Part 1: Congregations of St. Joseph at United Nations  

2016 - 17 were important years for the United Nations Organizations and for the world at large. During the 2016 General Assembly, September19 (UN Summit), the New York Declaration expressed the political will  of the World Leaders  to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a Global Scale for Refugees and  Migrants.  The High Level Political Forum held from 10-19 July 2017 reviewed the progress in achieving the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals

This gathered representatives of all member states and specialized agencies.  It included voluntary national reviews by member states in which they report on how they are progressing in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have an ongoing and varied presence at the United Nations.  Each year we  have been participating in the Commission on Social Development, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Population and Development, the Ongoing Forum on  Indigenous Peoples, Disarmament Commission - Annual Session, and special Committee on Peace Keeping Operations and Review of Committee on NGOs (CoNGO).   

For 2017, 9 Sisters of St. Joseph are granted Annual UN Ground Passes (7 for New York and 2 for Geneva). Through these annual ground passes, we have access to UN and to engage in dialogue with the UN delegates concerning issues being discussed at the UN and those delegates who are on the Bureau to run the Commissions. Together with me, (Sister Justine Gitanjali Senapati csj), the full-time NGO representative, other sisters also are actively engaged with the UN dynamic and the processes. They are Sister Marianne Sennick (Brentwood), Sister Barbara Bozak (Chambéry/West Hartford),  Sisters Sue Wilson and Joan Atkinson (Canadian Federation) at  New York and Sisters Jeannette Londajim (Institut des Soeurs de Saint Joseph from Algeria) and Graziella Zocchi (Italian Federation from Cuneo) at Geneva.  

Through our participation in these and other committees, we have contributed into the agenda of the various commissions (Social Development, Status of Women, Population and Development) which are official arms of the UN Economic and Social Council.  By being present at committee meetings, we have the opportunity to interact with country delegates who write the resolutions approved by the General Assembly annually. While these resolutions do not have the force of law, they are the basis for the development of global and national policy.  Based on the topic of the meeting, we choose those at which we wish to be present and thus become aware of the position of various states. We are part of a group known as Religious at United Nations (RUN) and CSJs are one of the signatories for the Hilton Foundation Project Proposal which will facilitate the religious NGOs to implement SDGs at the grassroots.

The Sisters of St. Joseph (Canada & US) are closely associated with UN initiatives since 1970’s. The Congregations of St. Joseph enjoys a General Consultative Status at UN with relation to the Economic and Social Council since 1999. By our ongoing presence at the UN we are linked to the international community concerning the same issues that are part of the US agenda, and hopefully, can have some influence on decisions and policies that touch the lives of all in our society.  As the Congregations of St. Joseph we operate out of our Charism, seeking to engage in dialogue in order to establish a more just society. Our presence offers us the opportunity to both gather information to be shared with all our constituents and to influence decision making. The value of our advocacy in this setting cannot be downplayed. As women religious, our members remain committed worldwide to promote gender equality and rights of women and girls in every sphere of life and ministry.

Part 2: CSJs High Lights; participation & submission of the Statements at UN on World Issues

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The Congregations of St. Joseph have submitted a Joint Statement for the 26th Session of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Haiti during the Human Right Council held in Geneva from October 31 – November 11, 2016.

I have participated in the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva from 14 to 30 September 2016 and submitted a Joint Oral Statement on Dalit and Adivasis of India.

We the Congregations of St. Joseph have appropriately responded to the signs of our time by responding the US Travel ban by Presidential Executive Order together with the signatures of 75 Non-Governmental Organizations through a Joint Letter. 

16 young women from the US (St. Joseph Workers Program, SJW) have participated at the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women together with 5 Sisters (Justice & Peace coordinators) from Canada & US.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is one of the major UN conferences and a principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender issues.  It takes place every year for two full weeks.

There were more than 400 side events or parallel events organized by the UN member states and the Civil Society Organizations for this session. Great number of registrations (mostly women) takes place for this commission every year. This year it had 8000 registrations and nearly 4000 participated.

The UN Member States, Civil Society Organizations and the private sectors are the key players for its continuity. It takes a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities. Now after 2015, it is committed to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Member States agreed on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. The outcomes and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up. The Commission adopts work program of multi-year to appraise progress. These recommendations take the form of negotiated agreed conclusions on a priority theme. So for 2017, the priority theme was “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”.

The CSJ UN NGO was happy to organize a half day educative program, particularly for the young women. Eva Richter, one of the experienced NGO colleagues in the field of CSW and Migration briefed the group about the history, goal, objectives of CSW and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Sister Marianne Sennick csj, explained to the group the importance of this Commission and our presence at the UN as an NGO, with her proficiency on the UN and gender issues. The young women benefited greatly during their stay here for a week long. This year the CSJs have submitted an oral statement during the session.

We, the CSJs have submitted a Joint NGO Report on the issue of freedom of religion or belief, related to the 3rd cycle of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for India held from April – May 2017 in Geneva HRC.

These six sisters are responsible for sending out information and The CSJs have endorsed in two of the NGO Committees. One for Civil Society Joint “Act Now” towards Migration and Refugees (through NGO Committee on Migration) and other one towards “Environment” through (Working Mining Group).

Part 3: Congregations of St. Joseph and the Justice & Peace Integrity of Creation (JPIC)

At the United Nations the representatives of religious communities are calling upon their members to use their corporate leverage at the UN to call for systemic change for social and sustainable development with their national and local governments with businesses and organizations.

In 2016 CSJ International Justice and Peace meeting was held in Marywood, Florida. A sustaining structure was established during this meeting. The  core committee consisting of six sisters, namely Sue Wilson & Joan Atkinson (Canadian federation), Linda Pepe & Barbara Bozak (Chambery), Jeannette Londajim (French Federation from Algeria), and Rita Bosch (Jos de Buenos Aires, Argentina) is formed.

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The AIM of the JPIC is to engage in a nine-month process to give birth to a statement of commitment, to study and report on efforts already occurring that is leading towards systemic change and to commit to a broad plan of action.  Although there will be great differences about how this plan is enacted across the globe, the sisters will be united through this common commitment to systemic change for social justice.

Gather materials relative to our mission and presence throughout the world. They directly linked with persons of every Congregation and Federation and the work of our NGO at the UN.  Each federation and international congregation has a contact person to disseminate and collect information through their respective Justice and Peace coordinators, for example like Megan Bender (Carondelet / St. Paul) fills this function for the US Federation, with the understanding that each justice and peace coordinator will circulate the information to the sisters and leadership teams of her congregation. 

We are most grateful for the support of the US Federation as we seek to be actively involved in the issues that Sisters of St. Joseph consider important to bringing God’s reign on earth.


Part 4: CSJ UN NGO’s Visits to the Italian Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph

From 25 Sep – 5 Oct 2016, together with Barbara (my colleague & translator) I visited the Italian Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Our schedule was rather full from morning to evening, sometimes till 11pm night. We had visited four different Mother Houses known as Cuneo, Pignerolo, Instituto (Torino) and Aosta. These places are situated in the North Italy and are surrounded by beautiful plains, rivers as well as snow-capped mountains. It was one of the best trips ever I had in recent past. We were blessed with Italian traditional food, gifts and hospitality.      

We visited many Old Age Homes, Youth Rehabilitation Centers, Schools, health care centers, Mother-Child care centers where our sisters minister with other like-minded associations and volunteers. But in all the four major places, we have visited the Migrant Centers and Shelter Homes. One of them was the Collaborative Ministry of the Italian Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Few of our members dedicate themselves to take care of the physical, psychological, mental, spiritual and social needs of the migrants and refugees.

The information we received from; that in the past few years, Italy has invested on a considerable migration flow but now it has been unable to cope in a fully productive way with the phenomenon despite the development sectors and funds. The first asylum response has been flawed and inadequate. Many of the asylum seekers are hosted in hotel facilities where they get a shelter, food and basic cloths, but no guidance of jobs and becoming independent from the system. Usually asylum seekers and refugees spend more than a year waiting without a chance to attend training courses or to look for a job. Once obtained the refugee status recognition, refugees must leave the first asylum facilities in a few months’ time

The Civil Society is trying to give an answer to these questions. In most of these places, it is funded by people and other volunteer organizations and solidarity forums. Our members are engaged themselves to different services. Their aim is to provide the refugees and migrants with food, housing, clothing and help them knowing and understanding the different local services such as schools system, legal assistance, health care system, while building friendship and relationships, and which is the heart of our Charism. I was amazed to see the zeal and enthusiasm of our members in the grassroots initiatives. They are very traditional in their ways, but I felt they are alive with our vision & mission in addressing the present challenges of our society to serve the “Dear Neighbor”.               

I was happy to know two of our young sisters Marie Roza & Patricia from the Congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Pignerolo who volunteered themselves in Greece with the huge flow of migrants/refugees. It was very disturbing for me to hear the frightful stories. These particular migrants and refugees have witnessed huge genocide in a single day; men are butchered in front of their wives and gang raped. The women are left pregnant, not knowing who the father is. Little ones were wanting of food, clothing and care. So, our sisters had to come back  home (when I met them) to collect some money, food & warm cloths, since the winter is heavy in Greece and they went  back by middle of October 2016 to distribute them to the most needy.

  Part 5: Regional & Grassroots Initiative (East Africa) of CSJ UN NGO Representative

The regional conference, 2nd Event of the Series: “The religious and migrations in the 21st century: perspectives, response and challenges; Women and Migration in the African Context” was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 6-8 June 2017, organized by the Congregations of St. Joseph together with other New York based Religious NGOs, Augustinians International, Franciscans International, Passionists International, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and VIVAT International.

These are accredited as NGOs with consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), are part of leading civil society organizations dealing with issues of migration in over 100 countries who advocate with other key stakeholders at global, regional and national levels for better and more effective migration governance for the dignity of migrants and national development. Around 100 men and women religious, as well as laypersons and experts have attended this important meeting. Along with the other religious there were 3 members from the Congregations of St. Joseph (St. Joseph of Annecy & St. Joseph of Chambery).

The conference occasioned one of the most insightful discussions on migration and refugees ever held in Africa with a rich mix of participants of religious groups, international agencies and government. The discussions looked at migration, trafficking in persons and refugee dynamics specifically from an African and women’s perspective, with the session examining the global dimension focused on how best to harness the benefits of migration while minimizing its negative effects. The deeper understanding of migration and refugee dynamics gained suggest a needed change in the perception of migration, particularly in Africa. Participation was interactive, involving the views of the various individuals, organizations and agencies that attended the conference. The conference succeeded in throwing light both on effective practices and gaps in the systems of responding to migration, trafficking in person and refugees.

Contributed to a highly stimulated knowledge and experience sharing by the representatives of International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kenyan government Department of Immigration Service, Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), a Kenyan-based organization working on awareness against human trafficking (HAART), Amnesty International, Pan African Network in Defense of Migrants' Rights (PANiDMR), refugees and migrants themselves, local practitioners, and New York-based representatives of religious congregations accredited to the UN.

The discussions brought out how different groups are already responding in different ways to issues and concerns of migrants, refugees, diasporas, trafficked victims and IDPs. There are various activities and efforts by the national governments, UN agencies and international organizations towards a constructive national and regional management of migration and direct services to migrants, refugees and victims of trafficking in person. A good number of the civil society organizations also play strategic and supportive roles in these efforts in migration governance in the region. These notwithstanding, however, much more attention and greater efforts to collaborate are needed to address migration and refugees’ issues on the continent.

The Conference achieved its purposes in raising the level of understanding and response of the African religious on migration and refugee issues and updated the participants on current migration issues on all fronts, especially from African women perspectives. It identified the ways to improve grassroots responses, including stimulating local advocacy through a network for collaboration of efforts. It provided insight and perspectives that could enhance civil society advocacy mechanisms in the various global migration governance processes.

At the end of the two and half days of intense listening to new insights and shared experiences, all were more aware that we are living at a time of turbulence, tension and transition. In this hour of choice, two paths are ahead of us: fear and self/national interest, or hope and shared responsibility. As Peter Sutherland, Secretary General Representative at the Global Forum on Migration, once said, “any lack of leadership in this area will be the judge of our time. We cannot afford to be indifferent and simply bystanders to this crisis”. Civil Society’s role, especially faith-based organizations, in this time is critically and urgently needed on all fronts.  They are key in raising their voices in advocacy to build up the political will to respond to the issue; as also, in providing direct help to the victims and defuse any tension between ordinary citizens and their migrant guests.

This Conference served to stimulate greater collaboration among women and men religious, CSOs, agencies and the government. With more sustained interactions, all the actors will be better able effectively to tackle the administrative and policy gaps faced by migrants on daily and routine basis.  Human rights should not stop at any borders.

un 9 22 17 11My personal visit to the East African region was an eye opener for me. I witnessed the hard life and mission of our members who serve the dear neighbor through the ministry of health and education. I am thankful to my sisters in East Africa for their hospitality, care and beautiful gifts shared during my visits. I had tedious travels by roads with my dear Sr. Josephine. It was usually very long travels but at the end of the visit I felt so fulfilling. I am thankful for her availability and translations from English to Swahili.

Part 6: Civil Society Delegate to participate the International Conferences (GFMD)

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Global Trends 2015, the numbers of migrants exceeded to 244 million; of which 65.3 million forcibly displaced including 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 asylum seeker and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries. With an average of six people fleeing each minute, the migration trend has gone up four times from the previous decades.

International migration is a global phenomenon; growing in scope, complexity and impact. More than ever today, there are political, economic and religious-cultural factors are in major increasing international trend. The year 2015-16 was one of the deadliest years that witnessed the unprecedented level of human mobility after World War II.

The UN played a pivotal role in organizing London Conference in February 2016 that brought more than 70 heads of state to focus on sharing the equitable global responsibility of the Syrian Refugees Crisis while recognizing worsening crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq among the conflict ridden countries.

The historic World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul with the interface of state and humanitarian organizations saw the commitment for the long term measures for such crises. The recent collaborated efforts of the UN Member States towards refugees and migrants are commendable. The UN High level Summit September 19 called as ‘New York Declaration’ for Refugees and Migrants followed by Leaders’ Summit on Refugees hosted by President Barak Obama made significant appeal to member states for new commitments on refugees and migrations.

Civil Society has contributed enormously to the outcome of the UN High-level Summit in September 2016 on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants report on “Safety and Dignity”. The 9th and 10th Global Forums on Migration and Development (GFMD) held in Bangladesh (Dhaka) from 10-12 December 2016 and Germany (Berlin) from June 28-July 1 2017. The theme of the 9th GFMD was “Migration that Works for Sustainable Development for All: Towards a Transformative Migration Agenda’ and for the 10th GFMD, the theme was “Safe, Orderly, Regular Migration Now: Mechanics of a Compact Worth Agreeing to”.

These were the historic meetings resolved with more than 130 member states ‘agreed to have a global treaty for better protection of the migrants, a global phenomenon that is increasing rapidly across the world. Nearly three hundred civil society organizations from around the world gathered in Berlin with other Government Delegates for building directly upon the rights and commitments strongly reaffirmed in the 2030 Agenda and New York Declaration for actual implementation of those commitments. Being one of the Executive Board Members for the NGO Committee on Migration, I was selected as one of the civil society delegates to attend GFMD in Bangladesh as well in Germany.

The challenge before the civil society need to launch a new deal for refugees, migrants and societies; a deal that addresses the reasons that drive people out of their nativity providing safe passage while protecting their fundamental rights; a deal to build inclusive and diverse societies without xenophobia and racism that are able to welcome newcomers and thrive together as world citizens.          

The global solidarity and sharing responsibility of the Congregations of St. Joseph is quite overwhelming. The Sisters have opened up their convents’ doors for the migrants, trafficked persons especially the Syrian refugees in several countries; notably in Canada, USA, Australia, Europe, North Africa, particularly in Lebanon. It is quite inspiring to meet a few of St. Joseph Sisters who volunteered to manage the Refugee camps in Europe. The regional conference organized on Migration held in Rome along with the Faith based civil society groups have calibrated into more collective actions in our engagements in UN Side events on these crucial issues.

As a member of civil society, I look forward the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration ahead. With more sustained interactions, all the actors may be better able effectively to tackle the administrative and policy gaps faced by migrants on daily and routine basis.  Human rights should not stop at any borders. 

With few of my exiting and rich personal experiences of travelling through Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and United States makes me convinced that we are connected people in a connected planet. One Global Family with our difference and uniqueness.

So yes, I believe that everyone has a space as a human person on this planet.