Brussels, 8th March 2018 (SIGNIS) - International Women's Day is an important date to look critically at the forms of representation of women in the media, in society and in the Church. What is the current role of women in the world of communication in general and specifically in the Church? Has this reality changed substantially in recent years?

Published in 2001 by the International Catholic Association for Radio and Television, Unda, Voices of Courage is a broad vision of the plight of women, from their daily work, in the field of Catholic communication.

More than fifteen years later, the questions raised in Angela Ann Zukowski (President of Unda) and Frances Forde Plude’s (University of Dayton) book, still resonate throughout the communication that takes place inside the Church and in the world of secular communication.

As a tribute to the long tradition that SIGNIS has had in incorporating professional talents and the vision of women's communication, we celebrate International Women's Day by publishing the introduction of Voices of Courage, a text that demonstrates the long journey we still need to make to really take advantage of this communicative flow from Catholic communicators.
Voices of Courage by Angela Ann Zukowski and Frances Forde

Voices of courage emerged from my countless encounters of dynamic, talented and dedicated Catholic women engaged in communications throughout the world. As I traveled the globe, I listened to their captivating stories of courage in the face of the most difficult odds. These women not only suffered from their cultural context of male-dominated societies, but frequently they also suffered from forces within the Church. Sometimes enraged, oppressed, frustrated and depressed by a lack of respect and recognition for their gifts and talents, the women I met continued to go forward with profound faith. I discovered that courage manifested itself in diverse forms. Courage was the source of empowerment for these women. Yet, many of these women did not speak about ‘courage’ but simply ‘what needs and must be done. Thus, I did it.” They seemed to be animated or driven by a larger vision that transcended themselves and their context. Even more significantly, they found ways to bond with other women - and sometimes men – to work toward a common vision. In most situations, their common vision related to the quest for truth, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

The women that I encounter sense that women have a unique insight and perspective for telling stories associated with women’s experiences of the meaning, value and expression of life. One comprehends from these women that there is more than one way to communicate an experience. There is more than one way to engage in leadership within the community. Women speak about alternative perspectives there are just as valid as the dominant one in existence. They state that it is not an ‘either/or’ but a ‘both/and’ vision. Women appear more inclusive in their conversations about diversity, community and leadership roles, these women advanced not alone but in solidarity with other women. Together they form ‘communions’ of common vision for the transformation of society by protecting the inalienable rights of every woman, man and child within their cultural context.

It is interesting to note how few of the women I encountered began their communications ministry with an academic degree or extended communication studies in their pockets. Where it exists, it has been more the exception than the rule. Yet, many women spoke about mentors, significant others, friends and religious communities who called them forth to work, on communication initiatives that enabled them to learn ‘in the field’ or ‘on the job’ and eventually pursue communication courses and degrees.

Voices of courage has taken several years to complete. We continue to discover women in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Caribbean, North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe rapidly emerging in the Catholic communications area. Yet, we do not find them in administrative or leadership roles. This needs to change. Concerns and questions of women need to be embraced by the leadership of the Church: How can we break down the doors that still remain closed for so many gifted women to share their communications skills and talents within the Church? How can we encourage and support young women to move into the field of Catholic communications? What role should the national, regional and international Catholic Church play in this regard? How can we support women in telling their stories so that others in the Church can hear and understand? How can we pave the way for recognizing alternative story telling perspectives and be convinced that they are valid for understanding the situation of our world and how the Gospel can be proclaimed? How can women share in Catholic communication leadership positions?

I did not find it easy to locate the women for Voices of Courage. While we know they exist in abundance, they do not stand within their cultural context. Nor, frequently, are they even recognized within their cultural or religious context. There were many women who were afraid to communicate their personal stories. They did not want to be alienated any further within their cultural or religious context if their experiences were dramatically publicized. There were other women who even though reluctant felt that their story placed beside women from other countries had the power to make a statement of ‘solidarity’. They felt that if young Catholic women and men could read and understand their struggles, challenges, trials, hopes, dreams and successes against the greatest odds, then their combined witness could influence change and a call to new vocations to the field of Catholic communication.