The Integral Education of Rural Girls and Women
At Side Event Sponsored by the Holy See dedicated to
“The Integral Education of Rural Girls and Women”
during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
March 15, 2018, UNHQ Conference Room 11
Delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to this afternoon’s event on the important topic of the Integral Education of Rural Girls and Women, which the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See is co-sponsoring together with the Catholic Women’s Forum of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Universal Peace Federation and Education Cannot Wait.
When Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015, speaking immediately before the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he mentioned three times the importance of education and stressed that this means education for all. To enable men and women to escape from extreme poverty, he said, we must allow and assist them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. “This presupposes and requires,” he underlined, “the right to education — also for girls — excluded in certain places — which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”
The international community, in adopting the 2030 Agenda, committed itself resolutely in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to “eliminate gender disparities in education” and to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to early childhood development, care and preprimary education; to free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education; and to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education. These commitments flowed from the fact that there are 120 million children in the world who have no access to primary or secondary schooling at all, many from rural areas marked by severe poverty or conflict. Another 130 million children go to schools that are of such poor quality that they don’t acquire even the basics of literacy or numeracy. In many places, girls face multiple barriers to entering primary and secondary schools and in one out of every three countries there is still, in primary education, no parity between boys and girls in access to schooling.
The Catholic Church is very proud that over the course of our 2,000 year history, we have played a major role in bringing education to children who were being totally left behind. In particular, thousands of Catholic women’s religious orders were founded with the explicit purpose and charism to educate girls at a time when none but the richest girls with private tutors received any formal education at all. Many of these religious orders sought to educate in particular girls from poor families and orphans and many of these women religious left their homes and traveled to far away countries in order to found schools in remote, rural villages where schools had never before existed. Today the Catholic Church runs 73,580 kindergarten programs educating more the 7 million children; 96,283 Catholic elementary schools educating 33.5 million girls and boys; 47,415 Catholic second schools educating 24.8 million teens; and Catholic Colleges and Universities give tertiary education and terminal degrees to 2.7 million more. It goes without saying that of these 68 million students — and more than 3o million girls — across the world, many are not Catholic or even Christian. Over the course of my time here at the United Nations and in diplomatic postings elsewhere, many Ambassadors, diplomats and UN officials who are not Christian, both women and men, have told me that they are graduates of Catholic schools and credit much of their success in life to the teachers and classes that they had in those institutions. In all of this, the schools run by the Catholic Church seek not to supplant but to assist parents, who are the first teachers of their children in the irreplaceable school called home.
Providing access, however, to schools and basic education for girls no matter where they live, whether in cities or the remotes hamlets, although essential, is not enough. For girls to grow into flourishing women, much more is needed. Education is far more than instruction. As the Latin word edúcere indicates, it means leading people out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, from immaturity to true maturity. It’s aimed not just at helping people become smarter, but wiser. It involves not just imparting information but formation, assisting the young to seek the truth, come to know it, and come to live in accordance with it. Its aim is not just to help them become intelligent adults but genuinely good persons.
Ensuring this type of “integral education” is essential. The consequences of not doing so were described perhaps most famously by Haim Ginott, a Holocaust Survivor who, after being freed, emigrated to the U.S. and became a school teacher, parent educator, child psychologist and psychotherapist. He wrote a letter to teachers in which he said, “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”
Pope Francis spoke about this genuinely and integrally humanistic education for girls in a 2015 meeting with girls and their teachers from across the world. He said, “Education is, in fact, the indispensable means to enable girls to become active and responsible women, proud and happy. … It is very important today that a woman be adequately appreciated, and that she be able to take up fully the place that corresponds to her…. Here the role of Educational Associations … addressed to girls is absolutely determinant for the future, and your pedagogy must be clear. We are in a world in which are spreading ideologies most contrary to the nature and design of God on the family and on marriage. Therefore, it is a question of educating girls not only to the beauty and grandeur of their vocation as women, in a just and differentiated relation between man and woman, but also to assume important responsibilities.… In some countries, where woman is still in a position of inferiority, and even exploited and mistreated, you are certainly called to carry out a notable role of promotion and education.”
We’re all called today to carry out that notable role of promotion and education. That’s what today’s event, within the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, is about. In the 75 minute window allotted to us, there are only so many aspects about the integral education of rural girls and women that we can cover, but we would like to focus on four areas:
- Mrs. Mary Hasson from the Catholic Women’s Forum is here to speak about a fuller sense of the empowerment of women through education by ensuring that it corresponds to woman’s full dignity as a person in a context in which so many educational structures are geared toward teaching according to male pedagogical frameworks or according to a reductive understanding of who woman is.
- Ms. Amritpal Sandhu from Education Cannot Wait is here to speak about educating girls in emergency circumstances. One of the first things that can happen in conflict situations is that the formal education of the young is put on hold or is stopped altogether. She’ll describe for us that education cannot wait and share with us best practices from her wide experience in ensuring the education of boys and girls in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
- Dr. Sakena Yacoobi is here to describe for us her extraordinary fight for the education of girls and women in refugee camps and in her native Afghanistan and what we can all learn from that experience.
- And Dr. Timothy Rarick from BYU-Idaho is here to speak about the unique education girls receive from their fathers and how involved fathers help make stronger daughters. His talk will highlight one of the most important elements in the educational setting of the home, as dads work with moms to help their daughters and sons grow to maturity so that they might become, in turn, the teachers in domestic academies they themselves may establish afterward.
I thank you for coming this afternoon. I believe that you will find today’s discussion very much worth your time.