Nuns on the Frontlines of Justice

Jean Stokan

Women are too often the object of violence and the face of poverty,” explains Jean Stokan, Director of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team. Given women’s marginalization due to racism, sexism and their socio-economic status, it is no surprise that working to free women from these oppressive forces is among the five priority concerns of the Sisters of Mercy.

Violence against women, particularly women human rights defenders in Honduras, is a perfect illustration of the urgent need to continue the fight for and with women. Jean, who recently visited Honduras as part of her social justice work, describes the women’s situation as a “harsh reality.” Women working for social change not only confront violence on a daily basis in their communities, but they are also targets of violence by corrupt police and government officials.

“Women are pleading for international eyes to monitor the situation,” says Jean. Bringing visibility to and halting violence against women human rights defenders is an agenda that JASS and the Sisters of Mercy share. JASS’ regional work and partnership with Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) in Mexico and Central America is an example among many that Jean believes has helped to spotlight the urgent need to protect women activists against violence. “Our Sisters of Mercy network has learned from and appreciates JASS’ important work” in advancing the plight of women in Mexico & Central America.

Violence, including femicide, is not the only problem that plagues women in Mexico and Central America. Violence intersects with other pressing issues such as poverty, trafficking, and racism - all of which the Sisters of jean stokanMercy address. They give particular attention to immigration, and feel that it is important that the international community, particularly the U.S, understand the conditions which drive women to flee from their homes. “People are not running North to catch ‘the American dream’…they are running from the Central America nightmare,” says Jean quoting one of her colleagues’ analysis of the problem.

Spirituality is an integral part of Sisters of Mercy’s work with women. Their definition of spirituality recognizes and seeks to realize the humanity in all of us regardless of our religious beliefs. Jean defines this spirituality as, “our source of hope and strength, grounded in love and nourished by a deep commitment to build a more just and peace-filled world.” Helping women to live freely with dignity and reach their full potential is an expression of this spirituality.

As a woman whose feminism is defined by, ‘touching and feeling connected to all those involved in the work of social justice,” JASS is proud to highlight Jean’s social justice work and the work of the Sisters of Mercy as an important example of JASS’ commitment to build the voice, visibility, and collective organizing power of women.