Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
at the Sixty-First Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
on the theme of Women’s Economic Empowerment in a Changing World of Work
New York, 13-24 March 2017
The Holy See is pleased to participate in the Sixty-First Commission on the Status of Women, and would like to thank you for your leadership as we address the topic of the empowerment of women in the changing world of work. We also commend the Commission for its efforts to identify, assess and concretely address in its agreed conclusions the many and complex factors affecting the well-being of women in the world of work.
My delegation’s attention was drawn in particular by two themes that run through the many preparatory materials for this meeting and, indeed, are frequently found in the recent body of UN literature treating women and equality in the world of work. First, leaders in public and private institutions treat women with greater fairness when they accept the absolute equality in dignity of woman and man, while respecting also their differences. Second, they treat women fairly when they acknowledge the extraordinary value that women bring as women, not only to the world of work or the family, but to every area of human expression.
With their gifts and through their work and dedication, women both teach and give witness to the essential interrelatedness of male and female, and the shared responsibility we have to serve one another. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the international community protect and strongly reaffirm woman’s dignity in the workplace, the family and beyond. Along those lines, adequate measures are needed to combat the growing informality and precarious nature of women’s employment, to give them access to skills and training, ownership and control over productive resources and assets, and to put an end to every form of abuse, as well as to exploitation and trafficking in women and girls. In particular, my delegation would like to underline that many of today’s refugees and forced immigrants fleeing war-torn or impoverished cities and countries are women, often with their children, desperate to attain some measure of economic security for their families. Their dignity must be respected, their human rights protected and promoted, and their feminine genius unleashed by giving them the best opportunities for dignified work.
My delegation notes the United Nations’ recognition of the unique role and critical contribution that women bring to fields as varied as development and human rights, peace and security, conflict prevention and conflict resolution, and its efforts to integrate them in its policies and programs.
The world of work must not arbitrarily impose fixed roles on women or men, nor should it inflexibly define what women and men can and cannot do in the workplace. In this respect, Pope Francis has identified a certain “rigidity” that would “hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership.” We are all better off for the work and contributions of both women and men, regardless of whether those contributions are common to both or distinctive to either.
Even as we celebrate women’s contributions to diverse fields, we must also note a tendency to underestimate, and even demean or overlook, women’s expressed preference and gift for “caring for others,” demonstrated by their special capacity for caring in family and society. This tendency is also manifest when women are not given access to basic resources for caring, or when they are left out of social protection and pension schemes, are overlooked for promotions, experience significant pay gaps vis-à-vis men doing equal work, and are discriminated against in hiring, simply because of the prospect of maternity leave or of extended leave to care for children or sick and elderly family members.
A significant feature of the contemporary landscape of women’s economic empowerment lies in the tension women often feel between their desire to work and to raise children and care for the family. Governments and private employers must find creative ways to respond to this challenge, so that working mothers do not feel pressured or forced to sacrifice their maternal capacities and familial desires. Allowing family leave for women to raise children or take care of sick or elderly members of the family is one of the different forms of a response, which may be even more effective when accompanied by social policies and compensation structures favorable to women who care for family at home, with special attention to single mothers, as well as to women refugees and migrants, who are disproportionately among the poorest and the most vulnerable women. At a time when women are increasingly engaged in professional activities, Pope Francis also encourages a better sharing of responsibility within the family: “It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy ‘exchanges’ which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure.”
In any case, even though women’s unpaid work is not officially recognized by the formal economy, it not only contributes to every country’s economic development, but it also sustains the fundamental pillars that govern a society and a nation. This is certainly the case in the unpaid work of caring for children and the elderly, considering how much the State would otherwise have to spend for social services. More than all these considerations, however, the work of raising a family and caring for needy family members has enormous value in and of itself, as “the beauty of this mutual, gratuitous gift, the joy which comes from a life that is born and the loving care of all family members – from toddlers to seniors – are just a few of the fruits which make the response to the vocation of the family unique and irreplaceable […] for society as a whole.”
Building a better future involves the complementary collaboration of men and women. The empowerment of women, in every area of life and work, will not only strengthen women, but will strengthen and empower us all.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013), n.103; Morning Mass Homely at Santa Marta, 9 February 2017; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), n.30-31; Letter to Women (1995), n.9 and following; CDF, Card. Ratzinger, Letter to Bishops on the collaboration of man and woman in the Church and in the world (2004), n.13.
2. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (2016), n.286.
3. CDF, Card. Ratzinger, Letter to Bishops on the collaboration of man and woman in the Church and in the world (2004).
4. On woman’s special “capacity for the other”, see CDF, Card. Ratzinger, Id., spec. n.13.
5. Pope Francis, Message on the Occasion of the Opening Meeting of the 3rd Edition of the Family Festival, Riva Del Garda, 2 December 2014.
6. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, n.286.
7. Id., n.88.