By: Elizabeth Hardt
Elizabeth is from Louisville, KY and graduated from Transylvania University in 2015 where she majored in International Affairs and Religion. She is working at the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, MD, with Mary Hunt and Diann Neu, dear friends of Loretto.
March was Women’s History Month, and during it I found myself inspired to appreciate the women around me who are creating history. This year, I have been surrounded by so many funny, compassionate, brilliant, composed, and social justice oriented women. From the incredible sisters of Loretto who have worked for justice and acted for peace their entire lives, to my housemates who are exploring the many ways we can impact the world, to my colleagues at WATER who make empowering women their life’s work, I am seeing more than ever the power of women role models and the immense, largely unrecognized work that women do to make this world a better place.
Attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March was another such inspiration. Women from all around the world came together to share stories of leadership, struggle, strategy, and success. One of my favorite moments of the conference happened when I was trying to attend a session about reproductive rights, a session that had actually been cancelled though none of us in the room knew until much later. When it was clear that no panelists or discussion leaders were going to show up, a couple women from a college group took charge of the session on their own, opening a space for dialogue and engaging all in the room, despite the variety of opinions about the topic. The initiative, levelheadedness, and spirited leadership that the college- and high school-aged women displayed in that room while having a debate about critical, international women’s rights issues was such a powerful display of what these women will bring to the table as future global leaders. I can think of some politicians who could have benefitted from being in that room and witnessing true debate.
I was also excited to share stories from this trip back at my workplace, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER). WATER is a feminist workplace unlike any other, and Mary Hunt and Diann Neu have worked hard to make it so. At WATER, “meetings” happen over a shared lunch; visitors to the office are welcomed with tea, scones, and conversation; and Mary and Diann take care to foster an open and welcoming environment. WATER is a collaborative space and a safe space. At WATER, I have been lucky to hear from women who have and still are changing the world through their work and ground-breaking scholarship. Women like Kelly Brown Douglas, Carol J. Adams, Katie G. Cannon, Rita Nakashima Brock, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, and many more connected to WATER are go-to women on topics like racism in the U.S., womanism, veganism and the sexual politics of meat, moral injury, and violence against women. Women like Diann Neu, Rev. Cindy Lapp, and Rev. Cynthia Tootle make all feel welcome in spiritual spaces where they may have felt exclusion before. Former WATER interns are building upon the foundation WATER provides as they continue their studies and work for nonprofits. WATER not only learns from these women, but lives their teachings by creating a collaborative, intersectional community that amplifies marginalized voices and works for justice.
There are many who vilify feminism/womanism, and occasionally the weight of injustices bears down on the office. It is sickening that we are still forced to talk about gender-based violence because of its prevalence, that there are many who must hide their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear, and that women are denied leadership in many communities. But this mission to talk freely, share ideas, and take action regarding pressing feminist issues is what makes WATER such an important space. I have certainly learned much and met incredible people while at WATER, but I have also been imbued with ideas about how to live using feminist values to create social change (WATER’s mission). Though a small organization, WATER’s mission is both revolutionary and built over many years of feminist/womanist thinkers and doers, and it is an amazing opportunity to be able to watch its mission come alive.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.