When I started at Shape History, I didn’t expect to be in a room full of Catholic nuns in Rome.
As a lifelong non-Catholic, it wasn’t exactly on my radar and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ve never been to a church, never chatted to a nun, and don’t think I’ve ever even picked up a Bible. It’s all about e-bibles now anyway I think…
I digress. After just a few emails and a phone call with a fantastic new partner , I was off to the airport heading for sunny Rome to shape some history. I’m not going to lie, I had a few preconceptions, but off I went all the same with a mixture of anticipation and slight trepidation running through my veins.
I used to believe nuns were super serious, a little intimidating, and would treat me (quite rightly) like an outsider, though I may have been basing much of this off The Sound of Music. In all honesty, I was quite nervous about the whole thing. I was entering a world I didn’t fully understand with a group of women I expected were incredibly passionate to their core about a subject I had limited knowledge of. The variables in the search for success were not stacked in my favour.
It was also my first work trip abroad – so no pressure there then!
Finally, I get to Rome and meet these sisters. Contrary to my misinformed anticipation, they immediately welcomed me like a brother no, sister? No, brother. Let’s stick to brother. Or sister? Anyway.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of women who are so inspirational, warm, welcoming, and humble. It almost made me want to become a nun myself, but I don’t think they take CVs. Apparently, it doesn’t really work like that.
One of my new found pals was Sister Shalini (shoutout if you’re reading this Sister, you’re great).
Originating from India, Sister Shalini lectures in Theology, and is the first female President of the Indian Theological Association of New Delhi. She dedicates, on average, no less than 18 hours of her daily routine to teaching, tending, and caring for those in her community.
On top of that, she does yoga every morning and walks at least a few miles every day #easy.
There were a lot of takeaways from the trip, but being invited to an Indian yoga session in New Delhi with Sister Shalini is probably up there.
You might be wondering by now why a 23 year old guy popped off to Rome on nun related business.
It wasn’t an exclusive party. It wasn’t a book club that’s gone a bit too far.
It was because right now, women in the Catholic Church do not have the right to vote.
Let me put it this way, imagine there’s a company. They operate worldwide, have billions of dollars in assets, and have 1.3bn members all over the world.
As you’d expect, they hold regular meetings to discuss the future of the company across the countries wherein they operate.
You’d also expect them to allow their members to vote at these meetings, and they do.
But, women are excluded from voting.
Because they are women.
No institution in the world should be allowed to operate in this way, but this is the reality within the Catholic Church today. In fact, the Vatican City is the only country in the world that doesn’t extend the right to vote to women.
So as part of the campaign, Voices of Faith launched the “And You Sister, What Do You Say?” event in early October which saw a group of inspirational Sisters from around the world come together to discuss their own experiences of discrimination within the Church. (Spoiler: There’s been a lot of discrimination…)
As soon as I started to understand the wider context of gender inequality in the Catholic Church, I was becoming increasingly passionate about the project. Meeting the nuns in Rome made it feel a lot more real. It felt like we were making real change, for real people.
And what an event it was. Not only did I leave Rome feeling more immersed in the issue and more clued up about gender inequality, but I felt like I was leaving with a few dozen new friends…
Friends who dedicate their lives in the service of others.
Friends who are welcoming, no matter your age, gender or race.
Friends who are being discriminated against because of their gender.
What is obvious (or at least should be obvious) is that to omit women from positions of power because of their gender also omits decades of experience, knowledge and expertise.
There is no organisation in the world that can survive without the experience, knowledge and expertise of women. To reject their achievements, their compassion and their ability to change the world is one of the biggest injustices the modern world faces, and it’s about time it came to an end.
I may be a non-Catholic man from London, but I’m now part of a global alliance to bring one of the oldest institutions in the world into the 21st Century. And who’s driving this change? Some of the most inspiring women – and people – I have ever met.