The International Confederation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was among 700 non-governmental organizations featured at the United Nations [UN] women parallel event of the first ever virtual forum at the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women [NGOCSW65/NY] in a two-week impactful exercise from March 14-26, 2021. This important program adopted the new normal (virtual format) due to the upsurge in Covid-19 pandemic.
The Society’s representative was Patricia Oluchi Onuoha, Vice Chairperson, Global Report Commission who spoke on the 18th of March, 2021 alongside six other high profile women at the event anchored by the National Board of Catholic Women [NBCW] UK with the theme: “Women in Decision Making: Faiths’ Perspective,” under the category of Faith/Religion and Women’s Rights/Gender Equality. NBCW President Margaret Clark moderated the session. The women speakers gave testaments of their faith in action, encouraging young women and girls to live out their dreams and never lose hope amidst the struggles of our time.View the video
From Miss Onuoha’s statement:
X-raying the theme showed that “Faith which is the assurance that the things revealed and promised in the Word are true, even though unseen,” (Hebrews 11:1) and gives the believer a conviction that what he expects in faith, will come to pass… In other words, faith comes from hearing and by hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This becomes tangible: a boy can cook, a girl can hew wood. With this backdrop, women make an impact in nation-building with passion, commitment, and dedication. And sharing my experience as a woman in decision-making using SSVP as a case study demonstrates how my faith has pulled me through, and it is a privilege.
The Vice Chairperson also maintained that the SSVP has continued to play a vital role in faith formation as explained in the following text:
The role of women’s involvement in the history of the SSVP cannot be complete without mentioning the great and noble personalities whose practical commitment rekindled a glowing flame and thus became a passage for today’s women to the Society’s formation. The seven young students led by Blessed Frederic Ozanam formed the first Conference of Charity, later to be SSVP, as a result of the social inequality and injustice all around them; they agreed to take action with the hope of making the world a better place and embracing it in a network of charity. They put their words into action for the good of the common man. The Society admits people irrespective of age, religion, status, sex, race etc. They chose St. Vincent de Paul as their Patron Saint – a Catholic Priest who acted through the inspiration of Jesus by seeing Christ in the person of the poor and expanding love for God and neighbor.
Going forward, women have been incorporated and shown full support in decision making at all levels: from the conference through the international council: This is evident in the life of Sr. Rosalie Rendu [1786-1856], a Daughter of Charity whose tremendous role in uplifting the Society saw her assisting and training the founders in the proper discharge of Vincentian Charism according to the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent de Paul was also assisted by a women, St. Loiuse de Marillac. The founders in 1834 dedicated themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary – Immaculate Conception as Patroness of the SSVP [and whose Feast Day is 8 December]. It is now a tradition that women form part of the policy decision-making and contribute to the growth of the SSVP in general. Moreover, the significant work done by Amelie Ozanam, wife of Bl. Frederic Ozanam, cannot be neglected; due to her selfless service and dedication, President General International Renato Lima de Oliveira declared 14th August in her honour as International SSVP Women’s Day: and also celebrated the bicentenary of her birth on 14th August 2020.
The SSVP prepares all members in equal opportunities, recognizes individual talents and encourages all persons [women inclusive] to utilize their gifts and talents in the development of our dear Society through meetings, training, seminars/retreats; a literary contest on the Founders, Founders Premier Award, public speaking etc. and also allow both women and men fit into any sector where they may find themselves.
Also recall Pope Francis message at the Vatican 8th November, 2020 on the decree “Spiritus Domini [The Spirit of the Lord]” which acted as a formal inclusion of Women in more roles in the Catholic Church: to serve as readers and altar servers, as well as to assist priests during service or in administering Holy Communion. It became an official update to the Code of Canon Law to reflect that “lay persons… can be admitted on a stable basis through rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte” instead of the previous version “lay men”. Likewise in the time of Jesus Christ, women– Mary Magdalene’s significance can not be denied. This also serves to remind us of the importance of having more women contributing to the advancement of the Society. SSVP inculcates the virtues of humility, simplicity, gentleness, zeal and self-control. The Vincentian charism is characterized by empathy, listening, love, acceptability, transparency, kindness, dedication, and evangelization through consistency, commitment, compassion and care.
In all these formative years, I am very grateful to the SSVP for guiding me to live a life of remarkable distinction in the society today. All that I have achieved through the Society was a result of great inspiration drawn from the aforementioned women that have impacted positively in the sustainability and expansion of the Society. The confidence the Society places in me gives me a chance to make an imprint. This rare opportunity acts as an encouragement to many young women and girls that greatness is attainable with the proper formation. It is pertinent to note that it grew my spirituality to God, strengthened my relationships with others and renewed my commitment to the service of the vulnerable.
Responding to the question posed how has your faith enabled you to address the challenges of leadership as a woman? She re-affirmed:
I am proud to be a woman and to lend my voice in the #ChooseToChallenge – Women in Decision Making: Faiths’ Perspective. Up until now, there has been an unsatisfactory rationale regarding women and men. This gender disparity has seen women neglected or unheard and considered inferior, less important, and simply weaker vessels in the society. Every individual is unique and has key role(s) to play in the Society. So are WOMEN: Every girl is as important as every boy and should be given equal opportunity to express himself/herself. There are uncountable scenarios where men or boys are given more attention than the opposite sex; this makes me curious to know “why”. Are women not created in the same image and likeness of God like the men? Why should the men have all the accolades only for women’s efforts to be characterized “She’s just a mere woman and shouldn’t be heard.” Even when she tries to carve a niche, it’s labeled as wasteful efforts; thus her education ends in the kitchen.
This and other derogatory speech serves only to suppress women from lending their voice to the growth and advancement of the Society. In fact, the roles of women and girls cannot be over-emphasized. They are pillars in the home, trailblazers in most organizations, motivators going beyond themsevles, etc. Women CAN and DO make tremendous difference in the Society if given a chance.
Miss Onuoha further noted that her parental tutelage helped her as she was always reminded of the Scripture passages Always be confident in God [1 Jn 5:14], Commit your ways unto the Lord and He shall establish you [Proverbs 16:3]. Taking the form of a servant leader gave her the ability to see the uniqueness of everybody and to accept everyone’s opinions on issues while being proactive, productive and persevering to tackle any difficulties through prayer; and to always keep hope alive in trying times.
The interactive forum was wrapped up with words of acknowledgement:
Prayer and faith in action pulled me through to always recognize God’s presence upon my life and all I am doing, each time I try to give up I am reminded of St. Paul’s writing to the Philippians 4:13 and I quote “I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I stand with the maxim “i CAN” because it has brought many successes beyond my imagination and I am still standing strong amidst my male counterparts.
Let every woman know her worth, develop a prayerful lifestyle with passion, positivity, perseverance, being proactive and productive in her daily growth and applying “I CAN” regardless of the circumstances. I choose to “celebrate every woman’s achievement” for I know what it feels like to not be appreciated and also I tip my hat to all women leaders who are making great strides while encouraging young women and girls out there never to give up but always strive and thrive no matter the environment. Including women in decision-making is of paramount importance to nation-building and celebrating their achievement should be the norm.
I use this medium to remind parents, teachers, guardians to live up to their obligations in girls’ formation. They should guide and encourage every child to fulfill his/her dreams in the ways of God: the time for advocacy is now, for many have wandered off the track. So if I CAN, you CAN, she CAN and everyone CAN make that unique difference in the Society and to the next generations.