~ by Joan Rosenhauer, National Catholic Reporter
March 8 is International Women’s Day, an important and necessary recognition of the needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls. Having served for many years in leadership roles for Catholic organizations, I am especially aware of how the Catholic Church is called to engage women in all that we do. We need to serve women, but we also need women to serve. Women bring unique and important qualities to the work that the church does around the world. They are determined and resourceful, they put their communities first and they lead and serve with care and concern.
When I first began working in international development, one of the things I quickly learned was that investing in women and women’s leadership ripples far beyond the direct beneficiary. Research by the U.S. Agency for International Development has found that when 10% or more of adolescent girls go to school, a country’s gross domestic product increases by an average of 3%. This is because women and girls invest in their families and communities and often take what they are given to serve others.
The role of women throughout the history of the church also deserves attention on this day devoted to the contributionsof women. I think about some of the notable women, like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, whose leadership and service have been so important to the church’s mission. Devoted, powerful and sometimes brazen in her determination, she led important work for the church in the United States and directed missions to offer care and welcome for those seeking a better life in a new land. The inspiration I find in Mother Cabrini isn’t just in her patronage of immigrants — a cause that is dear to my heart and the essence of the mission of my organization. She inspires me because of the unique leadership she brought to her work. Her leadership was steeped in prayer and directed and informed by those most in need, not those in power.
As we recognize International Women’s Day around the world this year, it is more important than ever that we recognize the important qualities women bring, and the essential contributions we make, in society as a whole, and especially for the church’s mission around the world.
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