Women’s Empowerment

Women’s Empowerment

By Sr. Maria José, MMM

The Anna Sironi Centre is a pastoral work of the parish where the MMM Sisters live in Salvador, Brazil. Many Sisters have collaborated or led their activities over the years and recently Sr. Maria José , MMM, “listened in” to a conversation among three of the leaders of the Centre, Ana Castro, Maria Helena Ramos Belos and Ednalva de Jesus.

Ana Castro: What difference do you think our work here has made to the local women?

Ednalva: Definitely we have empowered these women in so many ways. I would begin with self-esteem. At home, many women do not have a voice. No one listens to them and yet they are the ones who carry the burden of raising the children – and get the blame if things turn out badly.

Helena: We have also helped in practical ways. As you say, often it falls to the woman to be the breadwinner of the family, but they have had little chance of education and no training or skills. When we teach dressmaking, cooking and literacy – all these allow the women to have a small income in their own right. It allows some women to escape situations of domestic violence.

Ednalva: What I love is seeing the women grow in self-confidence. When they come first, they are often very quiet and do not participate in group discussions, but as time goes on, they realize that many women are in similar situations as themselves and they begin to share more and explore opportunities for change. They begin to take a stand in our discussions and debates. They get involved in some activities in the parish and believe that they can change their life story through interaction with other women.

Ana Castro: Isn’t it great to see these women becoming our new leaders? I notice how they can lead the discussions now, and I really love the way they are learning to share the joys and sufferings as we pray together before we start the sessions. I strongly believe in the healing presence of Christ when they can share joy and pain with each other.

Helena: I have also noticed how their health has improved. I suppose self-esteem encourages women to look after their health needs.

Ana Castro: What motivates me to do this work started more than 10 years ago when I retired. I came to help MMM at the Project Consolação. There the women came to share their losses and grief of losing a son through violence. In fact, I was helped by this experience. I confess that I became a different person, inserted in the current reality, and became more passionate in this work with women. That’s why, even with the end of the Project, I still feel committed to these women.

Ednalva: For me, it is all about listening. I have learned with this work to develop my empathy and sensitivity to the suffering of each woman as they come to the center for the activities. I can offer my ear and presence for deep listening, and rely on my faith that God is always present. He does His work through me. I am trying to be a presence of love and compassion. Their stories mingle with my own.

Sr. Maria José: What have you learned from MMM over the years?

Ana Castro: I have learned to experience the Visitation like Mary and Elizabeth. This happens while I am visiting and know the joy of listening to people in their homes. I experience God’s presence with the families. I am filled with gratitude for MMM, for the opportunity to learn to listen, share knowledge, be more present with the people of God, especially the poor.

Helena: In my interaction with MMM I was able to discover my abilities, skills and capabilities through the various opportunities offered to participate in training courses and meetings for the improvement of health care and listening. My faith was also strengthened. I also became more pastorally active. Sister Úrsula Cott, a special friend, invited me to participate in HIV/Aids Pastoral ministry and I am part of this pastoral ministry up to today, as coordinator here in the Archdiocese of São Salvador da Bahia.

Ednalva: Maria José, I just want to tell you how grateful we are to MMM. You have done a lot for us women here in Nordeste de Amaralina, our little part of the periphery of the city of Salvador. The Sisters have given me strength and helped me develop. Thank you for everything. May God bless you and enlighten your lives in your missionary journeys. May Mother Mary be a strong presence in the mission of each one of you. May she bring encouragement and nourishment to your missionary dreams every day.