The side events held during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) are paramount in global diplomacy and cooperation. In essence, side events at UNGA play a pivotal role in complementing the main sessions by fostering informal dialogues, building relationships and addressing specific global issues. These sidelines encompass a wide range of meetings, gatherings and discussions that transpire outside of the main UNGA sessions. They play an important role in enabling leaders to communicate directly with the global community, thereby enhancing UNGA’s effectiveness in tackling the world’s most urgent problems.

During the past week, the Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative played a significant role in various sideline events, drawing participation from sisters hailing from different corners of the world. The Catholic Sisters Initiative actively co-hosted four events and received invitations to partake in numerous others. A noteworthy highlight was a side event hosted at Fordham University Law School, which attracted more than 190 attendees onsite and reached a broader audience through live streaming.

Members of the Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative with Catholic sisters involved in the Bakhita Partnership for Education

At the center of attention was the Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE), a project initiated and financially supported by the Foundation. BPE’s core mission is to bolster educational institutions led by sisters in five African countries (Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) with the overarching objective of expanding access to education for girls from underserved and hard-to-reach areas. Sr. Jane Wakahiu, interim vice president of strategy and programs, eloquently described the BPE project as a prime example of the transformative initiatives that the Foundation champions, echoing the sentiment expressed by Mr. Hilton that “a dollar given to a Catholic sister stretches further.” She emphasized that BPE has engaged over 300 Catholic sisters in advocating for and championing the rights of girls across these five countries.

The initiative has successfully supported over 4,500 vulnerable girls, affording them a chance to pursue their academic aspirations, even after adverse and traumatic events.

The event included a testimony from Cynthia, a beneficiary of the BPE program who courageously shared her story of resilience in surviving abuse from her father as a child. Cynthia is currently studying law at a Catholic University in Uganda and plans to “be a voice for the voiceless” to protect vulnerable girls in the future. The keynote speaker was Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a school in northern Uganda for girls who were forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves.  Sr. Rosemary emphasized the key role sisters play as trustworthy partners who advocate for girls’ education and provide solutions from the ground up.

The active participation of the Catholic Sisters Initiative at UNGA underscores the diverse range of stakeholders engaged in confronting the world’s pressing challenges. The Bakhita Partnership for Education exemplifies the power of international collaboration and the unwavering commitment of Catholic sisters to champion the cause of girls’ education, ultimately contributing to the transformation of communities and the advancement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4:  inclusive and equitable quality education. The event attracted individuals such as Simone Yankey, Ag. Director of the African Union International Centre for Girls and Women’s Education; Victoria Abioseh Egbetayo, Global Partnership for Education; Brighton Kaoma, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network for Youth Global Director; Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Chief of the Economic Empowerment section at UN Women; and ten sisters participating in the Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship.

Other notable events included Justice Coalition of Religious (JCoR), another Foundation-supported initiative of 22 non-governmental organizations accredited to represent over 200 congregations of Roman Catholic women and men religious; and Global Goals Summit, where sisters discussed healthcare issues impacting women and girls. During the discussion, Sr. Barbara Bozak, UN representative for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph uplifted the moral presence of the sisters at the United Nations as advocates of justice and peace who have a long history of commitment to the common good and marginalized communities. In an “ocean of issues at the UN, the sisters offer an ocean of hope,” remarked Sr. Barbara calmly.

Participants in Georgetown’s Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship (WLFL) meet with Peter Laugharn before the presentation of their capstone projects and award of certificates after one year of leadership and advocacy skills development.
WLFL participants with Georgetown leadership, staff from the Hilton Foundation and staff from co-funder the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For the Catholic Sisters Initiative at UNGA, the week culminated with the award of certificates to the ten outstanding sisters completing a year of engagement and advocacy training at Georgetown University through the Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship. CEO Peter Laugharn congratulated the sisters and expressed the Foundation’s support in their leadership growth and prophetic work.