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A look at the International Women’s Day and Catholic Women’s League

A section of the different women groups waiting for Mass to begin during the Women’s Day celebration, 10 Mar 2018, Sacred Heart Cathedral Karamunsing.

PENAMPANG – International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.

The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February 1909. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

However, during the International Women’s Year in 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March.

In Sabah, the largest Catholic women’s organisation is the Catholic Women’s League (CWL), an organisation rooted in gospel values calling its members to holiness through service to the people of God.

The Catholic Women’s League was actually founded by Margaret Fletcher (1862-1943).  Born in Oxford to an Anglican clergyman, she converted to Catholicism on 9 Sept 1897.  She went to Paris to continue her studies.  While there, she met with people from different backgrounds which raised her awareness to a global level.  In 1906, she helped found the Catholic Women’s League to fight for improved educational opportunities for women.

The CWL was first established in Stella Maris Tanjung Aru in 1968.

The idea of forming the CWL was first proposed in 1967 by a monk, Father J Vivian De Souza, who was temporarily attached to Stella Maris parish then.  He saw the need to have a group of dedicated ladies to assist the parish priest in looking after the welfare of the church and in carrying out fundraising activities.

The first formal meeting was held on 26 June 1968 with 29 ladies.  At this inaugural meeting, five ladies were elected as committee members, whilst the other ladies were divided into five groups for the purpose of duty assignment.  Shiela D’Souza was elected as the first president.

Later it spread its wings to other parishes and now it is in every parish in Sabah.

Today there are more than 100 groups throughout the Ecclesiastical Province of Kota Kinabalu. In KK Archdiocese membership is divided into four zones: West Coast 1 (Dontozidon, ,Kota Kinabalu, Kepayan, Labuan, Limbahau, Papar, Penampang, Tanjung Aru); West Coast 2 (Bundu Tuhan, Ranau, Telupid); West Coast 3 (Inanam, Menggatal, Telipok, Tuaran); and Kudat Zone (Kota Belud, Kota Marudu and Kudat).

As the Catholic population grew, many groups were formed with their own women units. In January 2013, the Archdiocesan Catholic Women Commission (CCWKK) was formed. It is a consultative body, coordinating all the Catholic women groups in the archdiocese, and operating under the direction of the Archbishop.

It is interesting to note that six out of the nine archdiocesan commissions/committee are headed by women (religious and lay) and of the staff working at the Archdiocesan Centre, majority are women.

In both Keningau and Sandakan Dioceses, the women’s organisation is known as the Catholic Women Apostolate (Kerasulan Wanita Katolik).

Members of the different women groups of Sacred Heart Cathedral and Church of Mary Immaculate – CWL, Light of Jesus Christ Covenant Community, Neo-Catechumenal Way, Couples for Christ, Legion of Mary, Chinese community, Secular Franciscan Order, BM community, Divine Mercy and the Filipino community – took time out to celebrate the day with Mass presided by Archbishop John Wong, concelebrated with Abp Emeritus John Lee, followed by a simple dinner fellowship at a local restaurant after Mass on 10 Mar 2018.

The theme of the celebration was Press for Progress: Move Forward in Christ.

Since the day usually falls during the Lenten Season, the commission has decided that it should be celebrated at parish level and at the discretion of the parish organising committee.

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