By Sister Ijeoma Okoye, SNDdeN, Nigeria: Governments must provide essential social services such as quality education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation for their citizens. Governments also have the primary responsibility to safeguard the human rights and security of all who live within their borders.  The above, unfortunately, is not the reality in many African countries, especially in countries within the sub Saharan region of the continent where Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have a presence.  While some of the governments have only made half-hearted efforts, others have out-rightly neglected to provide these much-needed services for the people.


Standing from L:  Srs. Marie-Therese Mbongi, Rosita Ignatius, Priscilla Aliu, Margaret Inziani, Chantel Kisimbila, Majella Anyanwu, Elizabeth Chinamo, Fr. Emedo Obiezu.  2nd. Row L:  Srs. Isabelle Izika, Ijeoma Okoye, Theresa Anikwata, Maximila Matub

The failure of governments in many sub-Saharan African countries to fulfill the state’s obligations to their citizens has contributed to an escalation in the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region. For over a century, Catholic Religious Institutes of women and men, and other humanitarian organizations have endeavored to fill the gap created by government’s negligence or failure to provide education, healthcare, and others services.  Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been outstanding in their efforts to offer quality education, healthcare, and other social services for people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for over a century. Nevertheless, it is increasingly becoming evident that despite years of efforts by so many faith-based and other humanitarian organizations, the gaps in accessibility of these services continues to widen. This may suggest that our efforts are no longer enough, probably because we are only tackling the symptoms of the problems.

Therefore, while applauding the efforts of Religious Congregations in providing these services to people living in poverty, we must also begin to challenge the systemic roots of


Theresa Anikwata & Sr. Margaret Inziani

the social problems that keep people in poverty, such as poor governance and corruption. A deeper consciousness of social justice moves us to question those systemic structures which create the gaping inequalities among peoples in our society. Since social action involves working with social institutions so that they become more responsive to the needs of individuals, Institutes of Religious Life are called to “MOVE FROM CHARITY TO JUSTICE.” This broadening of focus is necessary if we must remain relevant in the 21st Century. Our prophetic mission as Catholic Religious women in the present age requires us to make a paradigm shift in the way we perceive our roles in society. Thus, rather than just filling the gaps created as the result of the state’s failure to fulfill its obligations to the people, we must also begin to collaborate with others to seek creative ways to advocate for change in those unjust structures that strip millions of our people of their human dignity.



Sisters show off their certificate of participation at the end of the workshop

In an effort to respond to these needs, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, working as an NGO at the United Nations recently organized a training workshop (30 April – 4 May 2019) for the Sisters of Notre Dame Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Animators from the African units.  The aim of the workshop titled, From Charity to Justice,” was to strengthen the Sisters grassroots advocacy for systemic change, and the commitment to social justice as called for by the “2014 Chapter Calls” of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The venue was the SMA Center in Abuja, Nigeria.

Fr. Emeka Xris Obiezu, an Augustinian priest from Nigeria, and the former United Nations representative for the Augustinians International facilitated the workshop. Sr. Majella Anyanwu, SNDdeN -Nigeria, (Lawyer), gave an input on human rights, and Sr. Amarachi Grace Ezeonu, the SNDatUN representative and the organizer of the workshop gave her presentation (virtually from New York). Participants at the workshop were Sisters from Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. At the end of the workshop, the participants shared testimonies of being empowered by the experience of the three days. They drafted a proposal to be presented to the 18th General Chapter of the Congregation taking place in July 2020.



4It was a privilege and joy for me to have participated in the 63rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York from 11 – 22 March 2019. I gathered that over nine thousand people registered for the event, and about seven thousand eventually attended. There were women from almost all the geographical regions of the world. I felt quite encouraged to hear women from different nationalities speak with passion on issues of gender equality and human rights for women and girls.

I had the opportunity to attend many side events at the margins of the CSW63. One of such events made a deep impression on me. I was moved to tears as I listened to the narrative about the horrific experience of how her stepfather sexually abused her, and 5then eventually thrown out of the family house when she spoke up. With being homeless, she became vulnerable to further sexual abuses and violence. One violent abuse led to another until she ended up being sold into prostitution by someone who pretended to offer her a job and a home. But her story did not end in prostitution, for she was rescued from the situation by a group of Catholic Religious Congregation. She is today a survivor/advocate against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of young girls.

Governments must do more in the fight against human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls. Bridging the gap in gender inequality that still exists in many countries by providing social protection to all citizens, especially women and girls is one concrete way of ensuring gender equality. This was the core message of CSW63. It is, however, reassuring to know that civil society organizations are not giving up on the fight against violence against women and girls.  Memories of my experience of CSW63 will remain with me for a long time.

Amid all the events happening at the conference, some students from schools around New York City joined in the match for climate change. I felt heartened to hear the young people lend their voices to issues on the protection of our environment.


April 22 is observed as the International Mother Earth Day. Mother Earth Day according 3to the United Nations is commemorated each year to remind us that the Earth and its ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2009, to designate April 22 as Mother Earth Day in recognition of our collective responsibility as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration; to promote harmony with nature and the Earth, to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity. Since the earth sustains us, we all have a responsibility to protect her. Every single day should, therefore, be Mother Earth Day. So, take an action today to save our beautiful planet from the impending catastrophe of climate change. Celebrate Earth Day today. Think Green! Act Green!

To accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019.

Read more:

UN Earth Day:

UN News :

Mother Earth by Jane Goodall:



Indigenous People.  UN Photo/Rick Bajornas


Hundreds of Indigenous Peoples from across the globe gathered at the UN Headquarters, New York, for the Eighteenth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held from 25 April to 2 May. The theme for the 2019 UNPFII is “traditional knowledge: generation, transmission, protection.” The UN describes the indigenous peoples as the inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people          Indigenous People. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas              social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of dominant societies in which they live. The UNPFII was established in the year 2000, by a UN resolution with the mandate to deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights.

According to a report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the 2estimated 370 million indigenous peoples who reside in approximately 90 countries are among the most marginalized peoples in the world. The report noted that indigenous peoples are often isolated politically and socially within the countries where they reside by the geographical location of their communities, their separate histories, cultures, languages, and traditions.

To safeguard the human rights of the indigenous peoples, therefore, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the resolution in 2007 on the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration provides a comprehensive framework of minimum standards of economic, social, and cultural well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. Again, in 2016, the UNGA adopted a resolution declaring 2019 a Year of Indigenous Languages.

Read more:


International Year of Indigenous Languages: Reports on Indigenous Peoples Rights:


4By Salma Sahnoun, Student, University of Central Missouri, USA: My name is Salma Sahnoun from Tunisia, North Africa. I am a senior at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri, majoring in Political Science. I am passionate about Human Rights and Humanitarian Development. I believe that resource scarcity and unequal access to resources should not destroy dreams.  To this end, I want to devote my life to people in need – especially women and children – to improve their conditions.

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur is an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations. I had the pleasure to represent the organization at the Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN) in Boston, MA from February 14 -17, 2019. HNMUN is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious United Nations simulation that brings together over 3,000 college students and faculty advisors from colleges and universities across the globe.  Delegations from 61 countries were present at this year’s conference that provided students the unique opportunity to experience the challenges of international negotiation.  To be a good representative of the Sisters of Notre Dame, I spent considerable time researching the organization’s work and perspectives on various issues. With the help of Sr. Amarachi Grace Ezeonu, I gathered valuable information on various issues facing young women around the world that enabled me to play a vital role at the conference.

As the representative of the Sisters of Notre Dame, I worked with delegates serving on 5the Commission on the Status of Women to address the “the modern-day evil” of human trafficking.  At the end of my presentation, I was approached by many of the delegations to explain how education can be a solution to women and child trafficking.

Representing the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur was a real honor. The work and noble causes of your organization match my views and goals in life. Investing in education and making education accessible to young girls around the world, is I believe the best way to inspire change and make the world a better place!

Thank you for inspiring me and showing me how much women can do.



2More women around the world are reclaiming the agency to speak and act on issues that concern them. The UN Secretary-General has set an ambitious goal for the global organization to achieve gender parity in the assignment of leadership roles at every level of the organization. Insisting on gender equality and respect for the human rights of women and girls is the just and the right thing to do. When half the population of any society is marginalized, that society cannot thrive. Inequality has been the predicament of women and girls for centuries in many communities around the world, both in public and private spheres. For example, women still receive less pay than their male counterpart for an equal job in many countries.  Millions of girls are denied the right to education and forced into marriage before their 18th birthday. The notion in many societies that women are less-equal to men is often rooted in the cultural and religious beliefs of the people. The cultural and religious dimension of gender inequality makes the concept somewhat challenging to dismantle. Nevertheless, many women and men are taking on the challenge.

The International Women’s Day celebrated on 8 March is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” The theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for a change.” In his message to mark the International Women’s Day, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres called for the redoubling of efforts to protect and promote women’s rights, dignity, and leadership. Having more women in leadership positions at different levels of society is key to achieving gender equality and ensuring the human rights of women and girls.

Facts and Figures

  • Globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18, and at least3 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone FGM.
  • The rates of girls between 15-19 who are subjected to FGM (female genital mutilation) in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated have dropped from 1 in 2 girls in 2000 to 1 in 3 girls by 2017.
  • In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence.
  • One in five women and girls, including 19 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner with the last 12 months. Yet, 49 countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such abuse.
  • While women have made significant inroads into political office across the world, their representation in national parliaments at 23.7 percent is still far from parity.
  • In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 percent of seats in the national parliament in at least one chamber.
  • Only 52 percent of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use, and health care.
  • Globally, women are just 13 percent of agricultural landholders.
  • Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35 percent in 1990 to 41 percent in 2015.
  • More than 100 countries have taken action to track budget allocations for gender equality.
  • In Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by over 40% since 2000. (Culled from the UN website)


Read more:

International Women’s Day:

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls:



1After two weeks of intense dialogue, the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) concluded on 22nd March in New York with a strong commitment by UN Member States to safeguard  and improve women’s and girls’ access to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure, ensuring that their design and delivery is transformed to prevent discrimination and create a ‘level playing field’ for women and girls. Read more

Click HERE to download the Agreed Conclusion from CSW63