This year the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Leave No Woman Behind’, which focused on ensuring that all women are given the chance to live full and free lives, especially those most vulnerable and marginalised.
It is these women, living in the margins, whom Jesuit Mission helps each day.
In Myanmar, Ramona is a 21 year old woman who grew up in Rakhine State, which is the home of the Rohingya Muslim community who are persecuted in Myanmar. Fleeing this situation with her family a few years ago, Ramona now lives in Thingangyun near the capital of Myanmar.
As a young woman, Ramona has experienced more violence and tragedy in her life than anyone should in a lifetime. Now, although safe from the violence, her family have no identity papers, and so they are still in an extremely vulnerable situation — unable to legally work, own property, or obtain government school qualifications.
I met Ramona while visiting the Inigo English Academy, which is run by the Jesuits in Myanmar, and supported by the Australian Jesuit community. In addition to teaching English, the academy provides a holistic education program that develops the whole person, forming young people to become confident leaders, and men and women for others.
Despite her past trauma, when I met Ramona, she exuded joy. Her energy, courage and enthusiasm were contagious. She tells me that since joining the program, she has a new passion for life. She now has hopes and dreams for the future — she dreams of becoming a fashion designer.
But not only that, she is keen to support others in Myanmar who are facing similar challenges. She told me that she wants to work for equality and justice in Myanmar, especially for women.
At Jesuit Mission, we also recently shared the story of three inspiring young women on the other side of the world, in Malawi, Africa.
Aline, Louise and Kapinga are three secondary school students who live and go to school in the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. Despite their circumstances, they recently won an award for the design of an effective, low-cost lifejacket that could potentially save many lives. Read their story here.
There are common themes between Ramona’s story, and that of the three girls in the Dzaleka refugee camp: they are women who are in challenging and vulnerable circumstances; they are women who, given the opportunities, have been able to shine; and beyond that, they are women who are then determined to use their talents and opportunities to help others in turn.
It has been shown that when women are involved in disaster prevention and community development, the whole community benefits. That is why it is so important to ensure that women are active participants in their community — in their families, in the workforce, and as community leaders.
So today I ask you to join in solidarity with women around the world. We pray that women who are marginalised, poor, or vulnerable are recognised for who they are, that they are given the opportunities they deserve to grow, and that they are included as active participants in society.
When this happens, they will shine, and be women who help build a better future for all.
More information on Jesuit Mission’s work: jesuitmission.org.au
Based on speech given by Helen Forde (Jesuit Mission CEO) at Xavier College, Kew on International Women’s Day 2018