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Promoting the Message of Christian Feminism
The Institute for Higher Studies on Women expands its reach.

women working
In addition to its work in academics, the Institute also acts in the cultural sphere, promoting dialogue and reflection with different sectors, such as business and communications.

The following article first appeared in the January 30, 2011 issue of Catalunya Cristiana, a weekly newspaper in Spain. Translated and reprinted with permission.

The Christian Feminism of the Institute for Higher Studies on Women

The Institute also acts in the cultural sphere, promoting dialogue and reflection.

The Center for Higher Studies on Women has its headquarters in Rome, at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College, on which it depends. Its purpose is to delve into and analyze topics related to woman and her presence in society. It seeks to be a reference point in the study of the woman in the different forms of cultural expression and to uphold women’s commitment, role, and potential in the economic and social spheres through rigorous specialized and human formation.

Its director, Marta Rodriguez, tells us that the Institute was born from the inspiration of a group of lay consecrated women of Regnum Christi, based on the teachings of John Paul II, especially the apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem and the call to a new Christian feminism. “It all began in the year 2000, the fifth anniversary of the World Conference on Women held in Beijing. There was great fervor, but also the risk that in this new push, the specificity of woman and her values might get lost. At the same time, John Paul II was calling for a Christian feminism that would place woman in the place that pertains to her in society, but without forgetting what is proper to her and obviously, preserving the family as the natural place both of woman and of man. In those years we started to hold some congresses while we prepared the foundation of the Institute, which was officially created in the year 2003 to promote this current of Christian feminism.”

At first, the Institute was born with an academic profile, Marta Rodriguez told Catalunya Cristiana, but little by little it has opened other horizons that are shaping its nature. The academic area has a Center for Studies and Documentation on Women, focused on different aspects of study such as anthropology, bioethics, philosophy, history, law… In this sense, there is a clear will to “make proposals and give answers.” The Center for Studies begins with the understanding that woman is the “humanizer” of society.

In the academic area as well, the Institute offers a Master’s degree and postgraduate courses, as well as resources to delve into the topic more in depth, study seminars, international summer courses, and courses abroad. The main study topics are women’s leadership and work, which focuses on different issues, such as women’s new roles in today’s society, women and reconciling work, motherhood and raising children, culture, and education.

Some courses are specifically aimed at concretely improving the lives of women in the 25-45 age bracket. “Today, many women,” says Marta Rodríguez, “live in confusion with a lot of pressure—if they work, because they can start to feel that they are neglecting their family; if they don’t work, because they feel frustrated. That is why we are also giving practical seminars on self-esteem, well-being, communication, stress control, feminine identity…”

Women students

The students taking the Master’s degree and courses are all women, so we asked Marta Rodriguez whether it would be a good idea to channel the proposals toward male students so as to influence their formation and thought, since otherwise this work could remain reduced to an exclusively female audience and thus be less fruitful. How does the Institute relate to the male students at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum or other realities? According to the director of the Institute for Higher Studies on Women, “in fact, we also have to act to move the consciences of men and we also want to work in this direction. For example, we are collaborating with the dean of theology to promote an optional licentiate course in the theology department on feminine spirituality, based on some recent catecheses of Benedict XVI. On the other hand, we occasionally work with the theology department in some congresses and seminars. Little by little, we are working more as a team, also with the philosophy department. Now we are preparing the Woman and Church Study Seminar which will be held in October with the Pontifical Council for the Laity. We want this seminar to be aimed directly at the clergy, especially those in the Curia. With this initiative, and following the papal teachings, we want to review the past and look to the future: to propose a change of mentality, exploring the contribution that women can make and is making in the Church, also in the organizational and governmental aspects. My desire is for this seminar to be annual, not just a one-time event.

The Institute for Higher Studies on Women does not limit itself just to acting in the academic sphere. To “relate to different cultural and social realities,” the Institute also acts in the cultural sphere, promoting dialogue and reflection with different sectors, such as business or communications. Other spheres in which the Institute works, but which it is still just beginning to develop, are the area of research, youth formation, communication, and advising businesses.

Adele Ercolano, the Institute’s general coordinator, explains how they are already seeing some recent fruits. “Our Master’s degree program on Work, Family, and Women’s Leadership, which has already reached its third edition, aims to propose and form at the same time. And we are pleased because businesswomen who have taken it have invited us to advise their businesses in the matter of reconciling work with family. We have also received a request from a business that wants to introduce women managers into its organizational structure. They have asked us for the curriculum of the students who take our Master’s degree.”

Reconciling work with family is one of the main topics that the Institute handles, Adele Ercolano notes, so in May it is holding an international congress on Sustainability for Women. “It is important to study and explore how businesses have to change to give more space to the personal lives of their workers and make it easier to reconcile work and family.” In this direction, and based on the original reflections in the Master’s degree Work Family, and Women’s Leadership, there is also a magazine project in the works to reflect on the value of motherhood.

International congress

In the area of culture and communication, the Institute is preparing a big international congress that will take place in April, Youth Communication in the Social Media Age. The congress is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and is being organized in collaboration with the recently created Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which deals with topics related to the new forms of communication that have arisen since 1967. Google is also sponsoring this project and one of the members of its upper leadership will participate, out of interest in the cultural and religious study of the zones in which it operates.

Giovanna Abbiati, in charge of the Institute’s strategic studies and a promoter of this congress, explains that “the Forum comes from a desire to link the Institute to modernity, to the language of our times, which revolves around the Internet. Our world is translating into digital language and if we don’t get involved with it, we will not be able to speak to the world. To come into contact with and form the youth of today, we have to speak their language, so we need to know the digital language. The Forum will have world experts, but the contribution of the youth will also be fundamental. Our desire is to be able to write a Letter on Communicating on the Web.”

This congress has a lot to do with women, says Giovanna Abbiati, because “woman has a lot to say in the world of information. Most homes have computers, and most women are home a lot because they are taking care of their house and family. That’s why it’s important for women to know computers very well, extremely well, so that they can navigate in this digital world and even organize themselves from a business point of view. It can be a World Wired Women, a union of women through the web. It seems to me that this digital world comes naturally to women. And I think that women can stand out in this field. If we don’t see much of them, and the ones behind computer creativity are all men, then very often it is because women have not had access to it.” 

The Institute for Higher Studies on Women is unique in its kind, not only in the framework of pontifical universities, but also among the entirety of Catholic universities. For its drive, tenacity, and creativity, it is surely a good model to follow.



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