Rita H. Jensen

(WOMENSENEWS)–Throughout this holiday season an image returned to me, again and again. A young girl, her light-brown hair in braids, freckled, is kneeling in front of a worn brown sofa, one among a family of eight, with rosary beads clasped in her hands. She intones the Hail Mary 10 times, her fingers moving along the beads, joining her parents and siblings in an evening ritual undertaken at the direction of the father to pray the family would find a new, four-bedroom home.

This image from my childhood emerges each time I think of the events of this extraordinarily difficult year: the natural catastrophes, the rising number of casualties in Iraq and in other armed conflicts–all taking a special toll on women. The growing number of persons with AIDS and the continuing number of women murdered around the world by spouses and family members also weighs.

The house I grew up in was crowded, one bathroom for all of us and one bedroom for the four boys. I had much to gain by the move, as the bedroom I shared with my sister was over the unheated garage and we both shivered through the bitter cold Ohio winter nights. My parents led the prayers each evening and saved part of my father’s paycheck each week so that they could move their family to a four-bedroom house built on a lot large enough to plant a vegetable garden. Other Irish-Catholic families had been leaving our inner-city neighborhood and my parents longed to join the exodus.

Each time this memory of the praying childhood-me surfaces, I shake my head in disapproval; not just for using prayer for a material gain but in being part of the white flight from Columbus, Ohio, to its outskirts.

A Mix of Wrong and Wonderful

I knew then, and certainly know now, that something was terribly wrong about the goal of our prayers. But there was also something wonderful. The family rosary was the expression of hope and the belief that, together, we could improve our lot. That as a family we could all have a warm place to sleep. Even as I began to reject my parents’ wishes to live in the suburban culture, I grew up hard-wired to believe in that principle.

Nowadays, in the early evening, it is not a rosary in my hand. It is a computer mouse. I sit before a computer screen, I am alone; the phone does not ring. The other staff members often have left for their evening classes or events. It’s a meditative time.

I founded Women’s eNews because I profoundly enjoy being a journalist and every day I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. Yet, I also know that part of the joy and pride I feel is because I believe that Women’s eNews unleashes the power of news media to the benefit of women. All women.

Often, I smile as I look back on the day’s work, filled with gratitude as I think about the next day’s story. Often it is a tale of incredible efforts individuals are making on behalf of other women, to increase their economic and political power or to diminish the violence woven into the fabric of so many women’s lives.

A Calm Washes Over

A calm washes over me as I read the accomplished story our reporter has produced and our editors have polished. I feel so privileged to have such an opportunity to improve and approve such good work: the news that the Women’s eNews Web site manager will send to our thousands of subscribers the next morning.

It’s a little bit like praying, as I have come to realize this holiday season, like my family’s ritual, the good part, that is.

Women’s eNews was born of the belief and hope that each day the information distributed could aid women in their search for equality and equity: not a new home perhaps, but certainly shelter; not for a chance to flee others with a different color of skin, but perhaps to live in a community where the constraints and stings of racism and other destructive biases are diminishing; not participating in an imposed ritual, but certainly being part of a family that is united and sustaining.

Helping Readers and Helping Others

I look back at the stories Women’s eNews reporters and editors produced this year that I hope might have been most helpful to you, our readers, or permit you to help others. Monday’s story by Marie Tessier about new techniques to determine if a battered woman has been strangled, the profile of the hospital in Islamabad dedicated to caring for female earthquake survivors with spinal injuries, the piece about the need for rape reports to be collected among Katrina evacuees to which the Houston Police Department responded. Earlier this year we covered the high toll the tsunami took on women’s lives, and a couple of days ago a new correspondent in Sri Lanka reported on the ways in which women in an area hit hardest by the giant wave are making extraordinary efforts to rebuild their lives with small amounts of Oxfam financing.

I feel blessed to have this nightly ritual of reading the story to be published the next day. And, during this holiday season, I think of it as my nightly prayer that our work here truly is a service for all women and is an act that helps lead all of us the comfort of a winter night’s sleep in a warm bed and so much more.

Thank you all for being with us and joining in that hope for a better future, the core of a happy holiday season for all of us.

Here is hoping you enjoy the holiday with loved ones.

Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief of Women’s eNews.