The struggles and successes of ordinary women

07 March, 2013

Hello, I’m your host Caty Weaver.

On our show today: the struggles and successes of ordinary women, past and present. We look back at American women who fought for the right to vote. We visit Rangoon, Burma, where a few women are helping some others build careers.

And we examine the debate among Roman Catholics about efforts to permit women clergy.

March 3rd marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC. Steve Ember tells about the historic protest and how it was remembered this year.

Alice Paul was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. She helped organize the protest in support of suffrage --the right to vote.

Organizers timed the march to take place just a day before Woodrow Wilson was to be sworn-in as president. As a result, almost 500 thousand people were in Washington to witness the Woman Suffrage Parade. Many opposed giving American women the right to vote. In 1913, women were permitted to vote in six western states, but not for national office.

Linda Denny is with the National Women’s History Museum. She talks about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade.

“The parade was a very important turning place in the fight for women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, simply because it was the first time that a parade for a political cause had ever taken place in Washington.”

The parade started out peacefully with about five thousand marchers. They represented every state in the country and nations where women already had the right to vote. But the crowd turned violent, attacking some of the marchers. About 100 of the women were taken to a hospital. Linda Denny says the violence gained national attention.

“This parade, though it was highly organized, ended up on the front page of newspapers across the country the next day, simply because of the violence. This outraged Americans.”

It was not until seven years later, in 1920, that all women won the right to vote under the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This past week, in honor of the march, the 19th Amendment was put on display at the National Archives in Washington. Other events were held to mark the anniversary. Last Sunday, thousands of women from across the country gathered in Washington. They marched in a parade similar to the one in 1913.

I’m Steve Ember.

Top Roman Catholic Church officials are currently considering whom they will choose as their new leader. At the same time, some Catholics are pressing for progressive actions, like permitting women to join the clergy. Katherine Cole has our story.

Time can appear to move slowly at the Vatican, the headquarters of the Catholic Church. But Giuseppe Visotto, a Vatican visitor, thinks the time has come for change.

“The Church has to adapt to modern society. The world is changing rapidly and the church has to follow in each and every respect.” 

Half a world away, one Catholic congregation recently met at a Protestant church in Baltimore, Maryland. This group has already rejected the Vatican’s ban on female clergy. Its members are part of a movement that started in 2002 in Germany, where Pope Benedict was born.

Worldwide, about 150 women claim to be Catholic clergy members. Gloria Carpeneto is one of them.

“Women represent half the experience in the world.”

She says women have experiences that men do not have. And if only men are in the clergy, women’s voices are not represented.

About one-third of people raised as Catholics in America are said to have left the church. Some join Protestant groups that do accept women priests. But public opinion has had little influence on Catholic Church officials. The Vatican has ruled that any official who ordains a woman priest should be expelled from the church.

Still, Italian priest Romulo Fenu says women are respected and cared for in Roman Catholicism. He notes the importance of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Catholics. He says barring women from the priesthood is not evidence of discrimination. 

A group of cooks in Burma is seeking to help needy women with training in the art of making baked goods. The training also includes life skills classes to place Burmese women in the country’s growing hospitality industry. Faith Lapidus tells us about the program.

Thirty-nine-year-old Ma Moe Nge is learning how to bake. She hopes to start her own bakery at the end of her nine-month training program.

“Before, I only saw this kind of food, but I didn’t know how to make it. Now, I’ve even surprised myself that I can make this kind of food. I am interested in it and I also feel proud of myself.”

Ma Moe Nge is training with Yangon Bakehouse, a social business formed by four friends to help Burmese women in need.

One of the four is American Heatherly Bucher. She says the training, and fair pay, helps many women get out of debt, rebuilds self-respect and gives them hope.

“The bakehouse is a livelihood program training disadvantaged Myanmar women in both livelihood skills, culinary skills, front of house, hospitality and life skills. So giving them skills from you know budgeting their personal finances to reproductive health to good nutrition to English class.”

Another co-founder of the Yangon Bakehouse, Phyu Phyu Tin, is from Burma. She also operates a restaurant in Rangoon.

“It’s always in my mind like I want to help our people. And the main thing is, even like expatriates, people from outside, want to help our people. So I want to try as much as I can to help them make it happen.”

Heatherly Bucher says they choose women who are unable to earn a living for their families. After the training, the women seek jobs in Burma’s hospitality industry or in private homes.

“We know business and we know food and we know women. And so we’re trying to help some of the most disadvantaged women here from their twenties to forties that kind of missed tjose opportunities to develop life skills and job skills and need a chance to not only support their families but to participate in the economy. You know, that’s growing.”

Currently, the Yangon Bakehouse sells its goods at private and community events. The organizers of the program hope to move the Bakehouse to a permanent location by the end of March.

I’m Faith Lapidus.

And that’s AS IT IS for today. I’m Caty Weaver.
Thanks for joining us. Tune in tomorrow when we’ll discuss
international efforts to end violence against women, a central issue of this year's International Women's Day observance. And remember, you can get the latest world news on VOA at the beginning of the hour Universal Time.