Today we read about the 1995 Conference in Beijing, the statement by Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, and Pope Francis. Then, we ask ourselves some questions and pose some challenges.
International Women’s Day, celebrated globally on March 8th, highlights the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; a historic road map signed by 189 governments in 1995 that sets the agenda for realizing women’s rights. While there have been many achievements since then, many serious gaps remain.
There were 12 critical areas identified for the world to address. The areas are listed here along with a short reflection and challenge:
- Women & Poverty - When women are poor, their rights are not protected and they face double discrimination. Does our Church/parish/community have programs and services to help women?
- Education of Women - Educated women benefit entire societies, with improved health, nutrition and education for their families. Is our parish/Church/Institution supporting the education and training of women?
- Women and Health - Women need to be healthy in order to realize their full potential. This includes mental health, as well as freedom from violence. What are we doing to promote mental health services and safety for the women of our parish and community?
- Violence Against Women - Violence hurts women and girls and hampers their ability to thrive in multiple ways. Are we active supporters of expanding access to quality multi-sectoral responses for survivors covering safety, shelter, health, justice and other essential services? Do we advocate for laws and help guide policies and action plans toward justice for all women?
- Women and Armed Conflict - Wars and armed conflict destroy families and societies and leave women and girls particularly vulnerable. Are we actively lobbying for more active participation of women in peace talks and conflict resolutions at all levels?
- Women and the Economy - Whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or through unpaid domestic or care work at home, women make enormous contributions to economies. Are we promoting women’s ability to secure decent jobs, own land; accumulate assets, and influence institutions and public policies in our parish/diocese/congregation?
- Women in Power and Decision Making - Once in leadership roles, women make a difference. Are women under-represented as voters and in top positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, corporate boardrooms or academia, or parishes/Churches?
- Institutional Mechanisms - Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace. Where does our Church/parish/institution stand in relation to this principle?
- Human Rights of Women - Women and girls are entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of all of their human rights. Women’s rights are human rights. Are we working to ensure that States/governments create appropriate laws, policies and plans to ensure women’s rights and protect them against violations?
- Women and the Media - The media plays a significant role in perpetuating and challenging social norms that condone discrimination or violence against women. It can objectify women but also showcase strong women leaders and protagonists who can become role models for their audience. How are women portrayed in our Church or parish literature/media?
- Women and the environment - Women are among the most affected by climate change. They are often the ones gathering water, fishing or farming land affected by flooding. Meanwhile, their voices are often ignored in environmental planning and management. They also have less access to land and productive resources. Our role is to ensure women are involved in environmental decision-making at all levels, integrating their concerns in policies and programs. How have we supported this?
- The Girl Child – We need to work to empower girls and young women to pursue their dreams, confront discrimination, and prevent violence of all kinds. Where do we stand on this?
Resources: to see more about International Women's Day, please visit the International Women's Day Website.
You can also click here to download the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Message from Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon
In his message, Ban Ki Moon recognizes the great strides that have occurred since the Beijing conference. He also acknowledges that there is a long way to go. He says, "The number of women dying in childbirth has been almost halved. More women are leading businesses, governments and global organizations. I welcome these advances". He goes on to say, "At the same time, on this International Women’s Day, we must acknowledge that the gains have been too slow and uneven, and that we must do far more to accelerate progress everywhere". Furthermore, "The world must come together in response to the targeting of women and girls by violent extremists". His challenge to us is this, "We need to change mind-sets, especially among men, and engage men in becoming active change-agents themselves. And we must back up our resolve with resources based on the sure understanding that investments in gender equality generate economic progress, social and political inclusion and other benefits that, in turn, foster stability and human dignity".
Read the full text from the Secretary-General for 2015 here. Or you can also click here to watch a short video excerpt from the Secretary-General.
Pope Francis Speaks on the Role Women in the World and Church
Pope Francis has referred to the role of women in the world and in the Church on several occasions. Here are a few examples.
- October 2013, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the document "Mulieris Dignitatem" of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis addressed a seminar and spoke of "Motherhood". He says, "Many things can change and have changed in cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is woman who conceives, carries and delivers the children of men. And this is not merely a biological fact; it entails a wealth of implications both for woman herself, her way of being, and for her relationships, her relation to human life and to life in general. He proclaims the dignity of motherhood by stating "In calling woman to motherhood, God entrusted the human being to her in an entirely special way."
- January 2014, Pope Francis addressed the National Congress sponsored by the Italian Women's Centre to Evangelium Gaudium in his presentation. He says, "I recalled the indispensable contribution which women make to society, particularly through the sensitivity and intuition they show to others, the weak and the vulnerable". He speaks of the pastoral role of women and declares, "I congratulate you on seeing that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. Indeed, I hoped that increasing space may be offered to women for a more widespread and incisive presence in the Church (cf. Evangelium Gaudium, n. 103).
- December 2014, he addressed the International Theological Commission. He emphasized the need for women to be involved in the field of theology. He notes, "I would like to note the increased presence of women; a presence that becomes an invitation to reflect on the role that women can and should play in the field of theology. He concludes, "the Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess... I readily acknowledge that many women ... [offer] new contributions to theological reflection” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium).