Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee
Agenda Item 27: Advancement of women
New York, October 10, 2016
My delegation thanks the Secretary General for raising awareness, through his reports, of the need to continue our collective efforts for the advancement of women, so that no woman or girl, especially those living in poverty and distress, be left behind.
Progress has been made, as underlined in the Secretary General’s report. As Pope Francis observed: “The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity.” 
Persistent challenges remain however. It is alarming that about 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical violence at some point in their lives, mostly domestic and sexual. 
Special attention must be given to this truly scandalous situation, so that effective measures and programs can be put in place to combat and defeat this deplorable type of behavior towards women. Condemning all forms of violence against women as unacceptable, Pope Francis has spoken in particular of “domestic violence and various forms of enslavement” which, he strongly denounced as “craven acts of cowardice.”
Pope Francis often insists that “violence within the family is a breeding-ground of resentment and hatred in the most basic human relationships”, whereas it is precisely the family that is “the primary setting for socialization” and that is better able to “introduce[s] fraternity into the world!” In a social context where support for family values and for the respect and protection of each one of its members, in particular women and girls, is lacking, violent behaviors may also breed new forms of social aggression. This extends to the economic, political, social, and cultural spheres, where it may lead to various forms of exclusion and exploitation, when women are deprived of economic resources and restricted in their ability to exercise their political rights and participation, as mentioned in the Secretary General’s Report. Catholic social doctrine considers such multi-faceted violence and exclusion as a major impediment to integral human development.
In a world where poverty continues to have principally a female face, the promotion of inclusive and equitable economies may have a profound impact in advancing the status of women. In many places women are experiencing unique economic distress linked to unfair employment policies, unequal pay for equal work, the denial of access to credit and property, victimization in situations of conflicts and migration. From this perspective, the fight for the advancement of women must also mean assuring them equal access to resources, capital and technology.
Notwithstanding the fact that women constitute the majority of the poor and are affected by the burden of poverty in very specific ways, they are nevertheless often courageously at the forefront in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. As Pope Francis noted: “doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights. Even so, we constantly witness among them impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families.”
The Holy See supports the Secretary-General’s recommendations to pay special attention to female genital mutilations. Pope Francis specifically identifies “reprehensible female genital mutilation” as an example of “unacceptable customs [that] still need to be eliminated.” Many Catholic institutions and organizations, in particular women religious, are on the frontlines working to change cultural practices and empower young women to resist such violence. Their initiatives are always accompanied by quality education for girls.
Moreover, the fight against trafficking in persons and other forms of modern-day slavery is a top priority of the Holy See. The Santa Marta Group, Talitha Kum and the #EndSlavery campaign are just some of the initiatives that Pope Francis has inspired. To raise greater public awareness of these crimes, Pope Francis has designated February 8 as “International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.” It is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a saint from Sudan who was kidnapped as a child, then sold and resold into slavery. “Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object.” This is against all the principles that the United Nations stands for. We are thus summoned to fight every form of slavery that still plagues our world.
Finally, my delegation remains very supportive of, and active in, efforts and initiatives aimed at protecting women’s dignity and advancement, and at improving their living conditions and participation within the family and society.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
1 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, n. 54.
2 Secretary General’s report on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (A/71/219), n. 14.
3 Amoris Laetitia, n. 54.
4 Amoris Laetitia, n. 51.
5 Amoris Laetitia, n. 276.
6 Pope Francis, General Audience, Rome, 18 February 2015.
7 Secretary General’s report on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (A/71/219).8 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 212.
9 Secretary General’s report on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations A/71/209.
10 Amoris Laetitia n.54.
11 Pope Francis, 2015 World Day of Peace Message “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters.”