We fittingly spent the evening of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018, exploring the roles of religion and leadership for women. Eighteen women and girls joined us in the cheery café of the Muslim Unity Center to identify the different roles that women play in their faith, and how far we still have to go.

Three female leaders from Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious communities all spoke on their paths to leadership, the frustration of “mansplaining” and sexism, and the inspiration of little girls who look up to them.

“A leader isn’t just someone who leads in a political sense,” said Muslim Unity Center Youth Director Sara Edlibi, “It’s someone who takes charge.” Edlibi struggles with shyness, but found the strength to take on a leadership role in her faith and has become a role model for younger girls.

Rabbi Marla Hornsten from Temple Israel said, “I’m lucky to be born in the generation I was born in”–because her generation was among the first to welcome female rabbis. She spoke about the lack of role models in Judaism and how an interaction with a female rabbi in her college years inspired her to take on the role herself. She became the first female rabbi at Temple Israel in 2000, and now is proud that the synagogue has four female rabbis.

Anne Osmer, Catholic writer and mother, spoke about the long line of strong females in Christianity, from Jesus’ mother Mary to Saint Joan of Arc and the modern-day nuns who advocate for the poor. In another barrier to break, Anne mentioned how women are still not allowed to become Catholic priests, even though most people are in favor of it.

Both Sara and Marla talked about how their fathers saw the leadership ability in them, when they didn’t necessarily see it themselves.

“I never thought I’d be a pioneer,” Marla said.

After the lovely panelists spoke, instructor Maureen Dunphy asked everyone gathered to think of a strong woman that they look up to. The answers ranged from Beyonce to Malala to Mother Theresa. Drawing on those responses, Maureen encouraged the participants to brainstorm qualities of a leader, and if those qualities are specific to men or women. Then, all the groups came up with slogans and logos for International Women’s Day and posted it on the whiteboard. The results were powerful and inspiring!

Our next and final workshop is Thursday, April 12 at the Royal Oak First United Methodist Church.