of faith, and also people of no faith or a questioning faith. Many women struggle with the inequity they feel within society, and within our church. I wish this were not so. The diocesan synod, the Plenary Council and the Bishops’ Synod on Synodality recognise the issues facing our church regarding fully acknowledging and recognising the giftedness of women. In each of these forums, there has been expressed a hope for renewal, imagination and conversion.

It’s almost 60 years since Pope John XXIII noted a characteristic of the modern age:

Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons. (Pacem in Terris n. 41)

If in domestic and public life, why not in the life of the Church? In 1996, the Australian Catholic Bishops commissioned a three-year research project which culminated in Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus which found:

The dominant issue arising from the research was gender equality, recognizing the equal dignity of women and men created in the image and likeness of God. This understanding of equality did not imply the sameness of men and women, but rather their complementarity and mutuality. The Church was seen to be lagging behind the wider Australian society in recognizing the changing role of women as one of the ‘signs of the times’ and affirming the equality of women. The very limited participation of women in decision-making at present and the need to increase women’s involvement in decision-making at all levels were constant and major themes. (n.6)

I wonder how prepared we are to listen to the signs of the times, and to make an adequate response to the voices of women, who are called to be holy through the grace poured upon them by the Holy Spirit.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, the Hunter Community Alliance will be holding two Candidates’ Forums for the State Election. The two proposals being put to the candidates are around Climate and Housing & Homelessness. In the climate ‘asks’, we are seeking a Hunter Valley Climate Transition Authority to look towards long-term planning on how to best navigate the anticipated rapidly evolving economic, social and environmental change facing the region. In the Housing and Homelessness ‘asks’, we are seeking a safe, secure and affordable place for everyone to call home. In our research, we found that women are disproportionately the ones who are experiencing homelessness, given their vulnerability because of the complexities of low incomes, child-rearing, part-time work, violence, etc.

During the events of this week, at our launch of Project Compassion, on the Feast of the Annunciation, during the walk of the Ecumenical Way of the Cross (Sunday 26 March), and as we participate in WYD, we will remember the critical role women play in our world and in our church. We look to Mary, who when asked to be the bearer of the Christ-child, willingly responded:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

My invitation to us, is to listen to God’s voice during this Lenten season. What are we being asked? How will we respond? Who will accompany us on our journey? How are we exercising our servanthood?

Jesus, as he journeyed up the mountain, would not have known what was about to be revealed to him, and to Peter, James and John as he was transfigured. In this transformation, they were touched and told to stand up and to not be afraid.

Let’s continue to courageously walk with each other.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.