Investor Advocates for Social Justice

Sr. Ethel Howley- Women of Faith in Finance

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In honor of Women’s History Month, IASJ will be featuring a “Women of Faith in Finance” series celebrating three incredible women and their dedication and commitment to the advancement of human rights, climate change solutions, peace, and the common good.

     Upon reading the paper, Conscience of the United Nations: Non-Governmental Organizations, it becomes immediately clear that Sister Ethel Howley’s deep faith drives her advocacy. This pioneer for human rights who declares “I really don’t see myself as being in finance, I see myself in advocacy for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation,” is the topic of today’s “Women of Faith in Finance”.

     As the School Sisters of Notre Dame’s first NGO representative to the United Nations from 1993-2002, Sister Ethel Howley counts amongst her many accomplishments working together with the leadership from African delegations at the 4th World Conference on Women to get “The Girl Child” to be one of twelve women’s concerns in the Conference on Women document. Since that time, the needs of the girl child are included in almost every document of the UN, particularly those dealing with human rights, disarmament, environment, and development. To Sister Howley, this work is all part of the School Sisters of Notre Dame’s charism, “the oneness that Jesus called us to”, and fulfills her favorite section of the SSND’s constitution, You Are Sent: “As the desire of Jesus that all be one becomes more fully our own and our striving for unity embraces all humanity and the whole of creation”.

      Ethel Howley acknowledges that a good teacher is the one of God’s greatest gifts and the influence of her own teachers, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, combined with a calling from the Holy Spirit created in her a desire to serve in this manner; she dedicated her life to God and the SSND, and majored in math. But the journey from high school math instructor to human rights advocate was not a significant leap in Howley’s mind: “I went from teaching mathematics to working at the UN on global issues regarding ‘The Girl Child’. I find that to be all part of the unity Jesus speaks of; it calls us to be all things to all people.”

     Citing John 10:10, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’, Sister Ethel continues to commit to her theme of faith driving action in the world. Another passage that compels her is Matthew 25:35: ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.’ These are not ancient words to Sister Howley, void of context in the 21st century. “When dealing with corporations we may not directly be thinking about feeding the hungry or giving drink to the thirsty, but yet the policies of pushing for a living wage and preserving the planet are tied to these scriptures.”

      In the area of female representation, in responsible investing and the world at large, Sister Howley credits her “amazing predecessors” for paving the way. “When I got to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, there were many women, many sisters from many congregations, who had started coming on board in the time of apartheid in the ‘70s. Women were the movers and the pushers in that momentum.” In our current times, Sister Ethel is greatly encouraged by female leaders like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. “Their international impact reminds me to keep moving along; to, as they say, keep plugging away.”