The Impact of a Phone Call:  Sisterhood Transcending Cultural and National Boundaries

By Gizella Nagy, Transylvania, in collaboration with Elgiva Dora Shullai, India

Late evening on February 22, 2009, the phone rang. Cathy Cordes, then executive director of UUPCC, called to tell me I had four days to pack: I can attend the first U*U women’s convocation in Houston, TX! To me, this sponsorship was an unbelievable present. I do not know my benefactors, but I am grateful even today. I felt that a simple „thank you” is not enough for this invaluable gift. While still in Houston, I thought that the most I could do is to help organize the second convocation in Transylvania. Thus, three years later, in October 2012, U*U women from all over the world came together again for the second convocation in Marosvásárhely, Transylvania.4th Cycle Transylvanian Women's Leadership Program

At this gathering, participants agreed that it would be essential to organize training sessions for women that provided not only theoretical but practical learning as well; where women could hone their leadership, organizational, and financial skills, build their self-esteem and confidence, and learn about lifestyle management and community development. 2013 was the year of preparation. UNOSZ (the Association of Unitarian Women of Romania) conducted several surveys, and with proceeds from the second convocation and the help of a grant from the UU Funding Program, the leadership school was launched in 2014.

During the next two years, UNOSZ conducted five weekend trainings, and regularly sent reports to the board of IWC and for the IWC newsletter. Demand surpassed expectation: overall, about 250 Hungarian women took part in the modules. This made it possible for our sisters in India to become more aware of the programs organized by IWC and UNOSZ in Transylvania.

Seng Kynthei Leadership Development, India

Seng Kynthei Leadership Development, India

In 2015, with financial assistance from a UU Funding Program grant, similar trainings were launched in Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, India, under the aegis of Seng Kynthei, the Women’s Wing of the Unitarian Church of North East India.

The one-day trainings focused on various topics: leadership and communication skills, gender equity, sexual and reproductive rights, economic empowerment and opportunities for women in the labor market, prevention and elimination of violence against women, etc.

The leadership development program in India took place at a centralized place – in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Elgiva Dora Shullai, the coordinator of the program, reported that in the beginning, the number of attendees fell under their expectations. They were disappointed. However, soon they realized that limited financial means prevent women from traveling to Shillong to attend the training. Consequently, Seng Kynthei decided to move some of the trainings to the villages. Four follow-up sessions followed, each in a central village of each Unitarian district, and the number of participants multiplied. The substantial increase in interest prompted the organizers to decide to continue the trainings.

As an appreciation of the struggle of our sisters in India, the board of IWC and UNOSZ took the decision to transfer the sum of $900.00 representing the 2017 Mothers’ Day plate collection in Transylvania (collected from 37 congregations, one district women’s association, and two individuals) to the leadership development program in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. We would like to thank all the Transylvanian congregations and organizations for their contribution. We are very proud of the way Transylvanians came together to help our sisters in faith in India to make life better not only for the women in their communities, but for the entire Khasi society.

The Mother’s Day plate collection in Transylvania is part of the international plate collection program of IWC. It is a sign of respect and appreciation for women: on International Women Day (March 8) and Mother’s Day (in May), IWC encourages U*U women, congregations, and women’s groups worldwide to attend the movement to support the programs of IWC.

Gizella Nagy and Elgiva Shullai in Transylvania, August 2016

Gizella Nagy and Elgiva Shullai in Transylvania, August 2016

Elgiva’s hopes for the leadership program in Meghalaya include the following:

  1. A woman should be able to make nutritious and balanced foods for her family with the means that are available locally.
  2. A woman should be aware of opportunities to improve the financial status of her family.
  3. A woman should educate her children about women’s rights from an early age.
  4. A woman should not tolerate any injustices to herself or to her children (especially girls).
  5. A woman should stand up for her rights and not become a victim of discrimination.
  6. A woman should help her society grow in a healthy environment.
  7. A woman should speak her faith in her daily life.

I would like to complete Elgiva’s wonderful list with this:  Women should preserve local cultural values while nurturing and passing on traditional values – those that do not disadvantage their personal development and do not make them helpless, vulnerable, or discriminated against.

In addition, I would like to welcome the attitude of our brothers in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. They recognized the importance of the education of women and of the programs organized by and for women. They proudly wore the White Ribbon on the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, standing with the women, side-by-side.

In Romania, the recently launched campaign of the Women’s Wing of the Hungarian political party (RMDSZ) focusing on combatting violence against women and domestic violence encouraged women to let their voices be heard.  During the last few months, more and more cases have emerged where violence in family provoked diseases and pushed women to escape from home, full of fear; in some cases, violence even led to death. Unfortunately, this issue is a national phenomenon; legislators have noticed and are now feeling the need to adopt stricter laws. These events prompted us to continue our leadership trainings in May of this year with a new module: protection of family (women, children, elders) and our environment.

Our leadership training handbook, currently under review, will include a chapter dedicated to combatting and preventing domestic violence and violence against women and children. The funding for the publication will be provided by IWC, UNOSZ, Hungarian Unitarian Church, and participants.

Thank you, Cathy Cordes, for your phone call. And thank you Zsófia Sztranyiczki (then international coordinator of the Houston convocation), for your support – in 2009 we did not know each other, but you encouraged Cathy to call me. You see, one never knows what the long-term outcome of a phone call is!

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