Women on the MoveAll around the world, women move not only themselves and their families to safer locations but they move their communities to overcome injustice. Commemorating International Women’s Day, the St. John’s CRS Global Campus Committee organized a panel of experts focusing on the Philippines, East Africa, Syria and Iraq. Around fifty students, faculty, staff, and administrators attended the panel to learn about the female face of the global migration crisis.

Dr. Agnes Brazal, the 2017 D’Angelo Chair in the Humanities at St. John’s University and Associate Professor of theology at De la Salle University in Manila detailed the complex push and pull factors influencing Filipina women’s decisions to migrate. Given the nursing shortage in the United States, many Filipina nurses migrate for jobs. Dr. Brazal estimated that nursing salary in the Philippines is sometimes only 5% what nurses are paid in the United States. Many women leave behind children with their husbands and extended families seeking greater economic opportunities to support their children. In particular, many Filipinas have college degrees and yet end up working as domestic workers in other countries. Detailing stories of abuse in Singapore and Boston, women working as domestic workers are often at the mercy of their employer, especially when their visa is tied to the job. Citing Catholic social teaching, Dr. Brazal emphasized that “the dignity of the person does not expire with a visa.”

Sharing stories of women in Syria and Iraq was Dr. Nefertiti Takla. An assistant professor of history at Manhattan College, Dr. Takla described the immense struggle women face when deciding whether or not to flee a conflict. While the risks on the road are great, the women create informal networks of safety. These informal networks are often overlooked but are often the lynchpin in survival. Taking turns sleeping and watching each other’s children, women on the move create community wherever they are. As refugees, both formal and informal structures are needed. Providing support and cultural guidance to refugees in our own community is something we all can do, according to Dr. Takla. Responding to student questions, she emphasized the strength and hope she has witnessed urging all students to do what they can to break down the walls between “us” and “them” in our communities.

Finally, Ms. Angela Wells from the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University shared stories of refugee women collected from East Africa. Over two years working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, Ms. Wells met with women from Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. An overarching problem is that most refugees are not allowed to integrate in the host countries do to restrictions on their movement, employment, and education. While we hear much about a migrant crisis in Europe, the vast majority of the worlds refugees remain within the Global South. 150,000 Sudanese have fled into South Sudan in the last decade fleeing the conflict in the Blue Nile trading one conflict for another. One such woman who fled with her children, Leila explains, “I have chosen to be a teacher because I want to to keep the generation moving forward…When I teach and see the achievements of my students I feel happy because I know they are going to know their rights.” The stories of women becoming teachers, massage therapists, and activists under the most intense and violent circumstances demonstrate the resilience of women on the move.

…is Assistant Professor of Moral Theology and Faculty Chair, St. John’s CRS Global Campus Committee, St John’s university

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