From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Women’s Justice Circles empower the powerless

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Holy Names Sister Anne Bosserman has been in Religious life for over 20 years. Trish Clayton is a recovering addict who once was homeless.Their backgrounds are very different, but they have at least one thing in common: Both care about women’s justice issues. And that’s the purpose of the Justice Circles.

The two Spokane women co-facilitate a Women’s Justice Circle that is currently meeting at St. Margaret Hall.

The Circles were formed three years ago by the International Peace and Justice League in Seattle. The Circles provide a structure to bring women from all walks of life together to look at making changes in the issues that particularly affect women.

Anywhere from six to 12 women attend the weekly meetings at St. Margaret. The first meeting was held last month. Holding the sessions at St. Margaret Shelter makes it easier for low-income women to attend, since the shelter also provides child care.

Each Circle meets for eight weeks at a time. One eight-week session takes place in the spring, and another in the autumn.

Clayton and Sister Anne explained that there are notebooks participants use which have a specific process to be followed for a Circle session.

For example: week three is titled “Building Blocks and Stumbling Blocks.” In that meeting, participants “explore diversity and choose a justice issue.” By the end of the eight-week meeting cycle, members of the Circles have determined a goal and taken some kind of action toward that goal.

Sister Anne participated in a Circle at Gonzaga University last spring. “We had some first-year law students there,” she said, “and we put together this huge resource book.” The book has all kinds of creative ideas to help people, she said, “for anything you can imagine.” The book now can be found at the Women’s Drop-in Center at 218 S. Howard in Spokane.

In Clayton’s previous Circle, the group examined housing issues and prepared information to help them lobby for affordable housing.

In the current Circle, the group is preparing a brochure on tenant-landlord rights and responsibilities. Once completed, the brochure will be distributed around the city. “It’s to help both sides know what to do,” Clayton explained.

One of the stated purposes of the Circles is that low-income women “take the lead.” Clayton said she was “flattered” to be asked to do that. “I’d never been asked to facilitate (a group) before.”

Clayton can verify that women in low- or no-income situations often feel powerless to help themselves. “It’s so rewarding,” she said, “to feel like at least I’m having a hand in doing something.”

Around the WJC logo are these words: “Building Relationships; Recovering Our Power; Analyzing Women’s Issues; Acting to Create Change.” Even though it’s not the main purpose, Justice Circles also enable participants to become better acquainted. “We get to know some wonderful women and the struggles they’ve gone through,” said Sister Anne, and come to realize “how similar we all are.”

The Intercommunity Peace and Justice League was founded in Seattle in 1991 as a collaborative venture by 13 Religious communities. Holy Names Sister Linda Haydock is the founder and executive director.

Its mission is “creating social justice and just structures in the world and in the Pacific Northwest,” explained Chris Hillman, who has worked for the League for the past seven years.

The IPJL serves parishes, community and individual organizations “with a variety of formats.” These include workshops, retreats and a number of different publications. One of those formats is the Women’s Justice Circles.

Hillman explained that the Circles are unique because “low-income women, who live these issues, develop the goals around the issues and help plan a course of action.” In their partnership “women with resources learn what the issues are and how to empower lower-income women.”

In its first year, 10 Circles met and in the second year, 22 Circles held meetings. During this autumn cycle, Hillman said there are 15 Circles and she expects about that many next spring.

The Circles are “open to any woman of any faith interested in social justice,” Hillman said. “They teach about empowerment and leadership; it’s the basics of grass-roots organizing.”

(For information about the Women’s Justice Circles, contact the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, 1216 NE 65th St., Seattle, WA 98115. visit the web site.)

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