Policy Plenaries: “Women and Girls Aren’t the Problem: They’re the Solution! – Domestic & International Perspectives”

Daisy L. Machado, Academic Dean and Professor, Church History Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

Daisy L. Machado serves as Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Church History of Union Theological Seminary in NYC. Her scholarship focuses specifically on United States Christianities. She holds a B.A., Brooklyn College, an M.S.W., Hunter College School of Social Work, a Master of Divinity, Union Theological Seminary, New York, and a Ph.D., University of Chicago. She is the first U.S. Latina ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1981 in the Northeast Region and has served inner city congregations in Brooklyn, Houston, and Fort Worth.

From 1996-1999 Dr, Machado served as the first Director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative a $3.4 million project funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts to increase the presence of Latina/o faculty teaching in seminaries, schools of religion and religion departments around the country. From 2002-06 she served as the Chair of the Board of the Hispanic Summer Program an innovative masters level program currently supported by over 30 seminaries and schools of theology. Dr. Machado was also Luce Lecturer in Urban Ministry, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Lecturer at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas, teaching a class on “Latina/o Spirituality and Medicine.” In July 2008 she was invited to serve as chaplain for Week 3 of the Summer Season at the Chattauqua Institute, making her the first Latina to serve as chaplain. Her daily sermons were preached to a gathering of over 600 participants every day. In spring 2010 she presented the keynote address for the Institute for Lived Theology held at the University of San Diego, California, titled “Borderlife and the Religious Imagination.”

Her publications include: Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples in the Southwest, 1888-1942. New York: Oxford University Press; co-editor of A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press as well as numerous chapters in anthologies and encyclopedias as well as journals and magazines. Her two latest publications are ‘The Southern U.S. Border: Immigration, the Historical Imagination, and Globalization’ in Rethinking Economic Globalization, Pamela K. Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, Laura A. Stivers, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) and “Voices from Nepantla: Latinas in U.S. Religious History” in Feminist Intercultural Theology: Latina Explorations for a Just World, María Pilar Aquino and María José Rosado-Nunes, eds. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007). She has also lectured in Mexico, Venezuela, and Germany, and has keynoted at many Disciples of Christ Regional as well as church-wide Disciples events.

A native of Cuba, she was raised in New York, lived in Texas for twenty years, and lived in Lexington, KY for two years where she served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Lexington Theological Seminary. Dr. Machado has a great interest in the concept of “borderlands” which is a multilayered word that not only refers to a specific geographic location, but for Latinas and other women of color also refers to a social, economic, political, and personal location within the dominant culture. She is also a strong advocate for a comprehensive reformation of current U.S. immigration laws, especially now that Arizona has enacted SB 1070.

Dr. Machado is involved in the early stages of a longer-term research project with Dr. Evelyn Parker of Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, called “God Behind Bars” which seeks to investigate and interpret the religious reality of Latina and African American women inmates. A first consultation was held at Perkins in May 2009 and a second at Union in August 2010. Each consultation gathered recently released female Latina inmates as well as prison chaplains, social workers, and selected directors of church-run prison ministries, to talk about religion and the religious life of incarcerated women of color. A second phase of the project will involve interviewing African American and Latina inmates who are incarcerated.


Regina L. Oldak, Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center

Reggie Oldak is Senior Counsel for Family Economic Security, with particular focus on taxes and the federal budget. Before joining NWLC, she worked for the IRS and then in private practice on issues affecting the taxation of nonprofit organizations. She is the immediate past president of the Montgomery County (Md.) Commission for Women and has worked extensively with local and state government representatives and community leaders in Maryland to advocate for issues central to the concerns of women and families. A graduate of Smith College and the Georgetown University Law Center, Ms. Oldak has been active in politics and in 2006 won the endorsement of The Washington Post when she ran for (and almost won!) a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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In recent decades women have achieved goals of which their grandmothers could only dream. Most women and girls in the United States have access to some level of education, and broad career opportunities have opened to women. However, the quality of education is frequently determined by where a young woman grows up, and women’s career options are often limited by their economic bracket, and by race, language, ethnicity and immigration status. Across career levels, women on average continue to earn only 77 cents for each dollar earned by a man in the same position. An inordinate percentage of women are in lower-paying service jobs.

Women in every socioeconomic level experience physical, sexual and verbal violence which do not discriminate on socioeconomic level. Domestic and random violence cut across age, race and economic standing, and are aggravated by economic woes and high unemployment. Women carry much of the weight of the recession, evidenced in an alarming gender imbalance in the distribution of jobs gained in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Men and women must work together to recognize and remedy economic inequities. People of faith must lead the way in eliminating sources of economic discrimination and violence.

For a copy of some information from Regina Oldak’s presentation as a PDF file, click here.


Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder & President, Women Thrive Worldwide

Ritu Sharma is a leading voice on international women’s issues and U.S. foreign policy. Due in large part to Ritu and Women Thrive Worldwide, the interests of women living in poverty worldwide are now being incorporated into U.S. economic assistance and trade policies and, in some cases, into U.S. law itself.

A first generation American of East Indian heritage, Ritu’s family left behind generations of violence and poverty in Punjab, India to build a new life in the United States. Her family’s legacy and her first-hand experience of the injustices suffered by women, combined with her strong belief that American citizens must ensure that the U.S. acts positively in the world, led Ritu to create Women Thrive Worldwide in 1998.

Ritu is an adept coalition builder, political strategist and communicator who has led numerous advocacy campaigns to success. In 1995, at age 26, she led a coalition of more than 100 organizations to influence the United Nations Summit on Social Development. Ritu also served on the official United States delegation to the Summit and later on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Session on Women, also known as “Beijing Plus Five.”

She continues to build and grow diverse coalitions that link women’s organizations from around the world with U.S. businesses, think tanks, and NGOs to rally their efforts to help women in poverty.

She is an eloquent public speaker, drawing on her personal stories, travels, unusual insights, and “out-of-the-box” thinking to inspire audiences to get involved to change women’s lives for the better.

Ritu holds a BSFS in international economics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

She is the author of An Introduction to Advocacy: A Training Guide, which has been translated into six languages and is a primary reference for advocates around the globe. She serves on the Board of Directors of InterAction and the Center for Global Engagement. Ritu is also a founding member of Pax World Mutual Funds Women’s Advisory Council. On May 14, 2010, Lifetime Television honored Ritu as “a remarkable woman.”

She lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her two sons, Kai and Raam, and their Portuguese Water Dog, Rio.

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Around the world, women and girls comprise seventy percent of those living in poverty. Too often, women and girls are economically marginalized and denied educational opportunities. In addition, the World Health Organization reports that globally, one in three women experience some form of violence within their lifetime. Violence against women has become a global epidemic and has been called the “paramount moral challenge of this century.” As Nicolas Kristof says in his book Half the Sky, “Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

Seeking development, security and economic justice for all people and all communities means that together, men and women of faith must focus on the empowerment and education of women and girls. Leading international policy experts agree that the most effective way to fight extremism and global poverty is the empowerment and education of women and girls. These issues are not just “women’s issues;” they are humanitarian issues that cross gender, race, creed, color or national boundaries. People of faith are called to awaken to the injustice our global sisters face, and become mobilized for the salvation of all. May it be so!

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