Watching young African girls fight gender inequality to become strong career women in one of the world’s poorest countries has shown a former athlete the power of the feminine genius.
Canossian Sister Mel Dwyer, a former nationally-ranked javelin thrower who gave up a chance to be at the Sydney 2000 Olympics for a mission trip to Africa, spent eight years as the principal of an all-girls’ secondary school in Malawi, a south-east African nation ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries.
Sr Dwyer said gender inequality was a major issue for young women in Malawi, which only provided university placement for 30 per cent of females.
“Being responsible for an all-girls’ school, I wanted to try to help the girls to fight harder for education, because education is the only place for them to build a brighter future in such stark poverty,” Sr Dwyer said.
Each year Sr Dwyer would organise a prayer service at her Malawi school and distribute booklets created by the local Catholic diocese promoting International Women’s Day.
She said her fight for gender equality was a success during her time as principal, with young women continuing on to become doctors, nurses and lawyers.
Last year Sr Dwyer was asked to leave her Malawi mission and serve the Canossian congregation in Brisbane.
But always keen to empower women in her local area, she has teamed up with Vocation Brisbane to launch a new group for women discerning their vocation.
Launching on International Women’s Day (March 8), Sr Dwyer will run Gratia, a monthly vocational discernment group for young women in Brisbane archdiocese.
“Now I look at my role in the Vocations office, my role is still empowering women, but in a different way, to empower women to discern their call to serve the Church,” she said.
“My role now is to help women to find who God dreams for them to become.”
On the role of women in the Church, Sr Dwyer said it was a “narrow view” to think women had little place in the Church to serve.
“I think it’s such a narrow view to say women are not treated equally,” she said.
“Women have a beautiful place in the Church, and while it’s not the same as men, we’re not the same as men.
“People can get so caught up in what we can’t do that we forget the numerous things we can do.”