Scent of Women

International Women's Day is coming to an end. All over the world, people have been highlighting the valuable contribution of women in society and the struggles still to be fought for the full recognition of their dignity. And rightly so... because it is not because it is 2023 that it is a foregone conclusion.

All day long, I have been reminded of the images of those brave women in Iran who, over the past year, have demonstrated for days and weeks demanding social change in their country. The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, three days after her detention by the morality police for “wearing inappropriate clothing” – and the huge protests that followed – shook the regime in place. But there is still so much to do…

In Afghanistan, where many countries have been involved for years in trying to establish a true democracy, the Taliban are back in power after the withdrawal of foreign forces. Sadly, it is the only country in the world where women and girls have no right to education!

The unjust war in Ukraine sees many women become heads of households because their spouses are serving on the front lines. As best they can, the women try to maintain a semblance of normalcy for their children, living in constant fear of bombings and severe necessities. Those who have been able to find refuge outside of Ukraine show an exceptional amount of courage that must be highlighted.

On the beaches of the Mediterranean or on the borders of Canada and the United States, women dare to dream of a better future for their children. Unfortunately, all too often, immigration policies and the refusal of the wealthy to recognize the inalienable right to migrate mean that these same women live in constant insecurity. And what about the pain of a mother who cries for her child who drowned in a shipwreck; the land of refuge has become a mere graveyard.

Violence against women – physical, verbal, psychological, sexual and virtual – continues to be a daily feature in the news. Feminicide, long thought to be a scourge of the developing world, is now a social issue that afflicts all societies. And the dream of a better tomorrow is lost in an everyday anguish…

On this International Women’s Day, is there any reason to celebrate when we look at these situations – and many more! – that still threaten women? One thing is certain, the celebration is marked by a suffering… often silent, hidden.

A Breach Opens… A Hope is Revealed

But at the same time, let us think today of all those heroines who have opened breaches in a world that is often patriarchal and marked by the denial of the role of women. We could mention great names in history, because they are legion!

I will mention only three figures. Rosa Parks, a young African-American woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in the United States in 1955; she would become an emblematic figure of the civil rights movement in her country. Marie Curie, a Polish physicist and chemist, received two Nobel Prizes for her scientific research; she is the first woman to receive this prestigious award and the only one to receive it twice! Kathrine Switzer is famous for being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. It was with an identifier that did not reveal her gender that she participated in the race in 1967, five years before women were allowed. Some organizers and competitors tried to remove her from the race, but by breaking the glass ceiling, Kathrine paved the way for many other women athletes.

These great women are to be admired. But let’s not forget all those women closer to us! Our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends carry within them powers of audacity and courage, tenderness and love, dreams and hope! They inspire us, they console us, they push us to give the best of ourselves! They are those women who believe that love is stronger than anything and that a better world is within our reach!

It is impossible to forget that the “feminine genius” has contributed so much to history and to the Church. We can recall Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila. And the list could easily be extended. They follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims of the Word: Eve, Sara, Ruth, Mary, Martha, Magdalene… Often, believing without seeing, they accepted to give everything so that Life could arise! But there is still so much to do in our world and in our Church so that women can be fully recognized.

Today, we celebrate them all! Their names are Evelyn, Mae, Gisele, Anita, Elise, Justine or Laurie… Their daily life makes us become what we are called to be. The Suzanne’s, the Huguette’s, the Norma’s, the Colette’s and the Pierrette’s rise up to believe in a better world by committing themselves with women and men for a more just, more equitable society. They are still there, these women who have inspired our lives: a Brigitte, a Hélène, a Linda and many others! To each of them and to all the others, thank you. Your scent of women invigorates my life!

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