Women and Learning
Posted on June 16, 2014

It is sad, isn't it, when the most important things do not change, as they should:

Across Europe, Africa and India, Sisters from my religious community are today celebrating our foundation in 1606 as a group dedicated to the education of women and girls. We are marking 408 years of believing that women had the same right to access learning as their male counterparts.

In Nigeria, as I write this, 200 girls are hidden somewhere in a jungle because a Muslim sect believes that girls should not be in school. "They should marry and have babies," we all heard their kidnappers say.

Last year it was a courageous girl in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head because she wanted to learn. She has survived to tell her story, but she is still a minority in her culture. This year it is Nigerian outlaws burning schools. Next year?

This strikes close to the heart of any woman. It is particularly meaningful to me because I was actually an education pioneer as one of the first groups of women who broke a learning barrier in the 1950s when we became the first women in the Catholic church to be admitted to advanced theological education. Until then, that field belonged only to men. As the years pass, I realize more fully what a moment in history that was.

It remains scary that there are still so many segments of society that see little need to educate girls. Some cultures deny them access even to basic literacy. We do forget to count our blessings.

I cheered for the 99-year-old woman from Maine whose interview on NPR let me hear her story. Crippled by polio as an infant, she made her way to a business college on her crutches in all kinds of weather and completed her course work in 1939. However, she was too poor to pay the $5.00 fee for her diploma and so she never received it. Someone who heard her story contacted the college about remedying the situation. Seventy-five years later, she has her diploma. The pride in her voice was so real.

We women of the world still have barricades to climb.


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